Internet superstar Chris Crocker is best known for his "Leave Britney Alone" video, which has racked up close to 44 million views since it hit YouTube in September 2007.
Since then, Crocker has continued to record videos discussing everything from gender identity to dying his hair, has become a recording artist and has found himself referenced in all corners of the pop culture landscape from "South Park" to "Hannah Montana" to "Glee."
The Huffington Post last spoke to Crocker in January as he was preparing to debut a documentary about his life, "Me @ The Zoo," directed by Chris Moukarbel and Valerie Veatch, at the Sundance Film Festival (see the trailer above). The film was quickly snatched up by HBO, which will premiere it on June 25.
We caught up with Crocker again to find out his thoughts on HBO distributing "Me @ The Zoo," what "normal job" he would like to have and the one thing that's off-limits for the man who's not afraid to expose almost everything.
The Huffington Post: Your career has revolved around exposing the most intimate details of your life. Is there anything that's off-limits?
Chris Crocker: I would say my family, but even they are involved in this documentary. But I think I’ve touched on the subjects involving them and the problems involving them in a ways that are respectful. So, it’s not like I’m making some crazy YouTube video and being like, "Oh my God! This is what’s going on at my grandparent’s church!" That’s what caused a lot of problems for my family -- when the "Leave Britney Alone" video happened and I was on the front page of our local newspaper, that caused a lot of problems with the people they went to church with, and they were like, "Oh wait..." I was speaking out openly. Yeah, my grandparents are Pentecostal, I’m gay, so me living with them is a conflict of interest, but they love me, so it’s not like they’re gonna kick me out.
Did you ever have anyone in your life who was said, "You know what? I don’t want to be a part of this"?
You know, that’s a really good question, but it’s never like I tell people in the beginning, "Oh, you’ve signed-up for a reality show." It’s just kind of natural -- all the people I let into my life are already naturally comfortable with how open I am, so it just kind of happens. But I guess, in a way, they do kind of sign up for it knowingly, but it’s not some discussed thing.
Obviously the Internet was really crucial to what you’ve experienced, and who you’ve become, but at the same time I wonder what would have happened if the Internet hadn’t existed -- if you hadn’t had that outlet. Do you think you would have looked for another way to be heard?
I honestly think that if the Internet did not exist, I would probably be suicidal. I know that sounds really harsh to say, but I really would. I had so much pent-up anxiety -- even after I went to therapy with my family for two years, I still had so much pent-up anxiety that was even physically manifesting. I was shaking all the time. I was just a nervous wreck and my videos allowed me to feel empowered. I can’t imagine any kind of other outlet that would have allowed me to do that and feel as heard as I felt. I wasn’t a painter, I was a writer and stuff, and I’ve written poems and kept a journal privately for years, but there was something about publicizing that anger that felt so much more rewarding, because it was like, I didn’t know who was watching, but it just felt like, it’s out there in the universe -- it’s out there -- so it felt 10 times more rewarding to me than writing a poem that I kept privately.
Along with that empowerment that you felt, you also then opened yourself up to a lot of scrutiny, to very personal attacks from people who didn’t really know you, but who felt like they knew you. You seem like a pretty tough guy, but is there anything that people say that gets to you?
It just goes back to my family for me. What are they gonna say? An AIDS joke? Call me a faggot? None of that affects me at all -- that’s just hilarious to me. And I’ve always said it’s harder for me to take a compliment than it is criticism.
But the only thing that really just angers me -- and I really don’t even like letting the haters know this, because then it fuels their fire -- is [talking about] my family. You can say whatever you want about me -- I’ve dealt with that from kindergarten. My family is very hands-off, and that’s why I felt really guilty almost when what I do fell on my family. Because even though we disagree on social issues, I never want them to have to pay for my freedom to be myself. It’s just really bizarre to me that we live under the same roof and that they then have to pay the consequences. It’s really bizarre.
With the documentary coming out, some people are saying this is your second chance at fame. Some are even calling it your last chance. How do you respond to that? Are you plotting how you can ride the current interest in you to the next level?
That’s so funny. I think that people -- especially people I work with and that are around me -- they want me to be more strategic, but I genuinely did this documentary because of the therapeutic relief of just needing to be understood as a person. It was never for the fame in the beginning and it’s not about the fame now. It’s so interesting because, yes, I have played up being this "fame whore." And I’ve played up to that because I knew that’s what people thought of me, so I wanted to be in on the joke. But the whole time it’s never been about fame for me. It’s literally been an outlet. I do consider myself an entertainer and if entertaining people happens in the process of having therapy, then great.
I’ve met with some really amazing people recently -- I was just at John Waters’s party in Provincetown -- and I’ve really been encouraged by people who it’s so hard for me to even walk into a room with because there’s all these preconceived notions about me wanting to be famous and these preconceived notions of me not being genuine -- like I'm this 15-minutes-of-fame, desperate person. That kind of gets to me. It’s like, if I do have any ambition about me whatsoever, that’s perceived as me being a fame whore. If I do something I want it to really be grassroots -- maybe an indie film? I’m not sitting here wanting to be on tabloids. It’s not what I’m in it for.
It's also been said that when HBO picked up the film, you and the film were instantly granted a certain level of credibility that maybe you wouldn’t have had otherwise. Did you feel that same way when you heard HBO wanted the film, or do you think that's an offensive way to look at it?
I didn’t look at it like that at all. If anything, I was really humbled because I had so many people that said, "We’re going to give you a reality show, we’re going to do this..." I wasn’t thinking about how [HBO picking up the documentary] made me look, I was just really grateful and I respect them so much. I already loved HBO -- they’ve done amazing documentaries -- they gave Monica Lewinsky a documentary! That was amazing. So I feel like they’re a voice for those who aren't listened to. I’ve always respected HBO, and for me, it just gave them more credibility, just from my specific point of view, because they’re the only people tht have given me a chance to be seen as a person.
Why do you think people are so interested in your story? I mean, you’re cute, you’re outspoken, but you’re not the only cute or outspoken person out there. What do you think your X-factor is?
I think that the people that gravitate towards me in a good way love me and they think I’m genuine and hysterical. And it’s a lot of girls that want a gay best friend. And there are gay kids out there that look up to me and although I’m radical and silly and crazy, they really do see how resilient I am towards the haters, regardless of if they even love my videos or not -- I think they really admire my resilience.
I get so many -- thousands -- of gay teenagers write me and tell me, "I see these comments but you still post videos and that helps me go to school every day." And so, whether they’re relating with the video or just the message of carrying on, there’s that, but then the people that hate me are still drawn to me because they focus on me as this thing that needs to go away. I think also there are people that think, "Oh, God, here’s Chris again, how can HBO put their name on a documentary with him? We just want him to go away!" They don’t want me to exist. And I tell people, it doesn’t matter how non-talented you think I am, that’s not gonna make me nonexistent. It is what it is. I think a lot of people want make me a punching bag for all the things they think hold gay people back as a society, and I think that if you can do a better job at representing the gay community, then you show your face. There are so many gays that are trying to camouflouge and be "straight-acting," or what have you, and they pin all this on me. If you want to be the voice and the face of the gay community, then you pick up a camera and do what I’ve done.
Do you feel a certain responsibility to all those kids who look up to you? A couple of weeks ago you were asking your fans whether or not you should embark on a career in adult entertainment -- something you've discussed doing in the past. Does knowing that kids are looking up to you change the way that you think about your career choices or you just plow ahead and hope people come along for the ride?
I think if anything that should tell people that I’ve always done what I do from my own compass. I know that sounds really pretentious, but it’s true. I mean -- hello! -- I have an HBO documentary coming out and I’m talking about possibly doing porn? It's probably the most high-profile time I’ve had in years, but I'm still exploring something that’s not that mainstream. Does that not show people that I just go with my gut?
I just feel like I'm never going to hold myself to the standard that other people do. If the standard for me is at the bottom of the ground or high to the sky, it doesn’t matter to me, I’m going do what I do. I don’t consider myself a role model, however, if kids can take away confidence from what I do and I can impart confidence to them and resilience, great! But I don’t ever want kids to take my same path -- that’s specifically for myself and what I do is for specifically for my own gratification.
But I just want to say there’s so much emphasis on, "Oh my God, you’re disgusting! You want to do porn! You’re trashy." I want to know what the differenece is between someone that has a microphone in their hands, lip syncing songs half-naked, and someone that’s all the way naked and has their own music. Tell me the difference.
Well, don’t you think that we live in a very sex-phobic society?
Completely! I’m sorry that my eyes aren’t half-open to the situation and I see it for what it is. I’m not ashamed of liking porn and wanting to see myself in a porn and being an empowered gay man who wants to do many things with his life, whether it’s have sex on camera, make music independently, act in films -- whatever it is. I’m going to see through the barriers and then I’m going to step over them and anyone who tells me differently is just donating to my success.
I respect that. Sadly, most of America is still living in the Victorian Era. It’s crazy.
It’s just mind-blowing and it all goes back to that -- "you’re trashy, you want to do porn, you’re trashy."
Where do you want to be 10 years from now? Still on camera?
I don’t know what I want to be doing, but I know who I want to be doing, and that’s my boyfriend. And I’d like to be settled and happy and have a house, ideally in Tennessee.
Do you think you’ll ever have a "normal job"? Would you ever say, "I’m going to go to school and become an architect"?
I was just talking about this! If I was going to have a normal job, I would be a psychologist. And though everyone would say, "I don’t want him being my psychologist!" I’m very interested in psychology and I think that shows in what I do because I’m so interested in pressing buttons.
Below, see a slideshow of Chris Crocker photos and videos:
'LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!'
The video that started it all.
Chris Presenting As A Woman In January 2012
Chris Presenting As A Woman In January 2012
Chris Crocker on 'Maury'
From Boy To Girl To Woman To MAN
Chris Presenting As A Woman In January 2012