Emilia Fart’s first YouTube video, back in 2012, is called getting drunk to kenny vs spenny. Her hair is green and her now-signature eye make-up far more subdued than it is now. Nothing much happens in the video other than her sucking back on something in a Halloween-themed cup while chuckling. Kenny Hotz and Spencer Rice are unseen.
Fart, originally from Ontario but based in Montreal since 2008, now dresses in unicoloured homemade muumuu-type dresses with matching chin-covering scarves, a thick layer of bright eyeshadow up to her eyebrows and big feather boas. This both on YouTube and in the world, as she insists Fart is not a character, just a screen manifestation of herself. With names like I filmed my first date in 9 years and Talking about being molested while eating a scorpion in a hammock (said scorpion encased in a lollipop), Fart’s videos are beguiling, personal and very popular. One, called Showing what I looked like when I was normal, has over 4.8 million views.
To look at Fart, who her publicist refers to as a queerdo, it’s easy to imagine her as some long-lost member of John Waters’ vastly charming retinue, that is until you realize she exists very much in the now, in the myopically contemporary echo-chamber of reality TV. Her references and inspirations are YouTubers, and her aspirations lie in reality TV. Sitting across from a YouTube star while they laughingly reveal that they’re “a pretty self-involved person” is not surprising, but it’s still disquieting to listen to a stranger demonstrate both their naked ego and their self-awareness of the same. Whatever deeper or weirder motivations Fart has are obscured. You get the eerie feeling of speaking to a very normal person whose only eccentricity is a vaguely alien sartorial sense. Then again, maybe that’s the crux of her broad appeal. She’s a kid at heart who speaks about body image and trauma and sexuality like a friend who burps openly in your presence.
This Friday is Fart’s stage debut at Café Cleopatra, followed by a pizza party for her diehard local fans. The show promises “butt jiggling, crying […] fun snacks and gossip, feelings, ghosts,” rather like a sleepover for paying adults. Fart and I met at a café to discuss her upcoming performance and the nature of YouTube celebrity.
Nora Rosenthal: I’m fascinated by the idea of YouTube celebrity because it’s such a new form of celebrity culture. Was this something you gave a great deal of thought to prior to becoming a part of it?
Emilia Fart: Well, I watched YouTube for years before I started and it really genuinely helped me in a super bleak time in my life. I was grieving my dad and at the lowest point where I wanted to die it was YouTube that really comforted me. I couldn’t even be around my friends at that time but I could feel like I was hanging out with people while being completely protected at the same time.
NR: Do you remember the seminal video you watched?
EF: The first video was Shane Dawon’s coming out video. He came out as bisexual and I’d heard of him before and I watched that video and he was just so vulnerable and so raw. I was like oh wow you’re seeing a person’s soul. I was pulled into that and then just watched him and Drew Monson and Trisha Paytas hang out on a big couch all the time and I was so comforted by it.
NR: Do you still consume a lot of YouTube videos?
EF: Yeah I do. I’ve been a little bit less inspired lately. Not that it’s YouTube’s fault. It’s probably more my fault.
NR: Do you find the more you’re participating and producing content, the less you’re watching?
EF: Yeah. The more energy I put into making stuff, the pickier I get about what I want to see.
NR: How much writing and rehearsing do you do? What’s your process like when you’re preparing to make a video?
EF: It differs. Sometimes a whole video will be scripted and I’ll just say it line for line. Those are the ones that I just want to make sure I articulate well. Most of the time it’s not scripted.
NR: Are there any internet or pre-internet cultural precursors to this kind of cult celebrity that you really identify with?
EF: I was obsessed with Molly Soda. She has a Tumblr. This was back in I think 2010, 2011. She would post videos of herself eating a burrito and not talking. I just thought she was so cool. Her and probably The Simple Life, like Paris Hilton in 2005. I like Jackass, Kenny vs. Spenny, bro-y, mischievous energy.
NR: To what extent do you see Emilia Fart as a character?
EF: I don’t. I’m definitely more hyper in videos to make it entertaining, and also it’s a vessel for me to be able to channel different parts of myself that I’m not able to get out in real life.
NR: How do you see the trajectory your videos have taken since you started?
EF: When I first started I would always talk about pop culture or a celebrity topic. People [didn’t] know me so I figured they need some sort of hook to care to watch and then it kind of transitioned into a narcissistic self-involved explosion.
NR: Do you have insight into your own appeal?
EF: I think I’m something different on YouTube. I try to make things that I haven’t seen before and that I would find interesting.
NR: Your press release promises tears during your upcoming show. Do you plan on crying?
EF: I don’t foresee a way in which I won’t cry. I imagine just getting on stage and staring at people I’m gonna be like oh, fuck. It’s gonna be weird. The first 10 minutes of my show are allotted for me to have a breakdown.
NR: Long term, do you have other creative plans?
EF: I love YouTube. I love the platform, I love being able to create things. We’ll see how this live show goes. I don’t crave performing in that way, I’m more excited to meet viewers. But my ultimate dream would be to branch out beyond YouTube and be able to create something with the same energy behind it but on a large scale.
NR: What would that look like?
EF: I would want a TV show that feels like it’s a reality show but like a mockumentary kinda. I like Borat. There are moments where you’re questioning what’s real and what’s staged. I’d want it to be Borat, but like a Borat where after you watch each episode you leave it feeling more free than you did when you started.
NR: What do you think leaves people with that sense of freedom?
EF: I think if you see someone push themselves past where they think they’re supposed to be. Push themselves past their comfort zone and question the ways that they cage themselves and try and get out of that. I think that would be freeing. ■
One Night of Fart: Emilia Fart LIVE happens at Café Cleopatra (1230 St-Laurent) on Friday, June 28 , 8 p.m., $30/$60 w/ VIP Pizza Party