I met Jean Elie last weekend at Diversity Speaks at the LA Film Fest. Minutes after our lively introduction, we agreed that we needed to collaborate in the near future.
As the creator of 4SkinVision, a fairly new YouTube Sketch Comedy Channel that has garnered over 300,000 hits in less than 3 months, Jean is an up and up artist to look out for. As he has proven, it doesn’t take someone or something outside of yourself to make your dreams come to fruition. In fact, Jean is a fairly unknown actor and comedian who simply followed through on a vision. We aren’t often afforded the opportunity to learn from people who are still finding their way and it is for this reason that I proposed the following interview. Here’s to all my fellow dreamers who are currently debating whether or not they have what it takes to finally do “that thing.”
What’s the story behind 4SkinVision? What made you want to start it?
I was tired of going to auditions all the time and hearing that I’m either too short or too inexperienced. Like, “how am I going to gain experience if you don’t hire me?” I just needed an outlet to express myself and have a quick turn around time. When you’re acting and you do a role, after the role is done, you don’t see any progress for months or years. With 4SkinVision, I have more control. I have more power. I can think of something, shoot it tonight and then have it up tomorrow if I want to. I’m also building my brand as an individual so I’m not worried about getting a job or the next time I’ll book.
My mission was to come out here and create. If I’m not creating, then I’m doing nothing; I’m wasting away. Youtube is a whole new phenomenon that everybody’s going to now. Russell Simmons is doing it. Shaq is doing it. You have to seize opportunities and capitalize then and there. If you don’t, you’re gonna get left out with everybody else that tries and goes nowhere. If I have an opportunity to do something, I’d rather do it now than wait for someone else to ask me to be a part of his or her project. Why do that when I can do the same thing off my own merit?
Can you talk about your journey from the inception of the idea until now? Did you have to find funding? Did you need to find a camera?
I had these ideas, but I was constantly worried. How do I make these things happen? I don’t have a camera. How do I get this? I don’t have money for that. How do I know if somebody’s gonna like what I like? How do I know what they like? Will they like this? Then I say to myself “I cant please everyone, just do the work.”
I’m inspired by movies and by other sketch comedy performers. My first sketch was AwwState: Popeye. I fell in love with the Allstate Mayhem guy and I said, “You know what? I can do something like that.” And I put together a small budget and a small team of people that I met doing background work. And some of those people introduced me to a phenomenal graphic artist. Then I wrote a script via this program called Celtx my friend told me about. It’s a free program that you can use to write scripts.
Awwstate: Popeye was the first thing I ever wrote. And I was like, “Yo, this is gonna be funny. It’s gonna be a viral hit. It’s gonna be live!” After we shot it I said, “We’re gonna start doing this all the time.” But when the first video came out, nobody was really watching. It wasn’t a viral hit. It only got like 3,000 views, but I didn’t let that get me down. I started writing some more and asked the same people that I asked before to be my crew again. And they said, “Uh, we’re too busy…”
So now I don’t have a team. Nobody wants to take a chance and keep doing the videos. I had to find a way to raise money to fund my projects, so I started doing background work, side jobs, just to make money so I could produce these sketch videos. And these videos don’t make you any money right off the bat; they don’t. I was doing all these things to make it work and get the right people involved; I had to think creatively to work within my quarter water budget. Borrowing my homegirl’s wig for the sketch idea, going thrift shopping, buying all types of things that I didn’t even know could work, trying to put things together. Then one day in the midst of all this planning, I threw a party at my house and one of my roommate’s friends stole my laptop.
All the scripts I had written were gone. Everything. All my ideas, everything I’d written, gone. They stole my laptop. Now, how am I gonna get this done? How am I gonna get my channel up? How am I gonna get my videos up? I thought, obviously I’m not supposed to be writing or acting. If all my ideas can be taken away just like that, then I’m destined to fail working on my own. I guess I gotta wait around like everyone else. My first video wasn’t good enough anyway. It didn’t go viral. But then I thought to myself, I only feel that way because I had an expectation on how things should go. You’re not supposed to have an expectation on anything. You’re supposed to just put it out there and see what happens. I was looking at the closed door. I thought those were the best ideas I had, but no! I can never run out of ideas; I’m me! People have to realize that you can never run out of your ideas. Ideas are infinite. So I got back to writing.
I wrote “The Witness” because one time a Jehovah’s Witness came by the house and as I was ducking him I thought, “this would be funny because this is relatable.” People have ducked Jehovah’s Witnesses before. And then I wanted to make sure that these videos got a lot of hits so I hired a PR person and put my money where my mouth was. I started investing in 4SkinVision and then the numbers started going up. People were commenting. And then I said, “You know what? I need to be doing this on a bi-weekly basis,” because people only care if you’re constantly working on something. At first, no one’s paying attention, but once you keep doing it; they have no choice but to pay attention. They have no choice but to believe you. I had to make this dream into a reality. It was very unexpected, but it started taking off. I started the channel on April 1st  and now I’m at 300,000 views.
And I keep getting new ideas and I keep getting inspired by talking to new people, talking to Youtubers. 4skinvision is gonna be it one of these days, I promise you.
I’ve heard countless stories of content creators and entrepreneurs facing major setbacks, but it’s in those moments that you must decide to keep going and stay determined.
That’s very true. You gotta make that choice. You gotta ask yourself, “Am I gonna let this thing beat me down? Or am I gonna get myself up and keep going?” Kevin Hart said, “ everybody wants to be famous, but nobody wants to do the work.” I’ma do the work.
Switching gears a little bit, I have a question regarding your professional identity. As a Black actor and comedian, do you feel a heightened sense of responsibility in putting out content? Do you see yourself as Black comedian or as a comedian?
No, I’m an actor/comedian. And I don’t feel like I’m a role model, but if I do happen to inspire you along the way then I’ve done my job as a human being. If I can inspire you to do something great with your time, to do whatever it is that makes you happy, that thing that makes you forget to eat, that thing you wake up every morning thinking about…if I can inspire you to do that thing that’s constantly on your mind, then I’ve done my job. Cause if I’m worried about what other people are saying or thinking, then I’m going to paralyze myself and stifle my creativity.
Anyways, when you’re Black, nothing’s good enough for people. Everybody hates on one another, but we have to realize that there’s enough for everybody. There’s no reason to hate on someone because they’re more popular than you or because their page is more popular than yours. You can’t be mad because everyone has his or her own path and journey. And when it’s your time, you’re gonna say, “How did I get here? This is crazy!” But if you’re sitting around worried about other people, hating on one another, then you’re never going to grow or succeed. You gotta think positive and do positive things; things that move you and inspire you. At the end of the day, who do you have to answer to? You! You and God. That’s it. At the end of the day, who’s there to judge you but you and God? My message to everybody is to “do you”—the best you that you can possibly do. No one can do you better than you. And you gotta be willing to work with everybody.
Now, I’m gonna watch and support a Black movie or movement if it’s good. I’m not gonna go just because it’s made by Black people or because the cast is Black. I’m not. I support whatever’s good that has quality. Like, Denzel Washington. Will Smith. Morgan Freeman. Idris Elba, I look up to that man; his acting is amazing. Don’t just go watch a movie because the cast is Black. Go because you support it and you like their work.
What inspired Dumb State Laws?
I was talking to my friend about how my sketch comedy contains a lot of innuendo jokes, but there was nothing concrete, nothing that people could just go to and know what they were gonna get. Instagram is popular for pictures. Vine is popular for videos [Well…]. Twitter is popular for updates. And Facebook was initially popular because you got to connect to people from different colleges.
Dumb State Laws is something that’s gonna be just as stapled. It’s educational. It calls out dumb laws. Like, come on, you can’t spit anywhere other than a baseball diamond mound? Really? There are laws that say you can’t own cowboy boots unless you own two cows and that you can’t go bowling on a sidewalk. Really?
It’s entertaining! I’m gonna do as much as I possibly can and eventually move on to other states. Dumb State Laws in Massachusetts, New York, Utah. There are dumb state laws everywhere. You can even look it up. If you go on dumblaws.com, you’ll see all the dumb laws.
What’s the end goal? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years? What do you hope to gain from all of this?
In 5 years, I see myself continuing to work as an actor, hopefully doing the same thing I’m doing now—just bigger projects, living life and enjoying myself, not stressing about anything. Once I feel like this is a burden and all the fun is out of it, I’ll probably move on. I just wanna keep having fun.
Besides, the best part about doing this right now is building it. Building your brand is like one of the most enjoyable parts. The process is single-handedly the most important part to your success. You get to make mistakes. You get to grow from them. You get to see what works and what doesn’t. And anyone that comes after you, you can help them to be great because you already went through it. I see myself as an educator sometimes. And I see myself flourishing in my acting career. I see myself in 5 years, at least being nominated for something. [Laughs] Let me win Sundance. Let me get a SAG award. Let me get an Emmy, once I get there. An Oscar once I get there. Let me change TV. Let me be the next big thing for people.
What do you have to say to those who are currently putting their dreams on hold for one reason or another?
I want to encourage those who are saying, “Oh, I’m waiting for my turn.” Those who think that they have to wait for someone to tell them when it’s their turn. It’s really up to you! You gotta get up and get things going right now. There’s no waiting process. You gotta get up and build your brand. Harmonize your thoughts with your actions. If you’re not doing that, then what are you doing?
You can watch the latest episode of Dumb State Laws below:
Keep up with Jean Elie and 4SkinVision