A few days ago we posted a preview clip from the excellent new HBO documentary about Chris Crocker -- aka, the tearful defender of Britney Spears' tarnished reputation in the 2007 viral video "Leave Britney Alone!" -- Me @ the Zoo. The doc, directed by Chris Moukarbel and Valerie Veatch, explores the ideas of Internet communities, what constitutes celebrity, and how the lines between performance, mimicking and authenticity have become blurred on the Web. It also gives a pretty heart-wrenching look into Crocker's life at home in an impoverished small-town in Tennessee, where he lives with his grandmother. (Crocker's mother is an Iraq war vet who returned home with mental health issues and occasionally lives on the street.)
HBO organized a press Q&A for Me @ The Zoo, which Papermag attended along with other journalists. Read on to see what Crocker said about John Waters, how he's progressed since "Leave Britney Alone," and the corporate-evolution of YouTube.
On exposing his private life for the Me @ The Zoo:
I felt just entirely vulnerable because when I'm putting out YouTube videos I'm able to mask where I'm coming from or what I'm really feeling... It's only three minutes. And with a camera crew and editors you don't know what they're going to pick and choose. The documentary definitely touched on things that I'm not sharing on YouTube. Not only that, but having [the producers] ask me questions and me stopping and thinking about why I've done so much of what I've done. You know, I'd never just stopped and went, "Why did I make this video?" before this. It definitely forced me to confront things that were in my subconscious. And I realized a lot of parallels that I never thought about.
On how he felt about his family being included in the documentary:
I've always said, 'You can throw darts at me all you want to, but when you criticize my family that's something entirely different.' I've never wanted what I do to fall on my family and them have to take responsibility for it. My grandparents are Pentecostal. They had to stop going to the church they went to [when I started becoming more famous on YouTube].
On how he would advise kids who are being bullied:
It's hard to say, because [making YouTube videos] was so uniquely my outlet. I wouldn't necessarily advise other kids to do that because you have to have a really strong sense of self to put yourself out there. And have darts thrown at you by hundreds of thousands of people in comments. The main thing is just finding an outlet. It doesn't necessarily have to be YouTube or something public. A lot of kids have journals and stuff. And I've told people in other interviews it's one thing to write a poem and keep that to yourself, but the thing that was so liberating for me about YouTube was knowing that people could hear it if they wanted to. And I think a lot of kids want to feel heard. It's not necessarily just about getting the feelings out ... they want to feel listened to as well. And so I think a lot of kids, and some people might not agree, but I think a lot of kids do need counselors. And they need therapists to talk to. I had a therapist from the time I was 14 to 16 years old and it really helped me. It's about finding an outlet and also having someone to talk to.
On meeting John Waters:
I was actually at John Waters' house two nights ago! It was mind-blowing. And he was really encouraging, and it was great to see someone that is so accomplished yet, you know, isn't jaded by the way people are. They see you in sort of categories: you're an attention whore, you're on this level of fame. And to be in his home and to have him be so encouraging of me, and, like, tell me I'm so charismatic and things was really encouraging.
On how he's changed over the years:
I'm 24, going to be 25 now, and my priorities have changed. I'm not obsessed with pop culture, pop music or anything [like I was] as a teenager. I'm into poetry, I'm reading my Sylvia Plath. My interests have changed. I work out a lot. I'm kind of boring now.
On how YouTube has changed over the years:
When I first started making videos it was much more free. You could do more on YouTube, but there was no way to make money. So I think the problem is that now YouTube is going to production companies, and everything's just becoming so Disney Channel. It was just more of a community to me back then. So I definitely miss the heydays of just being able to be yourself, pick up the camera and not have to edit your videos and just put it out there.
Me @ The Zoo airs on Monday, June 25th at 9pm on HBO.