It’s a few days before Christmas and Crackhead Barney is taking my video call on the corner of a busy intersection in Queens. She’s in the middle of walking home from work, in a pair of reflective sunglasses with her “titties busting out” of a barely there bralette she’s wearing beneath a black puffer jacket, as she yells into the phone over a passing police siren. It’s because she hates Airpods, Barney later explained, after her mom once bought the “cheap ones” that “burn” her ears, meaning she prefers to just talk on the phone sans headphones while talking about wearing a KKK hood and going to MAGA rallies, which is probably confusing for any eavesdroppers seeing as how she’s Black.
A harbinger of complete chaos and unruly antics, the anonymous comedian, performance artist and unflappable host of Crackhead Barney and Friends has become a viral sensation thanks to her maniacal man-on-the-street interviews. Usually conducted on-the-fly, in over-the-top makeup and costumes, and accompanied by an arsenal of eyebrow-raising props, the show sees her ambushing everyone from Zionists to the QAnon shaman to New York gubernatorial candidate Andrew Giuliani — to varying degrees of success. And now, you can watch every single one of her shouting matches with extremely underqualified sons of noted landscaping enthusiasts via MeansTV, the online hub for off-kilter comedy that (very accurately) describes Barney as “anarchist to the core and governable by no one.”
After all, as the streaming service wrote in a press release, Barney’s work is a "spectacle of liberation and defiance" that highlights “the absurdness of their beliefs and the chaotic nature of life.” So unsurprisingly, there have been plenty of removed posts, flagged content, community guideline violations and deleted accounts ever since she began uploading videos with her cameraman and editor Drew Rosenthal, who “kept bothering” her to collaborate after seeing one of her street performances.
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“He first started making a documentary about me, and then I was like, ‘Let's do episodes,’ because I’m going to MAGA rallies by myself,” she said. “So let's see if I had a cameraman come with me and film the Christian guy calling me a whore and telling me I'm gonna die of STDs... Or when I have my Trump mask and my Santa hat, and I’m opening my legs and telling them Trump is garbage and they come cursing.”
As Barney noted though, many consider her work to be “political art,” labeling it “activism,” though that label isn’t entirely true. Rather, she’s someone “who really likes to do slapstick, go against the grain, go against society and moral codes,” which she says has earned her comparisons to the likes of Eric Andre and Borat.
"I’m going against what’s deemed appropriate and what’s inappropriate. What does a woman do? What's feminine? What's masculine?"
“I’m going against what’s deemed appropriate and what’s inappropriate,” as she continued. “What does a woman do? What's feminine? What's masculine? I like to play around with these things.”
Granted, her partnership with MeansTV isn’t solely about the censorship that comes with challenging social niceties and norms. It’s also about exposure and someone “finally taking her seriously” after years of people considering her a “fucking joke” and her performances a “fucking laughingstock.” Part of this is due to Barney’s experience with the extremely white and extremely exclusionary art world, which began when she was studying painting and sculpture at Hunter College. Yet despite her formal training, the accolades and all the standing ovations she received after switching to performance art, Barney still found it difficult to get the same attention as the other white artists she knew, whether it was a woman getting “these fancy ass residencies” or the men who “always get more respect.”
“I think about Matthew Silver and how he’s way more famous than me,” Barney said, referencing another NYC-based artist known for his unconventional performance pieces that often see him yelling at people and convulsing on the ground. And it’s something she “always felt jealous of” because of how differently their performances are received.
“When you’re Black, immediately, they're like, ‘She's poor. She's a drug addict. She has mental issues. She has problems.’ Then when Matthew, it’s like, ‘Oh look, an artist is performing,’” Barney continued before recalling an incident at an art fair where she was performing outside, as one does during those kinds of events. But according to her, she was denied entry and had the cops called on her for the two days afterwards, with one of them threatening arrest.
“When I perform, it’s like the crackhead or the Black woman going crazy, right?,” she said. “But I feel like [Silver is] seen separately from his art and his derangement. I'm coupled with my derangement.”
As a result, Barney spent a long time doubting her ability to come up in the art world through traditional channels, explaining that she “didn’t think they would have picked me.” But that’s also what eventually led her to saying, "Fuck you. Let's do the social media route. Let me be ghetto with it and do something new,’” and in some ways, she said, it’s turned out for the better.
Watch Crackhead Barney’s entire back catalog via MeansTV here.
Welcome to "Internet Explorer," a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter's finest roasts, "Internet Explorer" is here to keep you up-to-date with the web's current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.
Photos by Rick Lombardo / Courtesy of Crackhead Barney/ MeansTV