During the heyday of Vine, many of the app’s most popular users lived in or near an apartment complex at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street (!) in Los Angeles. They frequently collaborated on videos in order to pool their talents and fan bases, ensuring appearances at the top of Vine’s “Explore” page.
By comparison, Reggie Couz is less Vine collaborator than Vine auteur. In his first clip, which he posted in May 2013 a month before graduating from high school, he sits alone in his drab, undecorated bedroom, poking fun at overconfident beatmakers.
This short video sets up a broad template for his rise to Vine stardom over the course of the next few years: He would transform his bedroom into a rich universe populated by an array of oblivious characters of his creation, and use these characters as means to express his prodigious musical talents. After watching a few of his videos, it's clear: Couz is a powerhouse vocalist, producer of titanic trap symphonies, and a dance machine.
His characters are many. There’s Mr. Johnson, the milly rocking choir instructor; Pappa Couz, who is found either telling his to son to “shut yo ass up” or embarrassing him with his ferocious two-step; Holy Tony; the educational rapper who specializes in American presidents; Pastor Riley, the swindling congregation leader; and Dirty Mercy, the Yale chemistry-political science double major turned Ja Rule impersonator.
Couz amassed 3.9 million Vine followers before the app ceased to exist in 2017. But he's continued to set the internet ablaze using his Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube accounts, where his videos routinely eclipse one million views. In his own way, he has become one of the country’s most beloved entertainers. It's difficult to think of a modern comedian who integrates music and comedy more skillfully, with the possible exception of Bo Burnham. And while Burnham’s act easily translated to Netflix specials and college tours, Couz’s reliance on video editing and his suite of characters make his future less predictable, and thus more gripping.
We reached out to Couz to learn more about his musical background, bold foray into internet entertainment, and plans for the next stage of his career.
I’ve gathered that you studied classical singing growing up. What kind of formal music education have you had?
I actually attended a performing arts high school. I attended Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts in East Orange, New Jersey. I studied classical music; that's where I learned to sing classical music in Spanish, Italian, Russian and German. I continued to study music at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA but only completed a year there.
Is there any real life inspiration for Mr. Johnson? How did you come up with that character?
My real life inspiration is actually my high school vocal music teacher. She is so passionate and focused on the music. Vocal music was my absolute favorite and best class. I came up with Mr. Johnson as a way to combine comedy and music so my audience would see that I have multiple talents.
Your most popular videos all incorporate music in one way or another. What makes music a good vessel for comedy?
Music is my first love. When I first started making Vines, comedy was the way to go and people seemed to gravitate toward comedic content. As my following grew due to comedic content, it made sense for me to showcase my musical ability by delivering it with a twist of comedy.
It’s clear that there’s a lot of musical talent at the core of most of your videos. Why do you choose comedy as the way to express yourself musically instead of focusing solely on a serious music career?
Everybody loves a good laugh. And I initially started with comedy. Since I have the ability to do both, I figured, why not? I didn't think to pick a lane. I want to share my gifts with as many people as possible. I don't feel like I had to limit myself to either music or comedy.
You have released some serious music, too. How do those worlds collide? Is it difficult to get people to take you seriously if they only know you from your comedic stuff?
I think that your talent speaks for itself. I think that this generation doesn't really care about rules and "lanes." I don't know that people are so quick to put you in a category. If they rock with you, they rock with you.
A lot of other Vine stars collaborated with each other to consolidate their power. You seem to prefer working alone. Why is that?
Initially, I didn't collab with other people because I lived in New Jersey and there weren't a lot of Viners there for me to collab with. I wasn't in a position to travel for Vine collabs while being a college student. But the flip side of being forced to work alone is that my audience grew because of my content, not because of who I was able to collaborate with. As a result, my audience got characters that they have grown to love and look forward to seeing on my platforms. I hear that they are forming a search party for Dirty Mercy since he's been M.I.A. for a while.
What's the craziest reaction you've received after one of your videos went viral? Have any artists reached out to you?
The craziest reaction I've received after one of my videos went viral is the love that people showed for the Quavo National Anthem video. Quavo reposted it and Drake commented. Several radio stations around the country played it on air. It was lit! I was also a little surprised about how much people love the "Know Your Presidents" video. People said that they literally used that video to help them pass their social studies and citizenship tests. I appeared in Yo Gotti's "Down In The DM" as Mr. Johnson. And Chance the Rapper acknowledged my Mr. Johnson choir remixes on Twitter.
Your mom was initially skeptical of your plan to pursue online comedy. What does she think now?
My mom initially didn't understand how I was going to make money by posting videos. Even after I explained it, she still gave me the "momma side eye.” One thing I can say about Momma is that she gave me the time and support to give it a try. When she started seeing those checks, she was fully on board. She's now my business manager.
Do you think it’s possible to turn comedy videos like this into a sustainable long term career? What’s your vision like for the future?
Anything is possible. I'm all about growth and elevation. I really enjoy creating characters and content that everyone can enjoy whether you're with your friends or your family. I love that my audience is multigenerational. I plan to continue creating content and introducing new characters. Long term, I see myself writing and producing content for the small and big screen. At the end of the day, my overall goal is to positively impact culture. I'd like to think that I'm off to a good start.