Glowing Up with YouTube Phenomenon Rickey Thompson

The Los Angeles-Based Social Media Star On Overcoming Shyness, Becoming HighSnobiety’s “Best-Dressed,” and Enjoying the Little Things in Life

  • Interview: Erika Houle
  • Photography: Rickey Thompson

In a generation that craves content, Rickey Thompson holds the secret ingredient—he’s addictive. Bursting with flavor. It's near impossible to scroll through the 22-year-old actor and social media star's posts without becoming instantly hooked to the contagious effects of his undying energy and over-the-top theatrics. To not want to subscribe to the pure, unbridled joy he solicits merely through extravagance—with a sense of style to match.

While other modern-day internet influencers attempt to brand themselves selectively, pushing product for personal gain, Thompson is just here to make you laugh. To give the world a very necessary boost. Through the sea of darkness that permeates our social media platforms, he is a flashing strobe light of joke-cracking, look-serving, and—none other than his own—ass-slapping greatness. Thompson, as he so often reminds himself, is That Bitch.

Since pursuing his dream of moving to L.A. at just 19, the YouTuber has built a cult following (recently surpassing 1.5 million) and a career out of being his own hype man. But he wasn’t always so outspoken. Growing up a shy kid in Raleigh, North Carolina, Thompson kept his confidence confined within the walls of his bedroom where he’d come up with comedic skits as a way to combat boredom. Eventually, with the encouragement of a close friend, he shared a clip on Vine and—of course, because it was about being catfished—the world caught wind quickly. Now he regularly finds himself “booked internationally,” as he likes to put it, with gigs including lead roles in music videos and narrating mixtapes with rapper Aminé, starring in the YouTube TV series Foursome, and managing the schedule and demands of his own multi-channel presence. He honors his impact, too, thoughtfully tailoring his creations to his fans. “I’m always on Twitter looking to see what people are going through and what things they’re talking about, and if I can connect with that,” Thompson says. Garnering the likes of everyone from Azealia Banks to Janet Mock, clearly it’s paid off.

Between wrapping up shooting the fourth season of Foursome and attending a weekend of events at VidCon earlier this summer, I hopped on a call with Thompson to talk fashion, crushes, and why he tells himself he’s everything.

Rickey Thompson wears Homme Plisse Issey Miyake t-shirt. Top Image: Rickey wears St-Henri button down shirt.

Erika Houle

Rickey Thompson

You spent your childhood living in North Carolina, what was that like?

I was very different from who I am today. I had a great childhood, loving family, good group of friends, but I was very upset about how quiet I was. I kept to myself, people there are very narrow-minded. I really wish this Rickey now could go back in time and do North Carolina over again because I think I would have a way different and more fun experience.

When did you break out of your shell?

Not until my senior year in high school. I was still shy but I was doing Vine behind closed doors at home. I started to talk about different things and it gave me these new feelings of confidence. People were watching all over the world. I used to stay up all night just posting, posting, posting. I had so much to say and in only six seconds, ugh, I’d just keep going. When I started becoming popular from Vine and people started recognizing that at school, I decided to be more outgoing, my true self. It was very positive in the end, I graduated prom king!

And now you’ve made a career out of it.

It’s been pretty crazy. I’m doing everything all at once.

Earlier this year you won HighSnobiety’s competition for “Best Dressed Youtuber.” What role does fashion play in your life?

I didn’t really know how to dress until I moved out to L.A. because I was still on the whole North Carolina thing. I used to study people’s looks on Tumblr and then try to do it. I didn’t get into fashion until my best friend Denzel was like, ‘Rickey, you need to get your fashion together. People are looking at you.’ Ever since I won that award, a lot of people respect my fashion. I absolutely love it. A lot of people were shocked that I got nominated, they were like, ‘oh my god, he doesn’t even talk about fashion,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t have to talk about fashion to show it, okay?’

What are some trends you’ve been seeing lately that you wish would disappear?

Regular vests are very nice, but a denim vest? Just not about it. I’ve seen people wearing them around and I wish they’d go back to 2014, they’re so gross. Cargo pants gotta go. V-necks definitely have to go.

A lot of the internet’s humor today is focused on self-deprecation and I think what people love about you is your extreme self-praise. Does that ever feel performative or grow tiresome to you?

Not at all! I’m so happy that people are connecting with me because I’m literally just being myself. When I post Instagram videos I never plan it. I’ll be sitting down eating, taking a shower, doing anything, and I’ll be like, ‘Oh my god I can’t believe I did this today,’ and then I’ll be like, ‘wait a minute, let me talk about this.’ The fact that people are relating to me on this level, which I thought nobody would ever do—I didn’t think people were as loud and extra as me—it makes me really happy. I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to keep on going for you guys!’

Your job essentially requires you to document every move you make. Is work-life balance important to you? How do you separate one from the other?

I do have boundaries with what I post. I talk about my relationships or whatever, but I never go in depth about what’s going on or what I’m doing. I make hints, but I’m really not the type of person to talk about my feelings. If I’m sad, I won’t say that online. I’m not trying to make people cry, I’m trying to make them die of laughter.

When you are feeling down, what’s the best way to gas yourself up?

The best way to gas yourself up is to look at yourself in the mirror and see everything that’s working and be like, ‘Okay, I got this. If I can fix this, I got it.’ And that’s what I always do. I can always snap back real quick. I’ll look at myself in the mirror like, ‘Cute, cute, cute—we’re going to fix this.’ Then, I’ll pick out my outfit, and I’m like, ‘Yes, this makes me look good.’ If you just tell yourself that you look popping, that you are everything, it will definitely work.

You recently posted about how you fear you'll “die alone” because nobody’s personality is like yours. What traits do you look for in a person?

I love somebody with a good sense of humor who is in touch with their sensitive side. A lot of people don’t know this about me, but I can cry easily. I’d love somebody who is out there and extra. I need somebody who can, not hold me down, but match my extra. If you don’t have great taste in music, I’m so turned off.

If you had to choose a theme song for your life so far, what would it be?

Definitely “Boss” by Beyonce and Jay Z.

My favorite of your videos are the lessons in getting your crush’s attention, usually with epic dance moves. How do you get your crush’s attention online?

Always test the waters first, never just jump in full force. First, you see if they’re following you. If they’re not, like some of their pics. A lot of pics. You gotta comment some cute things, you gotta get them to notice. If they like your pictures back and they’re liking your comments, you hit that follow button. If they follow you back, you got it! Slide into the DMs, you guys are talking, there you go! If they don’t follow, you unfollow and forget about them. You do not keep trying. It’s not going to work out.

They’re dead to you.

Of course!

I noticed a sign in the background of some of your videos that says “enjoy the little things.” What are your favorite simple pleasures?

I’ll be so happy and feel so warm inside when I’m just watching a movie with my friends and we’re laughing and talking about each others’ days. Same with my family. I love small things like that. Going on walks by yourself, enjoying the world around you. Just appreciate all my blessings.

Do you ever find it challenging to be so invested in the online world?

There are sometimes when I just want to be normal and do different kinds of things but I’m being watched. I have to be careful. I have to make sure I don’t say certain things that would make a brand upset with me. Being on the radar all the time is kind of frustrating, but overall it’s helped me because I’m very safe with what I do. One problem I have is that people think my job is easy. They’ll be like, ‘Anybody can do what you do,’ and I’m like, ‘No, what I do can be very stressful sometimes.’ Having meet and greets that will last for hours, going onto panels and opening up to people that maybe you don’t want to, but you have to, things like that. Working on set all day and then coming home to manage my YouTube and Instagram, it’s very difficult. I’ve seen people fail and back out because they were so tired of all the hard work and the stress, but that’s not me. Rickey Thompson, he’s always on the move.

Erika Houle is an Editor at SSENSE.

  • Interview: Erika Houle
  • Photography: Rickey Thompson
  • Styling: Angela Solouk