YouTube and Netflix star Colleen Ballinger won’t back off.
Like Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella and Martin Short’s Ed Grimley, Colleen Ballinger’s signature character, Miranda Sings, is a clueless, self-assured oddball.
A scowling narcissist who thinks her off-key performances of musical-theater songs and pop hits are a-maze-ing, Miranda inhabits her own weird world — and audiences love it.
Talented at playing untalented, 30-year-old Ballinger has taken her home-schooled alter ego from online videos to cabaret clubs to Netflix, where she now stars in Haters Back Off. A stylized satire in the vein of quirky films like Napoleon Dynamite, Haters expands Miranda’s world to include her equally offbeat family and friends.
The difference, of course, is that Radner’s and Short’s characters rose to fame on Saturday Night Live, while Ballinger built her audience on YouTube, where she’s amassed more than 2.3 billion views across her three channels since 2008 (and continues to post videos regularly).
Her work ethic is undeniable. Even on a day off from shooting season two of Haters (now available), she’s notching another wacky YouTube vid with her “fat and prissy” cat, Gus, at her side. “When I have too much time off, I get restless and stressed. Working hard is what keeps me energized.”
She owes some of that drive — and even some storylines — to her parents and three siblings. In the Ballingers’ banter-happy Santa Barbara home, she says, “Dad had a video camera, and the whole family would make original shows, with Mom playing the piano.”
She was studying vocal performance at Azusa Pacific University when a group of “rude” classmates inspired her now-pervasive persona. “Some of my Miranda videos directly quote from things [other girls] would say in school. But they were so cocky, they would have no idea the character is based on them.”
Today, her brother Chris is a producer on Haters, and her mom handles the fan mail — lots of it. Even Jerry Seinfeld, who’s “the sweeetest,” asked her to guest on his Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee in 2014 — in character.
Ballinger, who won a Teen Choice Award for web comedy star in 2015, has become a kind of role model, offering girl-power messages at live events. Growing up, she says, “I had a lot of issues with self-confidence and bullying, and it would’ve been kind of nice to have had someone to look up to who was weird like I was.”
This month, she heads out on a tour that will take her to Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and eventually back across the U.S.
Don’t expect Ballinger to appear on stage with Miley Cyrus at the VMAs. Miranda sings for the public, but Colleen does not — though she does make plenty of appearances out of character. “I don’t feel compelled to show everyone what I really sound like. I love singing in my own time — don’t get me wrong. But comedy makes me happy.”
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 8, 2017