If you were watching television in the ‘90s, you’re probably familiar with Orlando Jones. As an original cast member of “MadTV,” the actor and comedian appeared in regular rotation on Fox and Comedy Central for years. He was also the spokesman for soft drink company 7 Up’s longest-running and most controversial ad campaign. You probably still see dudes at the gym wearing the iconic “Make 7 Up … Yours” lime green T-shirt that, at the time, scandalized daytime talk show hosts and conservatives alike. It was the ‘90s after all, and Janet Jackson’s notorious wardrobe malfunction was five years away; people had to search for reasons to be pissed off.
Fast forward over a decade, and Jones’ versatility as a performer is shining through. From his wildly controversial Twitter account — the actor received massive backlash after a tweet suggesting liberals kill Sarah Palin went viral — to his popular Huffington Post blog posts, Jones has become deeply ingrained in modern internet culture.
His latest project, “Tainted Love,” is currently being hosted on YouTube channel Machinima Prime. With its blend of graphic novel-inspired storytelling, “Tainted Love” is shaping up to be one of the most innovative web series to date. I caught up with the veteran actor, writer and producer to discuss breaking the boundaries of traditional television and why YouTube is this generation’s greatest outlet for rebellion.
For interview in video format, please go to last page.
As someone in the public eye, do you ever feel like you need to censor yourself?
Orlando Jones: You know, I realize this sounds like a dodge, but unfortunately I actually mean it. I don’t give offense; that’s not the way it works. You take offense. You see the wrinkle up in there [points to forehead]? You don’t include me in the decision-making process. I throw “b*tch” in the air, you claim it as your own — I wasn’t talking to you, b*tch! I was just talking. I say it jokingly, but I really do mean that I don’t claim responsibility for how something is going to be received, but I do try and provide a context, that something I am saying belongs in this context. So I often try and provide context for when I initially say it, but unfortunately some people don’t care about context, and when they change that framing, you are subject to a lot of different interpretations. It’s one of the dangers of social media. My intention is to make people laugh in my social media realm, to entertain broadly; that is really it. That is what I love about social media; it is a way in which I can entertain that isn’t commerce-based at this point. It is just me having fun. It is a pure interaction, and I love it for that, and I’ll try and utilize it for that, you know. I’m not going to tell you I’m in the grocery store or you know, I just left my grandma’s house. Generally it’s a joke or it’s something entertaining or what not; I can’t ever censor that because you know artistically that’s my job.
You’ve done work in a time when people’s feedback and criticisms weren’t as lightning fast as social media made them. If someone didn’t like you in a movie, you might get an email and it would go right to your spam, but now people can register their dislike or their criticism at the click of a button. How has that affected your career, if at all?
That particular element has actually affected everything in an extraordinarily pervasive way. I would frame it as such. For over 200,000 years there have been two kinds of communication: one-to-one and one-to-many; one-to-one being what we’re doing, and one-to-many being radio, television, movies, theatre, everything else, and human beings are experts at those two forms of communication. Seven years ago Twitter was born and Twitter is many-to-many, and that’s different. And no point has everyone in the room been able to talk to everyone in the room and everyone outside of the room and anyone on a connected device at the same time. That is a completely different mode of communication. There are no experts — it’s 7 years old. We don’t know where it is going, we don’t know what it’s going to do, and we are stumbling through it like the 7-year-olds that we are in this new form of communication, so I’m stumbling through it along with everybody else and trying to figure it out just like everybody else. There is no getting it right; no one even knows exactly what it is yet. But I do know is that it is exciting to embrace technology. Will it have an effect on me as an artist? How can it not? I don’t like looking at myself because I don’t like making shifts as an actor for vanity; like, okay, I don’t like the way I look, so I’m not going to turn my head this way when I say that line. I don’t like doing that because for me it takes me out of it. And if it makes me subject to criticism, I’ve always been okay with that because I know I approach the craft from the purest of perspectives, and telling stories is the thing that I love more than all other things in this world. So for me the fact that I’m the geek nerd kid that is what it is, and like most geek nerd kids you hating me ain’t new [laughs]. I’m a nerdy black dude; they’ve always hated me. Most black dudes hated me [laughs], let alone white dudes; nerds get unilateral hate. So as a recipient of unilateral hate most of my life, say what you got to say, B, but I’m going to do what I got to do because that’s what I do.
You’re now launching a new web series, “Tainted Love.” You’re three episodes in with the fourth episode coming out soon. Is that scary for you that YouTube is still a format that people are still stumbling through, that it doesn’t have the recipe that television has where you do X,Y and Z and it will be a hit?
No, I think it’s rock and roll. It’s hip hop. For me, rebel culture has always been rebel culture, and its always had different names. Now I call it “YouTube.” YouTube is “I can make any video I want on Thursday and you can’t stop me” — YouTube. And those are different storytelling rules. Now there are traditional people behaving in the medium along with people who are like, “Whatever dude.” And that’s to me what is exciting about it. I like the energy of it; I’ve always liked things that were rebellious in nature since I’ve always thought of myself as part of those rebels trying to break something or do something fresh or anything, something different, make a new stamp. So I think that for me it’s something to embrace and not something to be afraid of, and it’s exactly why I did “Tainted Love.” It was a way for four geeky friends of mine who have been comic book nerds for a long time to take technology into our own hands and try and create something for the fanboys that we are, as the guys who were writing basic and code when nobody cared about code and getting made fun of it. We are the Machinima kids; I am the new media geek kid, so just run and tell that story to gamers. I was in “Halo 2,” a sergeant on the field, when people didn’t really care about games, you know, and when people were saying they were just violent and everybody hated them. So I’ve been in this world for so long as a fan that for me “Tainted Love” was my attempt to sort of go– if you’re going to do a graphic novel today, then digital has to prove it’s real. I can’t draw it on paper and release it in the dying print business. I have to release it in digital because that’s where the fans are, that’s where I am, that’s where we live now, and I wanted to make that statement, and I wanted to be the first person to sort of do that. Not so much for the glory of that but to just give it away to the fans, you know what I mean? To hand these characters over because that’s what’s so cool about that world about even with the game, the game is yours. You’re in it in your avatar, not somebody else’s, so to look at new ways to tell a story and to unleash comic books in this way and hopefully inspire people in the way that the obvious inspiration for “Tainted Love” are from Edgar Wright and Tarantino and Frank Miller and Jack Kirby if we’re really going back to the ol’ masters. To really do that in digital was important to me, and Noam Dromi and Ted Andre and Avi Youabian — we’re really the four guys who made this, and Machinima has been the greatest gift because we made it outside of Machinima sort of sweat equity down and dirty, and then when they saw it they really embraced it and pushed it out, and so its been a great relationship and they’ve been super. It’s really fun, and to get the immediate feedback is scary but I’m willing to accept their honesty, you know what I’m saying, because I’m just a fan.