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Joshua Neal is a viral sensation, using social media platforms to share his acting talents and social commentary with the world, and simultaneously launching his career.
Multiple times a week, Neal posts short comedic videos where he plays all the roles, writes all the scripts, and produces all the stories. He can be seen smoking fake cigarettes as a bad guy or wearing a towel on his head as he takes on the role of an angry girlfriend—all in service of telling humorous stories that resonate with people’s real-life experiences.
His posts have been shared widely, and have reached the digital doorsteps of Hollywood luminaries like Ava DuVernay.
Neal, an actor, writer and creator who grew up in Union City and currently lives in Hayward, now has a foot in the door of major production circles, and he did it by simply creating content from the confines of his parents’ crib.
This week Joshua Neal shares a little bit of his own story, as well as what it takes to consistently make viral videos.
Below are some lightly edited excerpts of the episode with Joshua Neal.
Pen: Why Hayward? Like, Hayward is not L.A.
Joshua: It isn’t, but you know, it’s a little bit easier for the opportunities to come to you wherever you are because of social media. So I don’t really have a reason to be in L.A. right now. You know, like I remember when I finally… I booked a national commercial right? And I was like, I’ve made it. I’m going to buy my mom a Ferrari and I’m going to move to L.A.
Pen: Off of one commercial.
Joshua: Exactly. So I made a cool little penny. But when I was out there, I was doing a lot of the same things that I was doing in the Bay, which is just waiting for an audition. Sending in a self-tape [audition], you know, you don’t really even get the audition in person, I guess, until round two or three? Depending on, you know, how big of a production they are, you know, stuff like that. So I was like, you know what, until I have to come back to L.A. and do work there, then I’ll just stay out here. And [it’s] a little bit easier on the pockets.
I think the cultures are very different: there’s social media and then there’s the film and TV industry. I think how you’re seen is very, very different, you know what I mean? Because I feel like, there is the method that, you know, you’re just sending in your self-tape, you’re auditioning. But we’re in a different day and age now, to where you can be somewhat in control of your destiny, like you don’t have to wait around. And I think that instead of reaching out to Hollywood, it’s a little better to have Hollywood reach out to you, now.
You know, there’s a lot of people that go to actor’s school. They do their … what is it called, their showcase. And there’s agents that come there and they get picked up straight from that, you know what I mean? But for those of us who I would say kind of don’t want to sit still … Then it’s the best way to market yourself, brand yourself, make a living and have them go, “Oh, we think this guy will be good for this” because when they approach you in an audition opportunity, they have an idea already of who you are, and kind of like the part that you will fit. So it kind of gives you a little extra advantage… Until Michael B. Jordan comes in and then it’s all over!
Pen: I asked Joshua what his goal would be if he were to make super stardom like Issa Rae, who also carved out her path through a web series. And whether he would try to help other people in his community get past some of the Hollywood gatekeeping.
Joshua: You know, for people, you know who aren’t Black, not a person of color, it’s kind of like the opportunity is everywhere, it’s been there. So there’s not as much pressure to put people on because they’re already on or going to get on. It’s very easy. Versus one of us makes it out of thousands? We’re all going to say like, “Oh, please, yo, I mean like, you got to.” We feel like you’re obligated to because of the fact that it’s rare for one of us to make it as big as Issa Rae. You know what I’m saying? And I’m pretty sure she feels as pressured to sometimes to be like oh I have to do it, because if you don’t, who else is? There’ll be another Issa Rae thirty years from now. Being a black man in America, especially a Black artist, there is the lack of opportunities. So if I get lucky and blessed enough to get to this level of whatever stardom, whatever you want to call it, and I have this access of managers and agents and casting directors and people that I can “put on,” I’m going to do so.
Joshua: Sometimes I feel like people can maybe look at social media people as like they got it made and stuff. When really I don’t, personally. So I like to, you know, just bring it down to earth sometimes, let people know that it’s like, yo, or I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m 32, I live with my parents. You know, things just started taking off for me and my acting career a year and a half ago, you know, and I’m still trying to make it.
Sometimes I think it’s important to just let people know, like, we’re really all in this together. We’re really all trying to figure it out. Sometimes things aren’t what they seem, you know what I’m saying? So I just put that in there every now and then. And I know I can sound so phony, [but] he battle really is within yourself. It really is. You’re your hardest critic. You’re always going to say, “this isn’t funny. That’s not going to do it. That’s not going to… ”
You don’t know that! Do it first, then find out. There’s nothing to be worried about right now. There’s no failure. So make something, because it could be the greatest thing someone’s ever seen.
Rightnowish is an arts and culture podcast produced at KQED. Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or click the play button at the top of this page and subscribe to the show on NPR One, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.