By Hannah Wagner and Anne Marie Larson
Saturday night, a tag team of Weekly reporters went to Colleen Ballinger’s variety show held at the Musco Center for The Arts in Orange. While “Colleen Ballinger” might not mean much to those over the age of 13, she is better known as Miranda Sings – the unbearable internet star who, for ten long years has slathered the lower half of her face in red lipstick, screeching to all: “Haters… Back Off!”
Both of us are young enough to be familiar with the icon that is Miranda Sings, but the teenage girls in our lives met the news of our opportunity with instant recognition and up-to-date information on the comedian’s personal life. Our landlady’s thirteen-year-old daughter, who we witness watching hours of YouTube every day, ditched her usual unamused pre-teen demeanor to excitedly spout her extensive knowledge of “Colleen” and the star’s vlogged pregnancy.
Motivated by intense FOMO, we set aside our raised-brow skepticism and began combing through Ballinger’s YouTube channel. With 9.6 million subscribers and tens of millions of views per video, her sheer popularity left us feeling out-of-touch.
Why is this woman so goddamn famous? Are we…old? At 24, are we really that far gone that we already don’t get it?
Upon arriving at the show, we were astounded by Ballinger’s renown as we waded through a gaggle of girls dressed in Miranda costumes. A stressed mom attempted to wrangle her group of little Miranda impersonators, passing around her tube of lipstick. Fans swarmed the lobby clutching Miranda books in hopes of getting them signed. Judging by the 1,044 sold out seats, Ballinger’s final show of the last tour for the foreseeable future was a Big Deal.
Walking on to instant enthusiasm from a screaming crowd, Ballinger, pregnant and sequin-clad, was quick to address anyone who doesn’t “get” her comedy. With understanding, charisma and just the right amount of self-deprecation, she skillfully sewed together stories of passive aggressive parents and internet trolls, painting a picture of how difficult it is to be yourself in a world of critics – especially when your art is misunderstood.
Four spotlights crisscrossed over Ballinger as she sang “Defying Gravity” and transformed into Miranda Sings. In a quick costume change, assistants rushed on stage to hand Ballinger red sweatpants, a purple kitten sweater, pink crocs, and red lipstick to pull over her dress and practical black flats.
“Hey guys, it’s Miranda,” she said. “I’m so essited to be here.”
The crowd screamed. Again.
Even six months pregnant, Ballinger showcased her versatility and trained showmanship through intentionally catering to the diverse crowd. With impressive energy, she mixed kid-friendly and adult humor, seesawed between Italian opera and meme-ish internet bangers, and invited an eclectic mix of audience participation on and off stage.
Further hyping an already explosive audience, Ballinger flexed her celebrity clout with surprise guest stars, the sparkling Frankie Grande and JoJo Siwa. Those unfazed by internet fame laughed at the comic’s zinger fake-out announcement of the presence of Joey Graceffa.
Ballinger’s most substantial quality is her unmatched focus on the goldmine surrounding digital natives. Attention = money!
Her relevant dedication to self-confidence proved a charming theme throughout the show. Truly ahead of her time, she has built a career on empathizing with young people while throwing an obnoxious grimace to the “haters.”
A sharp aside caught our ear when she surreptitiously mentioned one particular “hater.” She explained this man has interviewed a lot of comedians, and after the cameras stopped rolling he asked her, “Is there a reason why other comedians are funny, and you’re not?” We believe she was referring to none other than Mr. Jerry Seinfeld, host of the popular Netflix series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”
Prompted by this subliminal call-out, after the show we went home and watched Jerry’s interview with Ballinger. Wow oh wow, nothing illustrates the novelty and power of her fame more than their uncomfortable generational collision. We couldn’t stop laughing. Like a champ, Ballinger stuck to her Miranda character through Seinfeld’s obvious peevishness.
Maybe fame, money, and male-privilege change a person, but for an old Jewish guy who built a career off of being difficult and complaining about everything, it was surprising Seinfeld couldn’t see the parallel genius sitting across the diner booth.
But then again, we didn’t fully get it at first either. There’s something about this specific kind of celebrity that is difficult to understand. It’s fresh.
We went to the show. We talked to the fans. We felt how truly connected they were to not only the Miranda Sings character, but also to Ballinger personally. And there’s something there.
We concede that some of these internet stars are a bit too bedazzled and high-pitched for everyone’s taste, but we speak to all when we say, “Lighten up – and at least show some respect for the undeniable business savvy and obvious ability to make people smile.”
Much love, respect, and luck to Colleen Ballinger, her incredible artistry, wildly successful career, and her growing family and fanbase. MirFandas unite, and HATERS BACK OFF!