Rickey Thompson is probably sliding into your DMs. If you happen to know any of the viral celeb's 1.6 million Instagram followers, chances are they've hit up your inbox with one of his hilarious videos, which see the bendy 22-year-old doing everything from twerking at a McDonald's bag to practicing pickup lines with a house plant. His bio says he's "just here to make you laugh," and Thompson has done that and then some, yielding him faithful fans across multiple platforms, like the dearly departed Vine, where his antics first took off in 2013.
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But Thompson wasn't always flaunting his flamboyant voice. In fact, it took him a while to find it. "When I was younger, I was the shyest kid ever," he says. His past is probably part of the reason he was shocked when the Vines he posted in high school sparked such a swift audience response. "All of a sudden, I started getting a lot of attention for my videos," he says, noting that as a Christian from North Carolina, with seemingly impossible dreams of breaking into showbiz, he enjoyed a plot twist fit for a teen movie. "I was an underdog kid, and then, in my senior year of high school, I was the most popular thing," he says.
All clothing by Tom Ford.
Galvanized by this popularity, Thompson focused on making his dreams possible, setting his sights on Los Angeles. Just a day before enrolling in an undergrad program, a trajectory his parents lined up for him, Thompson had an abrupt, adverse reaction and broke the news to his family. "I was like, 'This is not me; this is not what I want to do,'" he says. Instead, Thompson continued boosting his presence on another platform, YouTube, and headed west -- which, as he expected, gave him a jolt of energy. "L.A. is this whole different scene where you can be yourself and dress how you wanna dress," he says. "And everybody's out here trying to succeed, chase goals, and be the next big thing."
But, for Thompson, after a year of asserting his independence, the City of Angels showed its demons -- in his case, fake friends. "When you start to feel out L.A. a little bit more, you see people's intentions," he says. "People will mess around and backstab you -- do you dirty just to get to the top. It's ugly. I was not raised that way." But Thompson has a best friend in fellow YouTuber Denzel Dion, who helps him stay grounded -- and on brand. At one point, Thompson veered from his trademark comedy and tried his hand at style videos, but Denzel steered him back. "He told me, 'Rickey, this is not for you,'" Thompson says. "'I'm gonna be real. I'm so sorry, but look at the views.'"
All clothing by Gucci.
We all need to know our strengths, and while Thompson may not be your source for wardrobe tutorials, since moving to the West Coast, he has seen his theatricality pay off. A bit of his dream to act was fulfilled when he nabbed the role of Dakota on the cheekily named YouTube series Foursome, about a group of friends who help to get lead character Andie laid. As for Thompson's own sexual awakening, when it came to sharing it with the world, he was true to form. "I came out on Twitter," he says. "In 2016. But I didn't plan it well. I would never have thought my family would find out, but my dad's a barber, and one of his customers came in and was, like, 'Congrats on your son.' And he was, like, 'What do you mean?'"
Thompson's family didn't love the style of his revelation, but they're still part of his support network, which helps to fuel Thompson's ambitions. "I'm not gonna give up, because I have so many people who are watching me today, and these are people who are going through something as well," he says. "I can never give up on that. A lot of people aren't supportive of gays, and a lot of people don't have what this black boy from North Carolina has. So I'm never gonna hold my tongue."
Photography by Danielle Levitt
Styling by Grant Woolhead
Market Editor Michael Cook
Grooming by Mel Daniels
Set Design by Shelley Burgon
Produced by Stephanie Porto
(Opening Image: All clothing by Dries Van Noten.)