Growing up as a closeted kid in Idaho, Benito Skinner could have never imaged himself posing in an official Coach campaign, looking gay as hell.
“My sister in the eighth grade,” he says, “which means I was probably in fifth grade, would always have her Coach wristlet, and me deep within the closet even at that age was like, “God, I want to cart around my Coach wristlet,” but I couldn't do it in front of people at the time. Now I'm like, slinging Coach, babe. It just feels really, really amazing.”
Skinner has of course grown up to become Benny Drama; an actor, writer and comedian whose 1.4 million Instagram followers and 1.2 million TikTok fans idolize him for his fierce humor, hilarious character acting, over-the-top personality and complete comfort in his own skin.
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When he’s not posting hysterical impressions of A-list celebrities or starring in his own roles, he’s often posting ridiculous skits opposite his boyfriend, but he’s never hiding his true self. That makes him perfect to star in the Coach 2022 Pride Campaign, but it’s also a trait he’s worked hard to realize.
We caught up with Skinner on set to learn why Pride Month is still as important as ever, what role models helped shape him into the man he is today, and what it means to be a role model for others.
Tell me about this shoot today. There's supposed to be a party?
I'm so excited. We're at Bushwick studios in New York. We're shooting with this really legendary group of queer people. The party tonight, I think it's going to be really special, but I think why it's so exciting is that this is a very unifying shoot with all of us. I've been here a couple hours and I've talked to a few of the other people within the campaign. It just feels very communal and at least a little return to whatever normal is now. Especially during pride, I think that communal feeling is what a lot of queer people want. I know it's what I crave during this time. It's just been really special, and Coach turned it out. I feel so cute.
How does it feel to be featured in a Coach campaign?
I told my sister about it and she was like, “wait, that's iconic, love that for you.” I feel like a lot of the work I do is a reclamation of things in the past that I wanted to outwardly love but couldn't. Being able to do that, do it with Coach and be a part of the Pride campaign, it's a true honor. It's a really lovely way to kick off the month.
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You seem so confident and open about who you are and your relationship in your comedy and social media. It's good to be reminded that it was a process for you. Were there role models you looked up to as a kid that helped you feel more comfortable being open in your work and life?
You know, it's so random, but the first time I felt seen or felt like I saw queer people on screen—obviously I saw them later when I was not watching cartoons—but it was Spongebob. It was this specific episode where he and Patrick raise a kid together. I don't know why, but I think he's always been this incredible character, a mix of masculinity and femininity, those both existing within one singular person. He had a high pitched voice, and when I was younger, I had a really high pitched voice, and it was something I was really anxious about. So yeah, oddly SpongeBob. If I'm correct, two years ago Nickelodeon said that SpongeBob is gay and I was that annoying gay person who was like, “yeah, I knew from day one.” For some reason that was super special to me.
I would love to interview kids now and see how many more they've seen. I remember my sister watching Will and Grace and that being special to see someone on screen. That's the first time I heard the word “gay,” and then obviously a lot of pop queen icons. Lady Gaga was massive for me. To have someone so outwardly advocating for the queer community, that made me go “oh, there is like a community here, and there are people who protect us in a lot of ways and are on our side.” A long answer, but maybe a bunch of little things made me feel a little bit more comfortable.
You are now part of that conversation, right? Because as much progress we've made, we're still having this conversation, fighting for the right to say gay in schools.
I feel like this Pride is so marked with that. I hear people say “why do we need it?” We do, because not everyone lives in New York City or Los Angeles where it is way more accepted and where people celebrate you. I grew up in Idaho, and I never felt like I was ever going to come out of the closet. With don't say gay laws and the way we're treating trans people in this country, Pride has never been more important. I really hope that people are coming to realize that this really is such an important month, that it’s obviously a celebration but it's also about supporting the community, especially the communities that really need us and deserve it all.
Beyond feeling comfortable enough to be honest about who you love and who you feel like you are, were you always comfortable being in the spotlight? Where were you the class clown?
As a kid, I felt it a lot. I loved doing Disney and Lizzie McGuire monologues. There is this one universal feeling that I think everyone has, even outside of the queer community, to just make yourself smaller, especially for women and queer people. It's this feeling that we need to be a little bit quieter or not be too loud. I was not being loud because I didn't want people to out me or be like "you're gay for doing this."
It went away until I was probably in my senior year of college, and then I started tiptoeing back into that kid that I used to be who loves Britney, who loved hitting people with a monologue, expression and a character. The Internet really allowed me—and the community that followed me, which is a lot of queer people—to feel like I could slowly become that person again. I knew at one point, and then I just hid it for like 15 years. Luckily it came back pretty aggressively, which I feel very lucky for. A lot of queer people don't get that, and that kind of makes me sick.
Now you’ve been featured in magazines, you're in this Coach campaign, you've met Kris Jenner. What have been the big milestones or wildest things comedy and just being yourself have brought you?
There was this specific moment. I did a show in Seattle, and I was at a burger place with my mom after; a late night diner. It was like 1 a.m., and this person came up to me and said, “you and your boyfriend’s relationship makes me feel so excited to be gay and comfortable, and what you do has inspired me to do comedic work, too.”. That was really insane, because obviously a lot of my work is posted to the Internet. I see comments, and people send messages and I feel really lucky, but I'm not actually seeing them out in the real world.
When I do an impression or do a sketch, it does come from a place of love. So, obviously the Kris Jenner meeting was really crazy, and Kourtney. They were in on the joke and knew that I wasn't trying to be a bully. That was super special, and I'm in the new Queer as Folk, which is coming out Thursday, June 9. I feel really honored and excited to be in that show. I play an absolute demon in it, which was fun for me. I do play the worst of us, but there are those stories too. There have definitely been a lot of, it sounds so corny but “pinch me” moments that I feel so honored to have, and I think a lot of it goes back to being so honored and proud to be gay—and I get to highlight that with Coach and wear cute-ass vibes.
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Since we are chatting with you on the set of the Coach campaign, how would you describe your personal approach to fashion? What is the Benny Drama school of style?
I really like classic, almost 1950s silhouettes. Today I'm wearing a boxy white shirt that has a nice embossing of the iconic C. Blue jeans. I love Americana, but make it gay. Anything with the Eagle printed on it, that's iconic, or little splashes, little moments. There's this really cute waist bag or belt bag that has the rainbow Cs on it—because I'm in my purse era, which I'm sure you knew. A little pop or something. I really don't like wearing the same thing other people are wearing. I think that's just from being a kid in Idaho who is like, “I'm different,” but I always like to have classic silhouettes, but then make it kind of gay.
I think if we look back on the history, it always was a little gay, wasn't it?
Photography by: Hunter Abrams/BFA