I first came across DW Diaz — the oblivious, hipster starlet/actress/model/designer who is the alter-ego of comedian Daniella Pineda — on Twitter. A strange handle sent me a link to the above video, in which Diaz launches a tacky, Native American-inspired clothing line. "To me," explains Diaz, "'Genocide' means out with the old and in with the new."
Unlike 99% of the random YouTube links friends and strangers send me, I not only played the whole thing — I watched it twice. (Smallpox. Diamonds.) And then made all my friends watch it.
I Googled; nothing much came up — how was this girl not better known? — but I did find some of Pineda's other work. There were funny, guerilla-style street videos. A fake Calvin Klein ad for "Nonsense, the dramatic new underwear-leotard thing." A homemade-looking but very funny early clip about people who ask strangers about their racial heritage. ("Are you sure you're not Asian?") You should probably all watch Pineda's pitch-perfect parody of a T magazine "screen test" — that feature where writer Lynn Hirschberg does things like ask Tyra Banks to cycle through her catalog of smiles — and you should do it now, because the video uses New York Times trademarks, and you never know if the thing will get yanked.
Pineda, 24, is an actress by day, and the maker of hilarious Internet videos by day off. She graduated from Mills College in Oakland with a degree in sociology and radio journalism. After brief stints working in public radio in the Bay Area and as an IT contractor, she moved to New York two years ago, got a manager on the strength of her online work, and fell in as friends with some other comedians (her friend Jason Selvig is one of the people behind the pseudo-counter-protest Occupy Occupy Wall Street; CNN mistook Selvig for a real investment-banking member of the 1%, and interviewed him). Pineda, who is Mexican-American, produces her own work and does occasional videos for College Humor. She also earned a role in Ed Burns' forthcoming ultra-low-budget film Newlyweds. She's working on a screenplay that she describes as "as if Lenny Bruce's life story and Good Will Hunting came together, but it was about a funny woman." We met up over a few beers to talk about trying to break into comedy, cultural appropriation, celebrity culture, and DW Diaz's next step. Also? Her forthcoming video is going to lampoon the fashion industry's obsession with youth. Watch this space.
Jenna Sauers: So, your Navajo video was just fantastic. Where did you get the idea to do that?
Daniella Pineda: I kind of noticed, living in Brooklyn, that hipsters and headdresses was a trend. And I thought, like, all right, hipsters are a fairly educated bunch — why are people rocking headdresses? I don't understand why this is a thing I keep seeing. And then I was walking in NoLiTa, I passed by this boutique on my way to work, and all of the mannequins had headdresses on. But with lingerie. I was like, what do these things have to do with each other?
But it wasn't actually until I walked into an Urban Outfitters that I felt it was like, ethnic studies meets the Twilight Zone. No-one else seemed to care. It was everywhere, and everyone was buying it. And this is wildly offensive! This is a people who have undergone a genocide, and we're rocking — it just made me really uncomfortable…And I thought, okay, I've got to make a video about this.
A lot of my friends didn't get it — they were like, I don't understand, why is this offensive? So at the end I included the bit about the winter line, "Concentration Couture." People instantly knew that that was offensive.
S: You know, there actually have been fashion collections inspired by concentration camp uniforms, and Nazi uniforms. The fall Louis Vuitton collection, which is in stores and all the magazines now, was inspired by the film The Night Porter. Which has some freaky Nazi shit in it. I mean, you could argue that it's inspired by the film, not by actual Naziism, that it's at a remove — but still, none of the reviews I read mentioned the subtext. And about, oh, 15 or 20 years ago, I think [actually in 1995], there was a Comme des Garçons collection that was inspired by the death camps. I'm talking striped pajamas. I'm pretty sure it was controversial at the time, but it sort of happened pre-Internet, so there aren't, like, photos of it everywhere...So, is there an overall focus to your humor? Do you have a larger project here? I noticed a lot of things about the crap that's aimed at women. Like fashion. And stupid, inane T magazine "screen tests," which, I mean, I've always kind of hated.
P: Honestly, I wanted to do something with my education. I picked my sociology major thinking that I was going to do something serious with it. This is me sort of trying to use my education and whatever analytical skills I have to try and pinpoint what I think is really screwed up about the world. And then make a funny video about it! So I guess most of my videos are dealing with issues pertaining to women — women and gender, women and sexuality, superficiality, racism. Issues that I think get largely ignored…And also, I can't do, like, big-boobs ditzy-girl comedy. I'm not that. So I do this.
With the screen test, you know, I watched a lot of those videos. And they were so vapid and empty. Lynn Hirschberg's asking some actress, 'What's your favorite sound?' And people love that shit! And I want to be a comedic actress because I want to do funny work, but I feel like there's — celebridom, everyone just worships it. They worship all of it, and no-one questions it. And the Megan Fox video was the one where I was just like, oh my God, are you fucking kidding me?
S: …I didn't realize there was a Megan Fox one.
P: Oh, yes. Yes, she's talking about how The Wizard of Oz is her favorite movie. I mean, there are actually important issues that piss me off as well, but these are just the annoying, funny ones.
S: Eh, I care about abortion rights, too, but I feel you. Even just the visual clichés of the whole highly-edited-behind-the-scenes-actress-video world are kind of annoying! Black and white. Actress on a soundstage, sitting on a wooden stool, answering mundane questions. Intercut with, like, the makeup artist touching her up or the sound guy getting the mic just right, for that touch of realness. I feel like I've seen dozens of clips like that. I got pitched one by a publicist just this morning! I had to let it play out in another tab, I couldn't watch it. It even name-checked The Wizard of Oz. And you know, I admire Lynn Hirschberg — she's a great journalist. But those fucking screen tests, oh my God.
P: The great thing about those videos is that it was so easy to mimic. It's a basic black background. All you need to know is Final Cut.
S: Once you figure out the formula, you're good. So, like, what do you do on a daily basis? You go on auditions. You book jobs. What do you do — film, television, commercials?
P: Yeah, I do mostly commercials — I'm living off commercial residuals checks right now. And I write. I'm writing a screenplay right now — it's driving me crazy — for a feature film. Of course, I write video shorts, and right now I have a whole, fat book of ideas…Say there's like the slim chance that I actually ‘make it,' which, I'm not holding my breath — I just pray that I'll get a funny part. I don't care about being a star or anything, I just want a funny part in a show, or a funny part in a movie. And if that doesn't work out, then I'm just gonna write my own stuff and try and produce it. I can't wait around for people to bring me things.
We started talking about celebrity culture — specifically, Kim Kardashian and her prehensile eyelashes — when Pineda asked if she could grab my notebook. I nodded. In it, she wrote NICK LACHEY? → I looked over her shoulder to the tall man who'd just sat down at the table next to us. It was him. In the flesh. At a wonderful, but kinda dive-y, Irish bar on the Upper West Side. They walk among us. Then Pineda brought up Bridesmaids:
P: Bridesmaids is the first movie that I've ever seen where an all-female cast was doing, like, dirty toilet humor, but also stuff that was very sensitive — it had a broad range of different kinds of comedy. It was the first movie like that, with women, that I'd ever seen. With the possible exception of some early Lily Tomlin films.
S: I actually haven't seen Bridesmaids yet, which I think makes me a bad feminist —
P: Well, here's the thing: it's not the greatest movie in the world, but I think it's important to see.
S: Oh, I'm intending to see it! But I was amazed that when it came out — it got so much coverage just about the fact that it starred women. It felt like 2007 all over again, when Christopher Hitchens wrote that idiotic Vanity Fair piece about how women can't be funny. Because women have babies.
P: Women take life more seriously than men! You can't argue facts!
S: Babies are serious business! The same thing happened when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler made Baby Mama; there were all these articles that were just like, Wow, there are two funny women on screen at once!
P: I think more women embrace their humility than society would like to think. And I would like to see a lot more movies like that, if possible. And single-cam comedies. There's just not enough material where women make smart idiots of themselves! I would like to be paid to be a smart idiot, if possible. Yeah, you've gotta see Bridesmaids. Kristen Wiig and Tina Fey, they're kind of paving the way for women like me to do what I want to do, some day.
S: Yeah, and so are people like Jenny Slate. And Lena Dunham. There are a lot of young, female comedians out there — and of course, there are more established ones, too.
P: Anna Faris is getting up there.
S: I know, New Yorker profile and everything. I feel like some of the funniest women I come across these days, though, are on the Internet. They're either making videos, or they're just really funny writers. I mean, take Sarah Haskins. And Julie Klausner — of course she has a book, and all her other projects [in fact just last night Klausner sold a show to NBC!], but the way that I encounter her work, most often, is through her podcast. [Which is amazing, seriously.] I don't know. It feels like now that we have some incredible communication tools at our disposal, maybe women will — and maybe this is naïve and techno-positive and whatever, but I feel like things might change? Like, you can now bypass the dudes in suits.
P: I agree.
S: I'm moderately hopeful. A little bit. Where did you grow up in the Bay Area?
P: I grew up in Oakland, California…which gets a bad rap. East Oakland and West Oakland are pretty crazy. And my family's from East Oakland. There are parts that are very, very sketchy, but when it's in the news, like, The Ten Worst Cities In The United States, that kind of overshadows what's actually really awesome about that city…But now the gentrification of Oakland — downtown Oakland, I'm telling you, now is nothing like what it used to be when I was a kid. It's super chichi with all these bars and lofts.
I wanted to make this short about hipster zombies, as a metaphor for gentrification. Taking over these boroughs. The way that they became zombies was that someone created a spray-on denim, that everyone wanted because everyone had to have super-tight jeans. But it was full of melamine and there were all these toxins in it and the spray-on denim was turning everyone into zombies.
S: Did you do this as a kid? Like, were you directing your friends in plays in your back yard, if you had a back yard, or whatever?
P: Oh yes. But I never wanted to be in them — I always wanted to be holding the camera. I wanted to be the director. So I would force my friends to act out whatever I wanted them to act out. And then in school, I got really bad grades, growing up. I was a class clown, so I got in trouble a lot. The administration, no matter which school I was at at the time — I switched schools around a lot — always knew who I was.
S: You said you got kicked out of choir.
P: They thought that I was high and drunk on stage. Which I was not. But I was making this huge scene, and the next day the principal called my dad.
S: What happened?
P: I went from a pretty diverse school in, like, kind of a rough suburb — do you know Concord? I was going to school in Concord. And then I transferred to an all-white, wealthy school in Lafayette. And we were going to do a gospel piece. Only one of the head girls in my choir group was like, ‘I don't really want to do ghetto music. I don't want to sing black-people music.' Like this was an okay thing to talk about! I was like, are you fucking kidding me? So it was like a disgrace to me that these kids were going to butcher this piece. My way of being against it was pretending to be into the song onstage, but almost, like, too into it. So I was making faces and shaking my body. And then I got kicked out of choir. Which I wasn't that sad about.
S: Why did you change schools so much?
P: I was kind of raised by different aunts and uncles, so I just kind of went from place to place.
S: Was there a reason for that?
P: Well...my mother left me when I was really young, and my dad was kind of in and out of my life. It seems like everyone's really awesome in my family, except for my mom and dad. Which is a good thing. There's, like, a lot I'm not telling you — it's a long, crazy story — but I think I developed a pretty sharp sense of humor pretty early on for a lot of reasons. I think at an early age, I learned that a lot of adults are really stupid.
S: How did you come up with the DW Diaz persona?
P: She embodies everything about being a modern celebrity. Everything that I think is ridiculous about that industry, I get to channel through DW Diaz.
S: What does the DW stand for?
P: It's — Arthur was her favorite show growing up. That's it, there's nothing really cool about it — just Arthur! Yeah, so she starts her own fashion line. She's interviewed by Lynn Hirschberg. She did the "Nonsense" Calvin Klein ad. The next video I wanted to do with DW was DW Goes To Rehab.
The inevitable decline of DW Diaz.
P: Exactly! The hot ‘It' girl who parties with Lindsay Lohan and ends up in rehab. Though I don't know where I'm going to find a convincing rehab facility to shoot in.