Armed with a thick Southern accent and a slew of vulgarities, Trae Crowder—a native of tiny Celina, Tennessee—uploaded a video ripping into the North Carolina “bathroom bill” to his personal Facebook page in mid-April, expecting to maybe get a few laughs from his friends. Instead, it launched a viral phenomenon.
Crowder’s video picked up over 20 million views on Facebook, and his fan page accumulated more than 150,000 followers. He’s gone from anonymous to inundated with attention in just three weeks, and he’s hoping to turn the attention into a sustained movement, pledging to make videos every few days.
Before his viral moment, Crowder worked a desk job in Knoxville and did stand-up comedy for five years, but the “Liberal Redneck” character in the video connected with fans and viewers like nothing else he’s done. Crowder, who lives in Knoxville with his wife and two pre-school aged kids, got on the phone with Fusion to discuss his sudden fame, the genesis of his political perspective, and the unfair reputation of the South.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
How did the Liberal Redneck series of videos come together?
I have one bit in particular in my notebook that I call "liberal redneck" that I've been doing forever. So it's always been back there. I've wanted to do a video series like this for the past few years. But see, I tried to hold myself to a high standard. In my mind, I figured I needed some good gear, a good camera, good software, and all that stuff to make it look like a legit video series. And I never had any of that, so it was daunting.
I kept putting it off and putting it off, and then, three weeks ago, I saw this—remember, I'm from a very redneck background, and a lot of people I went to high school with on Facebook are still stereotypical rednecks—I saw this video being passed around on Facebook of this preacher guy, this Southern preacher with a thick accent, he's just standing and holding his phone up in the air, and basically just yellin' into it about how "we can't have these perverts in the bathrooms with our little girls, Jesus wouldn't like that."
He wasn't making jokes or being funny; he was just talking into his phone. And it hit me—if this out here is what I'm satirizing, or what I'm trying to parody, there's no reason to do all that. I'll just do what this guy's doing.
I saw you have 150,000 Facebook followers now. Is that all from the last two-three weeks?
Absolutely. This is how ill-equipped for this I was, honestly—I didn't even have a fan page. The first video was just uploaded onto my personal Facebook page, and I had, like, 3300 Facebook friends, actual people I know. But that was it. I didn't even have followers turned on. And then it started blowing up, and I didn't know what to do.
So I was getting friend requests at first, and I was just accepting them all, because, like, I want to keep these people around. And then eventually I turned on followers and created a fan page. But, yeah, I wasn't prepared for it.
What's it like attempting to gauge your popularity? Because it's been so sudden, I imagine it's difficult to assess what size of venues to book.
That's very true, and that's why we're doing this next tour. It's like a tour, but it's a mini-tour. It's a trial run, and it's for that purpose. I don't know—this is my first rodeo, and I don't know what this massive influx of internet popularity, I don't know what it will translate to in the real world, in terms of ticket sales.
Shifting to the issues addressed in your videos—do you remember your reaction when you first heard about the bathroom bill?
Well, I knew and was aware there was something brimming, but I didn't know how big it was. Down here, honestly, we hear about crazy-shit laws that some representative trying to make a name for himself comes up with all the time. It happens all the time. Tennessee tried to name the state book the Bible. It's always something.
So, like, honestly, when I first heard about it, I didn't think too much about it. I just figured it was just some dumbass doing dumbass things. But then, when it became real, my first visceral reaction was to that video of the preacher. It was just awful.
It just blows my mind how overtly hateful some of these people are, and you can just tell it doesn't affect them at all. They fully believe it's God's will. They'll say whatever. That video turned my stomach.
I saw that, and I thought, I'll make my own video, because fuck this guy.
You mentioned your uncle, who is gay, was instrumental in the development of your political perspective. Were you close with him, and did you see him experience anything that informed how you feel today?
I'm very close with him. He's my dad's only brother, and they were super tight. He and his partner were around a lot. His mom and dad—he and his partner came to every Christmas, but you didn't really talk about it around my grandpa, but they didn't ostracize him or anything.
I'd go to church when I was younger, and I'd hear how much of an abomination and a sin it was for a man to lie with a man. It was just, like, so you're telling me my uncle is gonna burn forever just for what he is?
These hardcore Christians will look dead in a child's eyes and say, "That's right. That's what the Bible says." They don't think of it as a horrible thing to say to a child about somebody they love. But even as a kid, I was just, like, fuck that. That's bullshit.
I've developed this mindset—even if you're right, if that's how your God operates, then he can go fuck himself. I don't want anything to do with him. I'll take my chances with Lucifer.
Even from a young age, the religious homophobia struck you as irrational.
Absolutely. I mean, I saw my uncle and his partner every Sunday for dinner. I ain't ever talked to Jesus. Why would I take his side, versus my uncle? It never made any sense to me at all.
That's why it blows my mind that people will have gay siblings or children, and just totally ostracize them. I can't fathom it.
Do you feel like the common perception of Southerners by non-Southern people is unfair?
Definitely. Of course, there are shitty people here, but I think there are shitty people everywhere. Especially with younger people, it's definitely not what people think it is.
When this first blew up, so many people would say stuff like, "It's finding a unicorn!" Or, "before I saw this video, I didn't think a person like this exists." I got all kinds of comments like that, and it didn't really surprise me, but still, like, really? You really think anyone who's white and has a Southern accent is a shitty inbred racist homophobic hick? That still counts as prejudice. You have the most liberal people in the world who don't think twice about making that generalization about Southerners.
It is weird and I do think it's unfair. We have a lot of problems, with the older generation and the assholes in office, but I do not think it's as bad as the perception of it is outside the South.
Do you see there being a pretty sharp divide between the older and younger generations?
I do. I mean, I know plenty of younger conservatives who I work with or went to college with who are fiscally conservative. When it comes to regulation and taxes, they're hardcore. But almost none of them are anti-gay, or don't think they shouldn't get married. They think that stuff is not cool, in my experience.
Michael Rosen is a reporter for Fusion based out of Oakland.