Breaking Bad, by critical reputation this year’s best show on television, averaged about 6 million viewers an episode in its final season. Marcus Johns, a Christian college student who has 3.5 million followers on the video app Vine, theoretically has half the viewership of Breaking Bad at the peak of its popularity.
The Vine app allows users to upload six-second videos that loop continually. Twitter, which brought constraint to the internet with its 140-character limit messages, bought Vine in 2012 out of that devotion to brevity, according to Twitter’s co-founder Jack Dorsey. Vine users are more creative than those on other video sites like YouTube because they have a concise frame for their creativity. But Vine also hosts a truckload of inanity. Its “popular” page hosts borderline racist jokes and high schoolers playing pranks on their friends.
Marcus Johns, 20, is an exception. He’s popular and inoffensive, though not profound by any stretch. As one of the monarchs of Vine, Johns is also the most accessible to all ages of the Viners I've watched. His Vines have great physical comedy (in many of them he is shirtless), funny voices, and storytelling (see his latest, “He’s a Keeper (with my Grandpa)” below). In that sense his comedy is “old school,” like that of Jim Carrey or the Marx Brothers. It’s not the absurdist humor often popular now, such as Andy Samberg’s Saturday Night Live (SNL) short video “I'm on a Boat,” a music video about him standing on a boat. A sign of Johns’ legitimacy as a comedian: In one Vine, he complains about his new assistant “Jerry” as Jerry Seinfeld stumbles up the stairs with Johns’ laundry. “I'm sorry, Mr. Johns!” Seinfeld says.
Johns’ Vines can be random ideas such as his spot-on impression of the video game character Yoshi. Or they can be recurring story lines. In one Vine he opens the refrigerator, hungry, then grows enraged when all he sees all the condiments filling the refrigerator door. “WHY ARE THERE SO MANY SAUUUUUCES?” he bellows. In a later Vine, Johns is excited about a package he got in the mail. When he opens it, it's full of condiments. “WHO SENT ALL THESE SAUCES?” he yells.
Another Johns meme: He says in a crazy voice, “Sometimes I just don't care!” while doing something wild such as running down a bowling lane and sliding through the pins with his body. This concept is the opposite of popular trends on Vine such as “smack cam” videos, where the Viner sneaks up on a friend and smacks him in the face, often with something like flour or peanut butter in his hand. In contrast, Johns sacrifices his own body to make a video funny. He avoids the easiest and most self-gratifying form of humor by not making comedy at other people’s expense.
Johns’ profile tagline says “Jesus 1st,” and that’s not a throwaway line. On his Twitter account he regularly posts Scripture and lyrics from worship songs such as “In Christ Alone.” In question-and-answer sessions with his fans (yes, he has screaming girl fans), he has said he’s looking for a wife who “loves Jesus.” When he posted a photo at church, one female fan commented, “I will literally convert to Christianity for you.”
Johns didn’t respond to a request for an interview, and there is little public information about his background beyond what he posts online. His older brother, Cody Johns, is also popular on Vine, and also is clear about his Christian faith. Johns has said he hopes to be on SNL someday. He wouldn’t be the first person to have internet fame launch a celebrity career. (Justin Bieber is just one example.) But according to his latest Vine, he just finished finals. For now, he’s just a college student with an iPhone.