It's a rare ability to hear oneself amid all the noise, but trusting in her unique, strong, and silly voice took Green all the way from stand-up to YouTube stardom, White House interviews, and a memoir. By Brian BraikerNov 10, 2016 9:27 AM
Additional reporting by Ashley Hefnawy
When she was growing up in Orlando, Fla., GloZell Green dreamed of being a tooth fairy. Her mom, a kindergarten teacher, had more pedestrian plans: She wanted her daughter to be a lawyer.
“‘You need to be something else because that doesn’t exist,’” Green recalls her mom saying. “Other people can only tell you what they know. She doesn’t know anybody that’s a tooth fairy. But I’m closer to a tooth fairy than I ever will be to a business lawyer person.”
If a tooth fairy’s job is to instill wonder in the young-at-heart — and give them a little something in return for believing — then Green may be the closest living thing. The YouTube personality and comedian has amassed a following of millions for her disarmingly over-the-top viral videos, silly characters, and uplifting persona. Her rise to online fame has earned her an interview with President Obama and “ambassador” status for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. She’s chronicled her struggles with infertility in her book Is You Okay? and is now landing parts in films like DreamWorks Animations’ Trolls, out this month, in which she voices Grandma Rosiepuff. At 44, Green has constructed a vlogging mini-empire on little more than grit, green lipstick, and fairy dust.
Her tagline says it all. At the beginning of most of her over-the-top online dares, Green shouts into the camera: “Hello! This is GloZell. Is you OK? Is you good? ‘Cause I want to know.” Her most famous video is her 2012 take on the cinnamon challenge (50 million views). Sometimes she’s in character as Tracy Tina as in 2008’s “My Push Up Bra Will Help Me Get My Man” (25 million views).
“I wasn’t happy because I wasn’t being myself.”
But success was anything but sudden. In 2006, she was living in Los Angeles and doing open-mic stand-up. Her first marriage was failing, and her spirit, if not broken, was battered. “I realized early on that no matter how great or wonderful you are, there are going to be people who just don’t like you because you’re positive or mostly because they’re having a horrible life,” she says. “Trying to please them is just not going to work. I’ve tried that. Especially with my [first] husband. It just didn’t work out and I wasn’t happy because I wasn’t being myself. Sometimes those bad things show you exactly what you want.”
In Green’s case, what she wanted was to laugh — and make other people laugh. A friend suggested she attend a taping of The Tonight Show With Jay Leno for inspiration and solace. Something clicked. Green would go on to attend hundreds of Tonight Show tapings, documenting her obsession on a blog called GloZell Loves Jay Leno. At first it was mostly text, but increasingly she added multimedia elements.
At the urging of another friend, she launched her YouTube channel in 2008 with video interviews, comedy, and song parodies. At first, it served as a place for her to store ideas more than anything else. “This is just what I think is cool or funny, so I put it out there,” she says. “Notebooks, I would lose them. I’m not thinking I’m going to be a star. Just wanted a place to leave my memories so they’re in one place.”
But the convenience of the platform appealed to her. Stand-up is exhausting work with terrible hours. “Here you can reach an audience,” she says. “I didn’t have to wait for someone to go on before or after me.” Her mother, still clinging to hope that Green would do something more “serious,” did not approve at first. But Green had learned her lesson: She would only thrive if she were true to herself.
“When you start being recognized or making money, then your ideas make sense to other people,” she says. “It took people a while to understand YouTube because it wasn’t [yet] mainstream at all. They’d say, ‘Is it on TV?’ No, it’s on a computer. It wasn’t until the interview with the president that people my mom’s age said, ‘Oh, this is important.’”
On Obama: “He smelled like sandalwood and power.”
The White House approached Green in 2015 to interview Obama. They sent three emails, each of which she discarded as spam. Her manager told her that maybe they should look into it. For her it was validation for staying true to herself for so many years.
“I felt it was OK that I was a tooth fairy in my mind. It’s OK to wear green lipstick,” she says. “If the president wanted somebody serious, he could have gotten Barbara Walters. Instead he got GloZell.”
Not wanting to squander the opportunity, Green polled her fans to ask them what issues they wanted her to address. She asked him about his legacy, police brutality, internet privacy, and Cuba. She accidentally called Michelle Obama his “first wife” in a gaffe that was more charming than cringe-worthy.
“He’s so friendly and down to earth. I got too comfortable. I wanted to say, ‘What’s up, my brother?!’ she says. “He smelled like sandalwood and power.”
More recently, Green was one of a trio of YouTube stars handpicked by Hillary Clinton for a little last-minute campaigning. In a full-court press for millennial voters in swing states — Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio — the campaign tapped Green, Todrick Hall, and Sam Tsui to do over-the-top surprises for undecided voters. Under the hashtag #strongertogether, Green’s video has her jumping into a pool full of cereal to convince one of her fans to vote.
“I happen to be a woman of color. But my thing is, if you like me, I like you. Human is human.”
“I want Trump to get back to that show so I can watch it!” says Green. “I happen to be a woman of color. But my thing is, if you like me, I like you. I don’t care if you’re Muslim or gay, if you’re short or tall, what religion you are. Human is human.”
And now Green has a human of her own to bring up. With her husband, Kevin Simon, Green welcomed her first child into the world in August. Because of her age and endometriosis, Green had struggled to get pregnant — a saga she chronicled in typically candid fashion in the web series Glo All In, produced by the millennial mom network Awestruck.
Her daughter’s name, O’Zell Gloriana De Green Simon, is a portmanteau: Ozell was Green’s late father’s name, Gloriana a nod to both her mother Gloria and her baby’s surrogate mother Shawna Johnson, and De is for her sister DeOnzell. “We put everyone in there,” says Green, whose own name is a combination of her parents’ names.
Already, baby O’Zell is following in her mother’s footsteps: She’s got her own Instagram account with 132,000 followers. And with a part in Trolls, arriving in theaters this month, Green herself is literally living her dream: She wants to do more voice work “for young folks,” she says. “I really want to do something for the little kids.”
So she’s starting at home. “My personality is that I’m optimistic. I’m a glass-half-full-type person,” she says. “My child is here because I am that type of person.”
And who wouldn’t want a tooth fairy for their mother?