Fresh out of high school, Niles Stewart, 17, is quickly becoming one of the most familiar young faces on Twitter and YouTube. Part of a comedy collective known as the “Lean Squad,” along with friends Bernard Clark, 22, and Casey Lawrence, 21, the Maryland native has amassed a huge online following over the last few months. He currently has over 260,000 followers on Twitter, up from just 30k at the start of the summer.
The crew is responsible for some of the funniest material to grace your Twitter timeline. Videos tackling hilarious subjects such as “When your mom gets called up to the school,” “When you get your roast sense too late,” and “When being transracial goes wrong,” were massive hits on social media.
With numerous viral videos to his credit, Stewart or “Retro Spectro,” as he his known to his fans, has garnered the attention of notable comedians such as Hannibal Buress and Jordan Peele. However, the rapid success of his Twitter and YouTube videos has not distracted him from his main goal: putting viewers in a good mood.
We spoke with Stewart about his sudden fame, his long-term acting goals, and his favorite work so far.
EBONY: I saw the video you posted recently where you were in class and then you started a fight and your mom shows up out of nowhere. Did something like this happen to you in school, or did you make this up?
NS: Something similar happened. The only thing is, I didn’t get spanked in front of the class or anything like that. It was just a moment like “Oh, dang! She’s here. Let me chill out real quick.” You might be beating on your desk or something, not necessarily fighting but just acting out and she shows up at the door. You’re like “I don’t know how this is about to go down now.”
EBONY: When did you start making videos?
NS: I started making videos about four years ago. We were posting them on Facebook. We were late to Vine. Then everyone was on Vine and it was kind of getting established already. So we said, “Once the next thing comes out…” which was Twitter. Twitter was already out, of course, but then they fully integrated video. We hopped on that and we just took off from there.
EBONY: When did you start to notice that your clips were blowing up?
NS: Over the summer that just passed. The videos were doing good. I probably had about 40,000 followers on Vine, but on Twitter, I probably had 20,000 or 30,000 followers, if that. Then, after I graduated, summertime came so I had [more free time.] Then it just started flying up, like thousands a day.
EBONY: Tell us about your experience at Trillectro [the comedian appeared at the popular DC music festival last month.] What was it like meeting Chance the Rapper and Kehlani?
NS: It was a dope experience. We didn’t know that the crowd’s reaction was gonna be what it was. We knew that we had followers, but once we came in there, people were running to the rails and rushing around the thing to take pictures with us. It was crazy.
EBONY: Yeah. You guys are stars now. I remember I peeped your Snapchat and Twitter that day and it was a bunch of random people coming up to you taking pictures and videos with you, dancing with you.
NS: Yeah. It was hard walking through the crowd. We actually kept going back up because security ended up helping us get backstage. But we wanted to interact with all the people so we kept going back up and we were going through the crowd and then there were people surrounding us. It was dope, though.
EBONY:Part of what makes your videos so funny is the song that’s playing in the background as you disappear. How did you choose "Recognize" by PartyNextDoor and Drake for that?
NS: I was going through my music and I had “Gigolo” playing. I was like “Hold on, bruh. This don’t fit.” That’s when I think I put on a Sam Smith song or something like that. It still didn’t fit. Then I clicked on the PartyNextDoor song and I put that at the end and that’s when I just busted out laughing. I was like “Yeah. This is it.” Then it just stuck. The mood of it was just like an 80’s film.
EBONY: The Rachel Dolezal transracial video was a huge hit for you. Tell me about the process of making that video.
NS: The whole #AskRachel was funny to me. I was laughing through the whole thing, so I was like “I gotta make a video about that.” I didn’t wanna make it exactly like her story so I did it the opposite way. I was outed as being Black instead of being White. Then the OJ Da Juiceman lyrics were just another touch trying to get people laughing.
EBONY: The “quarter brick, half a brick, whole brick” reference was brilliant. You have various big time comedians (ie. Hannibal Burress and Jordan Peele) who follow you and know who you are. Lean Squad was featured on Uncommon Sense with Charlamagne. Have other notable celebrities reached out to you yet?
NS: There’s not many people that have reached out to work with us yet, but I’ve spoken to a lot of celebrities and stuff like that. I’m thinking maybe they’re just watching to see if we keep it up or maybe they just wanna support and they just like to laugh.
EBONY: What's your goal with these videos? You have a huge following on social media now. How far do you see your movement going?
NS: I see this going far mainly because people always want to laugh. It’s something that can always lift somebody’s mood up. The more we put into it, the bigger we get and the harder it is to ignore what we do. That will force people to want to work with us. Who knows? Maybe movie deals and TV shows…