When Branden Miller created Joanne Prada, a self-described liar and all-around "messy bitch who lives for drama," he didn't know just how quickly she would take over the internet.
Five years ago, when Miller uploaded his first video as Joanne to YouTube, the character was a Jerri Blank-esque, over-the-top Chris Brown stan in flawless booger drag. Since then, though, Joanne's revealed herself to be a woman of many wigs. She's a recording artist, an independent filmmaker, and, most importantly, a scammer.
As a persona, Joanne's pretty straightforward. She values her independence, but never misses the opportunity to take advantage of someone else. Why work a job when you can "slip" in a restaurant and settle out of court? Why buy a Prada bag when you can just snatch someone else's?
Joanne's is a world where feloniousness is next to godliness and there's really only one rule worth following: always be the scammer and never the scammed.
But over the weekend, Joanne broke that rule. Somehow, someone managed to scam her out of her own Twitter account. The scam that took Joanne Prada down, Miller told me, started with Katy Perry.
Miller (and Joanne) are big in certain corners of queer, black Tumblr and Instagram, but his (and her) mainstream popularity's still on the rise. Last Friday, Katy Perry seemingly discovered the character for the first time and tweeted at Joanne, letting her know that the pop star, too, was all about that scamming life.
Not long after Perry's shoutout, Miller explained, he received an e-mail from someone claiming to work for Twitter who was interested in getting Joanne's account verified.
"My e-mail address is literally 'JoanneTheScammer' at Yahoo, so I get tons of people trying to scam me. They think it's funny," Miller told me over the phone. "But the e-mail looked like it was from Twitter and I didn't think to check."
According to Miller, the imposter Twitter rep gave him a set of instructions that were necessary to "confirm" his verification. Though he couldn't recall exactly what he'd done, the process that Miller described to me sounded a lot like he requested that Twitter reset a forgotten password via text message. Users who enable this option receive a unique code via SMS that, in lieu of a password, can be used to log into their accounts.
Miller gave them his code, and within minutes, he was no longer in control of Joanne's presence on Twitter—@joanneprada soon disappeared from the site. What happened to Miller sounds ridiculously simple but, considering how tight-lipped Twitter is about how it determines who's worth verifying, it's not hard to see why he took the bait.
"The first thing that [the scammer] told me was that he changed the name of the account," Miller said. "Then he told me that he was from Africa and he wanted an Amazon gift card for $500."
The irony of what was happening wasn't lost on Miller, who admitted that he found the whole thing hilarious, all things considered. Though the scammer proceeded to question Miller's gender identity and hurl homophobic insults at him, Miller wasn't all that fazed.
"I've never really relied on Twitter, it was just another way for me to do my comedy and prove that I was funny," Miller said, frankly. "Also, I'm twice as big on Instagram. So, you know, who cares?"
Miller has a point. His 80,000 some odd Twitter followers pale in comparison to the 187,000 people keeping up with Joanne over on Instagram, where he often reshares jokes he initially tweets.
When I asked Miller about whether Joanne's being scammed was all a part of a more elaborate scam he was pulling to boost her popularity, he explained that, despite all of his jokes, he would never risk alienating his fans like that.
"That'd be a brilliant way to promote yourself," he agreed. "But I've got promo off of my comedy alone. I wouldn't change my followers or ever want to put myself in jeopardy."
As of this morning, Joanne's Twitter account is still offline, but Miller's working with Twitter to see if he can regain control. Towards the end of our conversation, Joanne decided to speak to me directly and give her perspective on having been so expertly scammed in public.
"To be honest with you, I don't think anyone can trust me to a certain extent," she said, when I asked her about whether people could still look up to her. "There's nothing I've gained from this. Nothing. It's just funny. That's all. Funny."
UPDATE: This afternoon, Miller made his triumphant return to Twitter explaining that he'd regained control of his account and that he was in the process of building Joanne's following back up.