BACKSTORY: Former Stomp dancer turned actor and Twitter star who has been namechecked as one to watch by Patton Oswalt
FROM: San Jose, California; now, Los Angeles
YOU MIGHT KNOW HER FROM: Her wildly popular video about the intrusiveness of modern technology, “I Forgot My Phone”
NOW: Preparing to release her first book, a memoir titled You Can Do It! Just Change Completely
Even if you don’t know the name Charlene deGuzman, chances are you’ve seen the video she made back in 2013, in which the actor/writer/comedian goes about her day phoneless and mostly wordless alongside friends and loved ones who stare into glowing screens instead of interacting.
As you might expect, “I Forgot My Phone” touched a nerve in many and spread across the Internet like wildfire. Before she knew it, deGuzman was the author of a certifiably viral video, which now sits at nearly fifty million views. “All of a sudden, [I’m] on Good Morning America, the Today show, Fox News,” she says over a plate of eggs in an LA diner. “It felt good in terms of the intention, which was to acknowledge a thing that’s happening. And that’s cool, because that’s exactly what happened.”
Talking and writing about topics other people might shy away from is exactly what has made deGuzman thrive. An online zine she published as a teenager earned thousands of subscribers as well as an advice column award. “I just always had it in me to be really honest to a bunch of strangers out in the World Wide Web,” she says. “I guess that’s my thing!”
It’s startling even to deGuzman how many twists and turns her life has taken. She grew up in San Jose, California, before landing in New York City for internships at Jane and Rolling Stone, where she dreamed she’d become a magazine writer. But when her brother urged her to audition for the stage show Stomp, the former dancer ended up beating out over 1,400 others for one of just seven available roles, and suddenly she was a touring performer in her early twenties, seeing the country and having the time of her life.
After some time on the road, she moved west to try her hand at acting and writing in LA. Improv classes with the Upright Citizens Brigade helped her carve out her own unique voice, but in the midst of her exploration, she realized she was slowly sinking and failing to take care of herself.
“I just always had it in me to be really honest to a bunch of strangers out in the World Wide Web. I guess that’s my thing!”
Now, at thirty-two, deGuzman sits on the other side of a massive life transition that’s taken her the better part of three years to move through. She’s used her substantial Twitter following to talk about being in recovery from sex-and-love addiction, and now she’s preparing to release her first book, a memoir titled You Can Do It! Just Change Completely. As she describes it, “It’s a collection of actual e-mails I’ve sent that show a window into my addiction and my recovery.”
In these e-mails, the reader sees deGuzman at the beginning of what she describes as the “bottom,” a period where she was hiding huge parts of her life from those around her and she was suffering in very heavy ways. “It was a big turning point in my life because I [grew] from being such a horrible, broken, depressed, angry, resentful mess of a person who was drunk or on drugs all the time,” she says.
Through Twitter especially, deGuzman has found her voice and a following that encourages her delightful and blatant honesty. And when revered standup Patton Oswalt began retweeting her jokes and mentioning her in interviews, the followers continued to build. Tweets like, “Maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic, but I can’t orgasm until I’ve seen you properly handle ‘it’s’ and ‘its’” and “I can’t wait to get married and communicate my disdain solely through aggressive dishwashing” are indicative of deGuzman’s crackling, self-deprecating wit.
With the publication of her book and production of a screenplay she wrote on the horizon, deGuzman is keenly aware of the ways she’s made the web work for her. “Some of the things I’ve gotten in my life because of Twitter—interviews to write for TV shows, parts in movies—are amazing,” she says. “The Internet has a lot of fucking bullshit but I think my career [has benefited from it]. It has given me an opportunity to get this audience and share whatever I want, and some people like it. It works.” FL