Prankster Joey Salads built a YouTube fanbase of millions by asking viewers to like and subscribe to his videos. Now, he’s hoping his fans will send him to Capitol Hill.
Salads, a 25-year-old with more than 4 million subscribers combined on YouTube and Facebook, registered as a Republican candidate in New York’s 11th Congressional District in late April. The YouTube prankster, whose real name is Joseph Saladino, appears to be the first YouTube star ever to run for office. But he doesn’t think he’s going to be the last.
“You’re going to see a lot more people who are popular on social media run for office,” said Salads. “We’ve already got half the work done.”
In preparation for a campaign for the Staten Island seat now held by freshman Rep. Max Rose (D), Salads has stored up what he describes as a year-and-a-half of prank videos so he won’t be interrupted on the campaign trail.
He’s also made his pranks more political. In his latest video, ”MURDERER gets VOTING RIGHTS from DEMOCRATS! (Social Experiment),” Salads tests whether Washington tourists will sign a petition allowing a murderer to cast a ballot.
Like many YouTube stars, Salads has plenty of old content to be ashamed about—clips that could now be turned into opposition research.
Salads rose to prominence on YouTube with a series of bizarre prank and self-described “social experiment” videos that seemed obviously staged. Salads’ videos made him a target for YouTube comedians, who made him a laughingstock on the platform over his staged videos and awkward delivery.
Much of Salads’ online fame comes from his series of racist “hood pranks” videos. In the videos, black people on the street are presented as disportionately emotional and aggressive, attacking Salads for no reason.
In one video, for example, Salads holds up a “Black Lives Matter” sign in a white neighborhood without any problems. When he takes an “All Lives Matter” sign into a black neighborhood, though, passers-by accost him immediately.
"As you can see, black people got really emotional,” Salads said in the video.
Salads now admits that some of his videos were fake and that others were “half-fake.” His string of staged videos came to an end in October 2016, when he published a video that purported to test whether a car with Trump stickers would be vandalized in a black neighborhood.
In the video, a group of black men angry at Donald Trump descend on the car, smashing its windows and ripping off the Trump stickers.
“As you can see from this video, the black community is very violent towards Trump and his supporters,” Salads said in the video.
The segment went viral in conservative media, earning a top spot on the Drudge Report. But an onlooker who had recognized Salads filmed the entire scene from a different angle, posting video that showed the “vandals” had been in cahoots with Salads the entire time.
YouTube viewers had long suspected that Salads’ pranks were fake, and now they had proof. Salads eventually apologized for the fake video and now claims he staged the video because he was obsessed with getting YouTube views.
“I was so absorbed in knowing what’s going to go to viral,” Salads said.
Now a congressional hopeful, Salads already has a favorite campaign issue: lowering the minimum wage, which he claims makes it too hard to run a small business.
In an interview, Salads said that he’d push for the federal minimum wage of $7.25 to be lowered and added that he wants New York to lower its state minimum wage of $11.80 an hour, too. When The Daily Beast pointed out that, as a congressman, he wouldn’t have control over a state minimum wage, Salads said he’d still try to get it reduced with the power of his popular social media feeds.
“Even if it’s out of my jurisdiction or power, it’s something that I would want to influence,” Salads said.
Salads insists that his career as YouTube sensation has qualified him for Congress, despite his youth.
“I have accomplished more in the last five, six years of my life than most people can say when they’re 50,” Salads said.
Cook Political Report rates the district as a general election toss-up, but Salads could face a tough primary fight. State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, who carried Staten Island in a failed 2017 mayoral bid against Bill de Blasio, is already in the race. Former representative Michael Grimm, who served a prison term for tax fraud and once threatened to toss a reporter over a balcony, said in March that he’s close to launching a bid.
If Salads makes it to Congress, he says he can’t rule out a future presidential bid. Asked which other YouTubers he would pick for a hypothetical Salads administration, Salads chose excitable YouTube drama vlogger Daniel “Keemstar” Keem to handle the White House press corps.
“Keemstar would be the press secretary, that’s for sure,” Salads said. “I think Logan Paul would be good in something that’s related to health, because he’s pretty fit.”
Should Salads win the seat, other House members should be on guard—Salads won’t rule out pranking fellow lawmakers for more YouTube videos. Salads says he would be open to pranks in Congress, suggesting it would help legislators connect with young people.
“I’m definitely going to be probably the most fun congressman in all of D.C.” Salads said.