WEST HOLLYWOOD, California (AP) — One year after his “demon time” Instagram Live sessions became a viral hit at the start of the pandemic, Justin Laboy has rebranded and expanded his social media fame to include a TV talk show with Diddy’s son and a steady output of conversation-starting posts.
The 29-year-old former professional basketball player, whose friendship with NBA star Kevin Durant helped boost his online profile early on, has gotten a shout-out from Beyonce and sat down with Chris Brown and Saweetie for the new Revolt TV show that bears the name of his social pages: Respectfully Justin.
Its Valentine’s Day premiere was the first time many of Laboy’s fans have gotten a chance to see his face. He’d stayed masked-up in most photos, lending a sense of mystery to his identity even as his witty and unapologetically risque observations about sex and relationships grew in popularity.
Shades and mask on, Jubilee 11s laced up as he promoted the TV show recently at a West Hollywood hotel, Laboy said he isn’t hiding: “I’m an open book.” Laboy (pronounced LUH-boy) is his given name, not a moniker, and the social pages have always been his creation, he said.
Laboy says he grew up the youngest of five children in a “broken family” in Queens, New York, and had an early ambition for “breaking generational curses.” He ended his overseas pro basketball career after two torn Achilles tendons and the realization that “I wasn’t going to be the next Michael Jordan or LeBron James.”
His “demon time” idea last March -- a strip club experience over Instagram, with viewers encouraged to pay dancers directly through online donations — got a mention in the New York Times and drew high-profile attendees from the NBA and music industry.
With clubs closed nationwide at the time, the nighttime event -- signified by emojis of a purple demon and red wine glass -- soared in popularity before being shut down by Instagram in April for violating nudity rules. Laboy says he was trying to help out-of-work dancers.
“My mission was bigger,” he said. “I didn’t want to exploit women or anything like that. I’m like, it’s a time for them to get some money in this, I don’t know how long this (pandemic) is going to last.” He couldn’t believe it when he heard from some of his Twitter followers that Beyonce had name-dropped the project: “Hips tik-tok when I dance / on that Demon Time she might start an OnlyFans.”
“It was stamped after that,” he said. His social pages relaunched in May with the Respectfully Justin name, and now boast 2.5 million followers on IG and 218,000 on Twitter. “I wake up every day like, oh (expletive). This is real.” Adjusting his blue-tinted sunglasses and hand-ironed black #Respectfully hoodie from his new line of merchandise, Laboy is both comfortable with and continually astonished by his fame. He’s still trying to ascertain how much of his own life to show followers.
“When I’m jumping on a private jet or I’m hanging out with Meek or Drake, I’d like to put up a dope picture ... but there’s sick people out there,” Laboy said.
When he started sharing memes and quotes on social media, it was all self-generated. “But when it comes to the point when your page blows up, people send stuff ... I get a lot of inspiration,” he said. Mantras like “respectfully,” “this is a safe place,” “make sure you love you,” and “God is watching” are tagged to most of his memes.
Laboy released a single, “Respectfully,” last November and is looking to act and find additional hosting gigs. The unscripted Revolt TV variety and talk show, which Laboy hosts alongside Justin Combs, is focused on many of the same taboo topics that he examines in social posts.
He says his end goals remain the same: “I just want to touch people and create opportunities and take care of my family.”