Two summers ago, Jackson Bird was digging for a waffle iron in Orlando, FL. It was July 2015 and an entire year had gone by since he’d first buried it in the Rosen Centre Hotel’s parking lot. Plenty had happened in that time: Jackson celebrated the first anniversary of his YouTube series, Will it Waffle?; he posted 17 new episodes, testing a variety of foods from pizza (which didn’t waffle) to ramen noodles (which did); in May, he came out as trans to tens of thousands of viewers. Jackson doubted that after all that time, the waffle iron would still be there. Still, he dug.
Jackson was in town to host Will it Waffle? Live as part of GeekyCon, a Harry Potter-centric fan conference in the Orange County Convention Center. The year before, Jackson had effectively broken his waffle iron onstage during the same event.
“I’d waffled, like, cookie dough and marshmallows—a lot of messy stuff, because I wanted it to look big and epic onstage,” Jackson said. “And that waffle iron had been through a lot. The covering on some of the wires and the hinges was starting to come off, which, really, was a huge fire hazard—especially when I would clean it or when I’d waffle something and it would ooze out onto the wires.”
Later in the weekend, Jackson acquired a new waffle iron so he could record a new episode of Will it Waffle? with bestselling YA author John Green, who was also attending GeekyCon.
Afterwards, Jackson faced a quandary: how to best honor the service of the waffle iron that had given him so much? He didn’t have enough room in his suitcase to take it back to New York. It felt wrong to just throw it away; this was the waffle iron that started it all. It had been with him through so many episodes, waffled so many things: snickers, sushi, and Snitchwiches, to name just a few. This called for a certain decorum. So, at the suggestion of Snitchwich co-creator Paul DeGeorge, Jackson gave his waffle iron an honorable burial in the hotel parking lot. A year later, the two revisited the burial site to unearth the iron, filming the whole endeavor for a later installment on his YouTube channel.
After just a few seconds of digging, he hit metal: the waffle iron was still there. Thrilled, Jackson used the fallen waffle iron in Will it Waffle? Live later that day despite its derelict and dirt-caked state. The audience was so invested in the saga that many of them ate pieces of the resulting dirt waffle.
Will it Waffle? falls in line with an established canon of inquisitive, if sometimes unsafe, food-based video series. If a YouTuber hasn’t started their own series around food (like Hannah Hart’s My Drunk Kitchen or Rhett and Link’s broader Will It? series) they’ve probably made a video or two involving some inadvisable edible experiment (like John Green’s blenderized Happy Meal). Jackson was most inspired by Blendtec’s Will it Blend? series: the first “season” of Will it Waffle? featured the same format and opening theme music. In part, Will it Waffle? was conceived as a Will it Blend? parody.
“I’ve loved waffles my whole life,” Jackson says. “I had this waffle queue going on my Tumblr way before Will it Waffle?, and even on my channel I guess I mentioned waffles so often that people sort of associated them with me. And then, in January, I was working on goal-setting and New Year’s resolutions and thinking about where I wanted to take my YouTube channel when I got distracted and went on Tumblr, and there was this gifset of someone waffling tater tots to make waffled hash browns. And I was like, ‘hey, I need to make a video today—maybe I’ll film myself doing this.’ And then, before I even got to the store to by tater tots, the idea had snowballed into an entire, like, Will it Blend? parody series using a waffle iron, and I bought half a dozen snickers bars instead.”
This is how Jackson operates: flickers of ideas form into full-fledged projects within seconds, distraction often becomes direction, and his humor is sometimes referential but never cruel. His work is grounded in sincerity, even when irony and cynicism prevail across internet comedy landscapes. Jackson’s tendency towards goofy hijinks is present in every single episode. In one video, he pours brandy on a hot waffle iron and nearly sets his sweater on fire. In another, he pretends to waffle his own heart.
In addition to Will it Waffle?, Jackson’s YouTube channel showcases videos about life beyond the waffle iron, from his adventures in the Harry Potter fan community to—more recently—his experiences as a trans man. In May 2015, Jackson posted a video called “Coming Out” where he shared his unabridged identity for the first time.
Jackson begins by saying it “kind of might be the most important video that [he’s] ever made.” A year and a half later, this rings true: beginning with this video, Jackson joined the growing chorus of voices sharing their stories and fighting for equality.
These days, Jackson stays busy. He waffles things, and he does Harry Potter things, and he makes videos about being trans. He speaks at events across the country about any or all of the above. His YouTube channel presents new episodes of Will it Waffle? alongside other series like Queerstory or one-off montages documenting events he’s attended. This isn’t a balancing act, or a set of contradictions. This is just Jackson. And he’s not an exception. Though it should be common understanding that marginalized people are, in fact, people with interests and interesting lives, traditional media’s already scarce representation offers little insight or nuance.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, there is talk of art. There is talk of how we must dispel the myth that hard times produce better art, and this is true. There is not so much talk, however, of the pressure placed on already endangered marginalized artists: the creative and emotional labor implicitly assigned to anybody who will suffer under Trump to make moving, provocative, gory art—to lay everything bare so oppressors might better understand the oppressed. While late-night television hosts have free reign to their lighthearted monologues, our society regards any marginalized person not constantly in public conversation about the details of their suffering with a certain suspicion. Our society labors, perhaps, under the illusion that this is all we have to offer: that we are trapped in Maslow’s purgatory, never to ascend to his hierarchy’s peak, not meant for joy. These, too, are myths.
“There’s value in seeing people creating art and being goofy,” Jackson says. “I think a lot about PWR BTTM. I look at their shows, and what you see is just—a ton of young, queer, gender nonconforming people having the night of their lives. It’s this night for everyone to just get dressed up, and have fun, and dance, and sing, and scream, and sweat, and just be together with people who get you, celebrating who you are and who you get to be. It’s activism, and there’s this sense of revolution, but most of all, it’s happy.”
Gut-wrenching art will come from these times, yes. And this art will be important, yes. But we must also take great care to showcase the realities of joy in the margins, from glittery punk shows where queer youth gather and “dance, and sing, and scream, and sweat,” to goofy YouTube shows going where no waffle iron has gone before. We must tell our world’s most vulnerable people, again and again, that their happiness is not impossible or irresponsible. We can’t can’t journey into the dark days ahead without a light.
“As a queer person, my existence is activism,” Jackson says. “I hear this from so many young trans people who watch Will it Waffle?: they love that they can watch an adult trans person doing something that’s not strictly trans related, and having fun, and being happy.”