PHOTOGRAPHY DP JOLLY
I’d been thumbing through my Facebook feed, last summer, when I first came across a video of comedian couple, Chicklet and Maleni. Chicklet, whose real name is Steven Negron, had been attempting to stunt on Instagram with a bottle of D’usse. That the bottle was actually filled with Iced Tea instead of the luxury-lifestyle cognac was beside the point. The point was presentation and how—with the right caption, context, and filter—no one knows, or will be able to tell, the difference. With a Fendi purse slung around his torso, Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” blaring in the background, a bottle of “D’usse” in one hand, and his iPhone in the other, no one could tell him anything. This is where Maleni comes in.
If there’s anyone to credit for Brooklyn’s reputation to keep it real, it’s the women who live here. No matter how strong you believe your poker face to be, trust that a Brooklyn woman’s ability to pull your card is even stronger. Maleni Cruz, who grew up in East New York’s Linden Boulevard Projects, is one of those women. Those women who will rhetorically ask you, “What the fuck are you doin’?” not because they want an answer, but because it’s a question we often don’t ask ourselves, enough—especially when we’re trying to stunt for people on the Gram. People who we think expect the world of us, but who could really care less about the world we actually live in. The world that exists outside of a social media square.
This is essentially what’s at the heart of Chicklet & Maleni’s skits: while the love they have for one another is not always easy to watch, it’s always real. And it’s the shameless documentation of their love that has everyone from Cardi B, to Tidal, to D’usse loving what they do. As their videos never fail to make me laugh, they also remind me that love never looks the way we expect it to—but when it’s real: it’s better than we ever could’ve imagined.
I linked with Chicklet & Maleni at their go-to spot, No Bull, in Bushwick, to chop it up with them about how they met, started dating, and manage to keep the love real on a platform that’s anything but.
While graphic language colors this interview, it’s all love. So please don’t be on no hatin’ shit.
♦ YAHDON ISRAEL
♦ STEVEN “CHICKLET” NEGRON
♦ MALENI CRUZ
Let’s take your relationship back. You’ve been dating each other for the last three years but have been friends longer. Tell me how the friendship started?
We were both going to this EDM party we had heard about on Facebook.
People were calling it a rave.
A rave, my friend, which is her tattoo artist, invited me to. He was like, “I know somebody there. I’m going to call her to see if it’s lit.” [Maleni] goes, “Yo, it’s poppin’! Come through. Everybody here!” I’d never been to a rave, so I was excited—like I’m going to a mosh pit. Mad excited. We get there, and there was like six people on the wall and [Maleni].
So, I turn to my mans and asked, “Where’s the shorty who said this was lit?” Maleni heard me and was like, “I’m right here.” So, I told her, “I don’t fuck with you.” And she tells me, “Fuck outta here. We can fight.” It got friendly later, but we were dead-ass at first.
I was dead-ass. We could have gone outside.
A few days later, a mutual friend of ours, invites me to Buffalo Wild Wings. When I pull up, I see Maleni there, so I ask my friend, “Why you invited this girl out? I don’t like her.” We didn’t like each other so much, we gave each other different names.
I called him Jeffrey.
I called her Jabrea. There was a girl in my middle school whose name was Jabrea. I had never heard that name before—so I called every girl, Jabrea. Maleni was one of them.
I thought I was special. Then I found out that he called the other shorties Jabrea too, and I told him, “Don’t fuckin’ call me that.”
The second time we hung out is when I saw she was interested in me.
I realized he was a different type of dude. He told this story where…I don’t even know if I should tell the story.
So basically, a dude hit me up on IG and was like, “Yo, I’ll pay you $200 to give you fellatio.” I don’t know why I wrote back, but I was like, “Nah, I’m all right. I appreciate it.” Then he goes, “300?” So I had to block him, because if he would have went up to $400 or $500, I would have been like, “So you just giving me head, right? I don’t have to give nothing in return?”
Before he told me that story I thought he was like every other dude. Another dude would’ve played it off like, “Nah, I’m not with that.” Chicklet says he had to block him, because if the other dude said $400, he would’ve made the wrong decision for money. In my head, I was already concluding the joke. When Chicklet didn’t say what I expected that’s when I realized he was a dope ass person and said to myself, “This guy needs to be my friend.”
A couple days after I told her that story she hit me up.
I was chillin’ with my tattoo artist and he had a huge, giant, pencil he got it from Chicklet. I took a picture of the pencil, through my tattoo artist’s DMs, and sent it to Chicklet saying, “Yo, this is mine now.” That was my way of slidin’ in.
She gave me the pencil back and then we chilled—and I realized how cool she was. One time, Maleni and I made my friend think Maleni was a stripper. I was like, “Yeah, this is my stripper friend from the Bronx,” and Maleni just went along with it.
I told his friend my stripper name was Mangoes.
Then my friend, not knowing we’re joking, asks Maleni, “Do you like [striping?]” It was so funny. Then Maleni drove back home and changed so we could go play baseball. That’s when she told me does dance—and I was all for it.
How did the friendship transition into a romantic relationship? How did y’all actually start dating?
I knew I liked her, but I wanted to be single. One day, some friends of mine were at the studio and they wanted to go out after. I wanted to go home, but it turned into this whole thing. I didn’t feel like arguing so I told my mans, “If you want to go out, go out. I don’t care. I’ll take the train.” So, I left, called Maleni, and told her I was walking to her house. She was in bed and got up like, “Nah, stay where you are. I’m coming to get you.” I was like, “Nah, don’t come.” Maleni told me, “You better not fuckin’ move.” Then that’s when I was like “Oh, she really cares about me.”
Then there was another time where we were chillin’ and Maleni told me she liked me. Though she never said it before I felt how serious she was.
I told Chicklet, “I like you, but I know you’re going to hurt me.” “So why you here?” he asked. I told him, “Because I got hope.”
When do you actually start having the conversation to push him into the comedy thing. Was that always the talk?
I always told him do stand-up.
Everybody was telling me to do stand-up. I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t think I could. At the the time, I didn’t know we could make our own lane. We were doing 15 second videos (that’s when Instagram still was 15 seconds). People telling me to do a whole show. I didn’t know how to do that. But by December 2016 I said, “I want to go hard for 2017.”
At this same time, I wasn’t working—so I was telling myself that I’d get a job, so I can pay pages to promote me. I had started working at Fed-Ex. Terrible job. I left. Another job hit me up like, “Yo, we pay 10 dollars an hour, but it’s Monday through Friday, 10am-6pm.” Thinking I could do videos after I got off work, I took the other job. Took the other job and I still didn’t have enough time. Then we did the D’usse video. Once that video went crazy, D’usse hit me up like, “Yo, can you come to Roc Nation tomorrow?” I said, “I work tomorrow.” Then I quit. I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I just left.
And then how did you two have the conversation about doing the comedy together?
People were approaching me in the streets, and I could tell girls didn’t feel comfortable approaching me with Maleni there, because they didn’t know her. They only knew me. That’s when I told Maleni we needed to start doing videos together. I wanted people to know her as well.
My face wasn’t shown in the beginning. You only heard my voice.
Was that an artistic choice?
It was really because he was more comfortable recording and holding a camera—like in the makeup video; I didn’t even know he was recording.
I just had to put her in situations and told Maleni, “The next time I bother you, take out your camera.”
Do y’all ever feel like the authenticity of the moment is undermined by the presence of the camera?
Nah. We used to it. What ruins it is when people ask for multiple pictures. I get why people do it so I try not to be mad at it, but I think it does ruin when Maleni and I are chillin’. Especially when the same people are like, “Oh, that picture wasn’t good. Let’s do another one.”
When you look at your comedy, what would you say you’re creating together?Trying to help people be comfortable with who they really are. I try to be me as much as possible. On social media, people only want to show their relationship when it’s good. They don’t want to show those moments that make a relationship real. Those things that make other people say, “This is a real thing. They go through it.”
Our comedy is a way to help people see that, so that they look at their lives and find comfort in what’s real instead of what looks good all the time.
He took the words right out of my mouth.
My last question: where are y’all trying to go with this?
I want to keep making videos that continue to help people be comfortable with who they are. I want people to understand that followers don’t mean shit. You can have a million followers and still be broke. It may sound corny, but I want us to be the next Jay-Z and Beyoncé. Meaning, I want people to realize that the energy we bring is real, so they see this isn’t by accident. Even though we may not understand what’s next and have it all figured out, none of what’s happening is by accident.
I appreciate that he used “we” when he talks about this because, though he started this on his own, I was with him when he was going through it—and I’m here now.