Can you eliminate mental health stigma through TikTok? Obviously not, but you can spark a larger conversation about mental health, or just send a friend something cute to cheer them up. That’s exactly what today’s guest’s “bad animations” are all about.
A self-described “bad animator,” Danny Casale, better known as Coolman_Coffeedan, has built up a huge following of people who love his characters and derive emotional comfort from them. Join us as we chat about his work, mental health advocacy, and hopes for a better future for us all.
Self-titled “Bad Animator” and Forbes 30 Under 30 nominee Danny Casale (aka Coolman Coffeedan) first went viral when his cartoon titled “Snakes Have Legs” received tens of millions of views. Casale has since turned his humorous and crudely-drawn cartoons into a profession, with an internet following well into the millions and his first book, UR SPECIAL: Advice for Humans from Coolman Coffeedan on sale now.
In addition to his new book, Danny has recently collaborated with Bollywood superstar Deepika Padukone about mental health and made a collaboration with Diplo. He also has some exciting new apparel drops on the horizon.
Beyond the web, Danny has done incredible installations on the Jumbotron in Times Square and completed murals in the hippest parts of L.A. and Brooklyn.
Danny’s inspirations include Jonny Sun, Dan Harmon, Pendleton Ward, J.G. Quintel, Reggie Watts, Shantell Martin, Keith Haring, Walt Disney, and Stan Lee, to name a few icons in the beloved, timeless art space.
Danny grew up getting in trouble for doodling during class. He didn’t see himself as an artist by any means but loved the process of getting the cartoonish visions out of his head and onto paper. As an adult, he’s taken those doodles and turned them into wildly popular animations that bring a dose of positivity to millions of people’s timelines.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without.
To book Gabe for your next event or learn more about him, please visit gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Welcome, everyone. I’m your host Gabe Howard and calling into the show today we have Danny Casale a.k.a. Coolman Coffeedan, who is the self-titled bad animator. Danny is on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, and he first went viral when his cartoon titled “Snakes Have Legs” accumulated tens of millions of views. Danny, welcome to the show.
Danny Casale: Hey. Hey. So glad to be here. Thanks for having me on.
Gabe Howard: In your press kit. It says, Danny grew up getting in trouble for doodling during class. He didn’t see himself as an artist by any means, but loved the process of getting the cartoonish visions out of his head and onto paper. So I have a few questions based solely on those two sentences. And the first one is, did you really get in trouble? Like for real trouble? Or is that just clever marketing?
Danny Casale: You know, a little bit of everything. But for the most part, the teachers came to know that that was just my thing. There was only so much they could do, and I think it kept me awake. At the end of the day, it kept me get my brain active, kept me from falling asleep. So it had a purpose. In 11th grade. I’m a junior in high school and my Spanish teacher catches me doodling and she asks me, Hey, Danny, do your doodles help you focus? And I was almost like taken aback in that moment because a teacher never really asked me that question, even though I knew it was 100% the case. And I told her like, Yeah, it does, it honestly does. Because for me, doodling was literally just this sort of brain exercise to keep me retaining information during class. Even when I would be taking notes and be studying for tests, I would doodle alongside the things I had to remember. For some reason, that’s just how my brain is wired. Some students, that’s how they’re built, that’s how their brain is.
Gabe Howard: So just all in all your teachers and the adults in your life were supportive of this until you started moving on to radiators and lunch trays.
Danny Casale: Yeah, that was, I shouldn’t have done that. I’ve definitely been sent to the principal’s office once or twice throughout middle school and high school. Once I got into college, I kept it in my notes. But, for the most part, teachers were more or less supportive of me doing that.
Gabe Howard: And I think that’s great. I think sometimes we, I think the intentions are good, but we accidentally stifled children who learn differently or who behave differently, non-disruptively in class. There’s that pay attention phrase. And I, I think a lot of kids with mental health issues or even just who think differently in the moment or mature differently, they create this outlet for themselves. Looking back on your life and this is this just purely your lived experience, so there’s no wrong answer. Do you think that you were having any unnoticed mental health challenges when you were in school?
Danny Casale: Yeah. I didn’t know how to talk about it. I didn’t know what I was going through at the time. I don’t even know if it was something I should bring up, something I should point out. Looking back, I definitely had a crippling anxiety around my looks. I always felt like I was the ugliest thing in the world. And if my hair wasn’t perfect and my pimples were acting up on a certain day or I had particularly dark or baggy circles under my eyes on a certain day, I would have a nervous breakdown, which I had many times, and I would have to literally skip school that day to heal and to take a moment and to catch my breath. I guess back then, like, I just thought I was having a bad day or maybe a little under the weather. But now, in retrospect, I was legitimately having a anxiety, nervous breakdown like that, was not being treated or talked about the right way. I think now, even just a few years later, people are more open to be talking about those sorts of things. And I would hope that teachers and people that work in the school systems are on the lookout for that type of stuff a little more as well. But this was not something that registered in my head back then. I didn’t even feel like I had to talk about it. But it was such a permanent part of my life, which I fortunately got over. But a lot of people don’t get over that.
Gabe Howard: Is that the idea behind your mental health animations, this idea of giving people space and words and concepts to describe mental health challenges? Because I know when I was in middle school and even high school and even in my early twenties, I didn’t have words like I’m having an anxiety attack or I’m suffering from panic. All I knew is that I was sweaty, unable to focus. My heart was beating. I wanted to run. And when I told people things like that, they just looked at me and they’re like, Well, I don’t know. What’d you eat? It’s.
Danny Casale: Yep.
Gabe Howard: I didn’t understand the words to tell people. And people didn’t understand the words to help me. It was just a lot of confused people.
Danny Casale: Yeah, exactly. I mean, it’s a short, palatable little dose of a cute, cuddly creature that maybe you were expecting to pop up on your phone. Maybe you weren’t. Maybe you just scrolled, scrolled upon it randomly, or you had a friend send it to you out of nowhere. And what this little animation does is in 30 to 60 seconds, sometimes less, you know, talk to you for a second and check in on you. Check in on the human that’s watching this animation, reminding them of the little things that this human wouldn’t have heard throughout the rest of their day otherwise, or maybe hasn’t heard at all in their life up until this point. The simple things like, Hey, you’re special, hey, you’re loved, hey, you’re not nearly as ugly as you may think you are. All these things that we should be constantly reminded of. But we aren’t, you know, we aren’t reminded of those things day to day, for whatever reason. And these animations are those reminders.
Gabe Howard: From your press kit, in your bio, you call yourself a bad animator over and over again. And I believed in the description that you gave, you called it a little blob. This is not how people usually describe their comic strips, their arts, their animation. Is this just self-doubt and low self-esteem? Or is this clever marketing?
Danny Casale: Not clever marketing, just who I am I. When I started this journey, one random summer night, summer of 2017. I had an idea for an animation. It was a random three in the morning idea, but the only problem was I didn’t know how to animate at all. But it was a funny concept. I wanted to give it a shot. And I went for it, you know, I just dove in and made up my little own animation format where I was drawing on index cards and taking a photo of that on my phone and then importing that into my computer and chroma keying it out. A real nerdy, unorthodox way of bringing images to life and making them move and talk. It was an animation called “Snakes Have Legs.” And whatever was in the air that that summer night, that animation went massively viral. Hundreds of millions of views and counting. It’s my most viral hit to date. All of a sudden, I have this huge audience expecting more stuff like that. I’m like, awesome, you know, let’s, I’m going to continue to figure it out, but I still don’t know how to animate. So I was in that rare position where I had the audience before I had any of the content or the know-how on how to make that content. So I figured it out along the way and very, very early on in that journey I just put into my Instagram bio, I’m a bad animator, don’t expect anything crazy. Don’t come in here thinking you’re going to get some Pixar type caliber stuff.
Gabe Howard: The genius is really in the simplicity. There’s all of these people that say, well, I don’t understand how forwarding something on the Internet is going to tackle mental health. Now, the first thing I want to say is forwarding something on the Internet is not going to solve mental health problems. It’s not the end all, be all, but it can start a conversation. Is that how you feel? Is that just like your goal? You’re just trying to get people to think about something and maybe think about the person that sent it to them, and then, boom, you’ve sparked a conversation.
Danny Casale: Definitely the goal to get a conversation started, to get people more consciously thinking about these sorts of things is definitely there. I think just as effective, possibly almost more effective is these characters. These animations are definitely not equipped to be that legitimate therapist in someone’s life. Right. Even though a lot of people comment and DM me saying, Oh my God, this is like free therapy. I needed this today. What these characters and what my art can be and that feeling that it can evoke is the feeling of having a shoulder to cry on. Maybe my characters offer you their shoulder to cry on or offer their ear to listen to. You know, just having that that source in your life and maybe you’re not fortunate enough to have that that actual human in your life, that actual someone who you could speak to or make you feel like you’re being listened to, make you feel like you’re being heard. But these characters are I get a lot of DMS and messages and comments all around the world, you know, America, Brazil, India, Italy, France, everywhere.
Danny Casale: These characters almost transcend language and culture. And a lot of these people, mostly younger on the younger side, kids, teenagers, maybe they had a particularly bad day at school or something. They’ll come back to my pages just to hang out with these characters and get that reminder, get that vibe, get that special feeling, that nice feeling they get when they watch one of the videos with these characters in them, when they listen to that, that ukulele strumming song about how everything’s going to be fine, at least that at least they feel like they have someone to help them feel better and that that special someone just so happens to be these blobby characters that make so many people feel just that little 1% better. So ideally it does both. Ideally, it gets that conversation started and it helps society progress forward. And also, at least maybe in that moment, in that very second, when you’re feeling particularly awful, hopefully one of these characters can help you smile.
Gabe Howard: You mentioned transcending culture and you recently collaborated with Bollywood superstar Deepika Padukone. And you got 10 million views. I mean, one, you’re working with a Bollywood superstar. I think that’s incredible. You’ve racked up over 10 million views as of the recording. Who knows how many will be on by the time this airs? Can you tell folks about that video and how it came together, what message you’re getting out there and if they want to listen to it, where they can find it if they haven’t seen it already?
Danny Casale: Yeah. Yeah. So I was introduced to Deepi, she has this massive following, of course, in the Bollywood scene and online. She has way more Instagram followers than me, put it that way. And she loved my videos and she loved what I stood for and what these animations stood for. And we started brainstorming on what the video idea would be, and her and her team told me about this word, this phrase in India, that essentially means the idea of hugging yourself. And it’s a warm, vibey, vibrating feeling of taking care of yourself. And it’s called jadu ki jhappia, is the name. Jadu ki jhappi. And it’s the act of hugging yourself and fluttering your lips, like [lip trill], just letting out your anxieties and your stress. And I never heard of that before. And I was like, That sounds incredible. I would like, I’m picturing my character, Spesh, in my head, my main character doing jadu ki jhappia and hugging himself and letting out all these doubtful thoughts and feelings just by doing that, the hug of happiness. And we ran with that concept.
Danny Casale: And in the video, my character Spesh is having a bad day. He’s stressed out, he’s anxious. There’s like a bag of chips laying on the floor next to him. There’s a half full can of soda. He’s just not feeling it that day. And animated Deepika pops in. She explains to Spesh that You don’t have to worry, just try this. And they do jadu ki jhappia, and they both hug themselves and they flutter their lips and the background behind them turns into beautiful flowy love and rainbows. And Spesh learns in this video that there are ways, there are small but effective ways in a moment of crisis that you can make yourself feel better, whether it is hugging yourself, or whether it is taking a deep breath, maybe getting some water, taking a walk outside, calling a friend that cares about you. You know, those little but effective reminders that that can help you in that moment. And Deepi was there to help spread that message with me. And it just completely took the Internet by storm. And I’m glad that 10 million people learned about jadu ki jhappia on that video.
Sponsor Message: Hi there, I’m Faye McCray, Editor in Chief of Psych Central. Whether you’re looking for free resources, quizzes or thought-provoking personal perspectives, Psych Central has what you need to join you on your mental health journey. Psych Central’s talented team of award-winning writers, editors and medical professionals are passionate about creating a safe, inclusive and trustworthy environment where you feel seen and heard. Visit us now at psychcentral.com, that’s psychcentral.com.
Gabe Howard: We’re talking about using art to drive mental health conversations with Danny Casale. Of all the things that you have made. And I know you don’t just make mental health animation so you don’t have to pick a mental health one. But of all the animations of everything you’ve done, what is your personal favorite and why?
Danny Casale: Oh, man, that’s a good question. It’s like trying to pick your, uh, your favorite child. Tough. I would say it’s. It is a video around mental health. This was made just a few months into my animation journey after that first video in summer of 2017. It was a video I made in October of 2017. So a little while ago at this point. But the character whose name is Blue Dude lives on and he’s still one of the most respected and one of the favorite characters from the audience in my universe. This is a video that I made right after the Las Vegas shootings in 2017 where the gunman shot into a crowd at a concert from his hotel room in Vegas. Because the whole world was feeling a very spooky, unfortunate, uneasy sort of way. And around this time, I maybe three or four months into my, since my first animation went viral and started accumulating an audience. I had a small audience by this time. I had maybe 50,000 subscribers on Instagram. And so here I am. I’m still in college in New York City at the time. I had class later that day. This is the day after the shootings. I’m at the gym that morning after on the treadmill, just looking at all the TV screens, just replaying this horrible footage.
Danny Casale: Obviously, you know, a horrible event and it just made it brought the world down as something like that always, always does. And it’s a questionable time. And for the first time in my creative career, I felt like I finally had a platform. I finally had a voice where I was able to do something and say something and ideally hope, you know, help make the situation a little better. And so I go home from the gym and I come up with this character idea, this blue blob, and I start recording this, this voiceover about how there is a ton of bad in the world. And there’s no denying that. But we have to remind ourselves that the world is mostly good and we cannot forget that. And then this character, Blue Dude, goes throughout the list of all the small things that we overlook that are good, smiling babies. The smell of bakeries that feeling that you get when you’re crush says your name, all these little things that we just forget about. And I skipped class. I didn’t go to class that day. I was like, This video needs to go out today. I need to finish this video. And I finish it and I post it on same day, the day after the shootings.
Danny Casale: And that video, that was the first video that that took off to such a degree where I realize that the mission is actually much bigger here than just comedy videos, which I was really just doing comedy lighthearted stuff up until that video. This was the first heavy video covering a heavy topic. And that was when that was sort of like my Spider-Man responsibility moment where I’m like, there is a much larger conversation to be had here. This made hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people who are directly affected by what happened here in the States, feel just a little bit better and just maybe remind them in this time of crisis that in the long run will all be okay, even though horrible things do happen time to time. We have to remember that we’re all in this together. We’ll all be okay. And ever since that video, ever since I introduced Blue Dude to the World and that general message of, of, hey, we’re going to be fine into my animated universe, that’s when everything changed. And I hope I hold that video in a very special place in my heart, because I feel like that was the first video that actually helped a lot of people.
Gabe Howard: I understand what you mean about trying to put content out into the world that that makes people think or gives people a virtual hug or helps people in some way. It’s a lot harder than people think at any level. I don’t I don’t care if we’re talking about Saturday Night Live or the number one sitcom in America, a podcast or what you do. Being meaningfully connected to people is not so easy and it really doesn’t matter the number. I think a lot of people struggle to connect with ten people. So it’s my hat’s off to you that you were able to connect with so many people, millions of people, and give them at least a semblance of a reminder that they’re still good out there with something so tragic, especially the way when something so tragic happens, it just the news cycle just beats you down every time you start to get over it. They just rerun the same story and you start to get this idea that everything is bad, even though it’s just the one thing. Just it becomes a pressure cooker. So. So thank you for helping to break that cycle.
Danny Casale: That’s the thing is that unfortunately, we live in that sort of structure where the bad news is hammered into everybody’s heads and it’s just so easily accessible. You know, throughout quarantine and COVID, all of 2020, that was the first time I heard the word, the phrase doom scrolling. You know, everyone was just constantly taking it. All this horrible, horrible news, and everything’s horrible and there was nothing else to do. You couldn’t leave your home, so you might as well just keep scrolling, taking all this bad, horrible news in. And it really affected a lot of people and their minds in a very negative way. A lot of people still have not fully recouped from that, and that’s why I hope these characters can continue to spread to as many people as possible and spread this message of, Hey, let’s take it back a beat. Dial it down. Don’t get too riled up. I know we’re living in crazy times, but here’s a simple thing. Like, remember to drink some water. Like, go hydrate, take a deep breath, hug yourself, call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a little while.
Gabe Howard: And Danny, you’ve made a very deliberate decision to stay below the fray, politics, religion, you know, controversial current events. You try to be nonpartisan, really connect everybody. What went into that decision? Because sometimes I feel like if you want to go viral, low-hanging fruit is the keyword of the day. And the keyword of the day is almost always negative. So I’m thankful that you’re not adding to that rhetoric. But I do have to ask, what made you make that decision?
Danny Casale: Yeah, it’s a good question. I think know it’s not me thinking too hard about it. It’s the type of person that I’ve always been. I was always one to maybe look a little deeper beyond the cover of the book, so to speak, and see what a person is all about. I really like people. I love people I love. Growing up on Long Island, I would always go into New York City and just sit in Central Park and people watch. I’m fascinated by people, you know, all walks of life, all different types of people. And something unfortunate happened within the past few years or so where people stopped liking people. A lot of people stopped liking their fellow man, you know, and that didn’t exactly sit right with me. And I don’t lean any way, any, any particular way politically or spiritually. I love learning. I love hearing all points of view. You know, I love hearing what people have to say. And I have my own beliefs, of course, but I don’t I don’t believe in using my platform to make it about me. I want to make it about everybody. And the only way to do that is I feel like, is to do exactly that, is to include everybody. I feel like. You know, just everybody being human is enough for is enough of an excuse for everybody to get along. I mean, think about all the similarities that we have with each other at its core. We look at a cute puppy and, you know, 99.99, 99% of people on this earth will go, aw, that’s a cute puppy. And they’ll feel joy from that. You know, the smell of fresh cut grass, you know, the feeling of sun beating on your face.
Danny Casale: These are all universal concepts that we all know and love. And we should be celebrating the idea that we are much more similar than we’ve grown to think and the news cycle and social media and people’s own unfortunate initiatives to divide and divide people, divide communities. People don’t talk about enough people don’t talk about mental health enough. They sure as hell don’t talk about the things that we all have in common enough. And I hope that my stuff can also get that conversation started. We’re all we are all one. And I feel like the more conversation around that, the better.
Gabe Howard: Now, your new book is called “U R Special.” And I have to ask, I have to ask, are you actually reminding people that they are unique? Is it a hint of sarcasm? Is it a little bit of both?
Danny Casale: No, of course. It’s “U R Special”. U R the letters. “UR Special.” And you know, it has my characters on the front cover, you know, all excitedly hugging each other and looking straight at you, the human that maybe passes by them on the bookshelf or scrolling on Amazon or whatever. It’s a little bit of everything, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s definitely reminding you that you’re special, you’re unique, but it’s also reminding you to like, hey, here’s a funny word. Like, you’re special. Like, maybe that means you’re weird. Like, celebrate your, the fact that you’re one of a kind, you know, it’s definitely a word that I’ve made my official unofficial logo and people makes people smile when they just read that, which is very effective already. But it’s essentially a book where my characters introduce themselves chapter to chapter. It’s very visual. And along the way they teach you a new life lesson that maybe you would have you’re better off hearing rather than not, you know, stuff around reminding you that you’re definitely not ugly. Look at all the cool features that you have. There’s a whole chapter around things to remember. If you have lost someone that you loved, maybe that’s through a breakup. Maybe that means your dog ran away. Or maybe it means someone in your family passed away. You know, I wrote the chapter. I wrote most of this book in March of 2020, right when things started getting really weird around me. And these stories and these characters that I just kept writing really just helped me personally. They helped accompany me. And the weirdest time of my life, the most uncomfortable, doubtful time of my life.
Gabe Howard: Danny, thank you so much for being here. Where can folks find you online? Do you have a website? I know you have all the socials.
Danny Casale: Sure. Yeah, you could. You could find me on Instagram and Tik Tok @coolman_coffeedan or you could find me anywhere else by my name, Danny Casale.
Gabe Howard: Once again, thank you so much for being here.
Danny Casale: Thank you so much, Gabe. Really appreciate it. I love everything that you’re doing for you’re doing exactly what I’m trying to do here, which is getting the conversation moved ahead and started getting people talking about it. So really appreciate it. And thanks for having me on.
Gabe Howard: Oh, you’re very welcome. It was my absolute pleasure. And to all of our listeners, thank you. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” as well as an award winning public speaker who is probably available for your next event. My book is on Amazon because, well, everything is or you can grab a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me over at gabehoward.com. Wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe to the show. It’s absolutely free. And hey, can you do me a favor? Recommend the show to your friends, family and colleagues. Whether it’s text messages, social media or, you know, word of mouth is still a thing. I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast from Healthline Media. Have a topic or guest suggestion? E-mail us at show@PsychCentral.com. Previous episodes can be found at psychcentral.com/show or on your favorite podcast player. Thank you for listening.