When the American musical comedy-drama television series Glee’s popularity (along with its ratings) really exploded in 2010, few of us could have imagined that not only would the show painfully crash and burn but that three of its cast’s top characters would have tragically died. As if such a terrible turn of events wasn’t enough for one show, in 2020, the actress who played its main character Rachel Berry, Lea Michele Sarfati, was accused of being very rude to Samantha Marie Ware, who played Jane Hayward, and causing “traumatic microaggressions” while they worked together on the sixth season of Glee. More actors later came out with comments on how Michele is “a terrible human,” among others.
That should have been about enough drama even for the internet’s most avid gossip consumers—aka conspiracy theorists—right? Wrong, as I recently learned myself. If I’m being totally honest, I was more than happy to leave Michele behind when the 2010s finally concluded. Glee’s last episode aired in March 2015, allowing us five years to try and erase any memory of Matthew Morrison’s ultra cringe moments as Mr Schue.
And yet, some of us simply couldn’t leave things be, as less than a week ago, my FYP served me with a TikTok by @Kelseylikesthings where the content creator explained how she “risked her life” watching YouTube videos made with the aim of proving that Michele has been hiding the fact that she can’t read ever since her acting career started picking up. In other words, it was brought to my attention that there’s an online community somewhere out there that is so unwaveringly certain of Michele’s alleged illiteracy that they make conspiracy theory videos on YouTube to pass on their speculations.
If you’ve somehow arrived this far in this article and are now thinking to yourself, ‘Who cares?’ then perhaps it’s best you leave now. Evidently, I waste enough of my time on TikTok for the app’s algorithm to recommend this type of content to me, which says a lot. In turn, this implies that I also have enough time to get sucked into cuckoo theories like this one, even though I couldn’t care less about what Michele’s been up to lately.
So if you’re okay with spending ten minutes of your precious time on the wild ride that is the ‘Lea Michele is illiterate’ conspiracy theory, then buckle up, you’re in for a treat.
It’s only fair we start this journey with technicalities as Michele is, after all, an actress. This suggests that in order to do her job, she would need to be able to read her lines to learn them and then recite them when facing the camera. But the conspiracy theorists mentioned previously think otherwise.
Instead, they claim that Michele has had her lines read to her ever since she started her career as a child actor on Broadway. The fact that she began working so young is also used as the sole reason Michele can’t read—since you can’t go to school and learn to read when you’re already working full-time.
After auditioning for the coming-of-age rock musical Spring Awakening aged 14, Michele played the role of Wendla Bergmann up until she turned 20 years old. That’s six years of playing the same part—six long years where the actress didn’t need to learn anything other than her songs and dialogues in the musical. If she is indeed illiterate, it would have meant she only had to ask whoever helped her learn her lines for help once during those years. Before that, Michele performed in another Broadway musical, Les Misérables.
The theory goes on to explain that when it came to Glee, which heavily relied on songs instead of dialogues, the actress never had to read the lyrics to the songs she sang as these were pre-recorded on demo for the whole cast. As for who exactly was willing to read Michele her actual lines for the show, this point was left untouched by the usually nitpicking netizens.
Although I’d like to highlight the fact that I don’t believe such claims myself, I can admit that some facts about Michele’s life are somewhat dodgy when it comes to finding proof she can’t read. For example, there is photographic evidence that the actress never uses her phone—instead, she has a personal assistant who handles all communications for her. And yes, that includes written communications.
Secondly—and from now on, know that the evidence presented here will be less and less convincing each time—it is said that on her Instagram account, whenever a caption only includes emojis, it’s been ‘written’ by the celebrity. If the caption contains actual words, then it’s considered the handiwork of her assistant. And if you’re faced with a mix of both, then it’s a collaboration between both the actress and her assistant, duh.
If you want my opinion, she’s just a bit cheugy and loves an emoji or two in her captions.
Thirdly, it’s been stated that in a lot of pictures of Michele signing books available online, her pen is seen hovering above the paper, making it look like she never really writes anything. A simple Google search debunks this argument, though it’s true that the actress signs the book but never adds a written note.
In fact, did you know that in 2014, Michele came out with an autobiographical book titled Brunette Ambition? Funnily enough, the book doesn’t have a lot of words and is mostly made up of photos, recipes and workouts instead. Either she really can’t read or write, or she simply was looking for a quick and easy way to make more money—take your pick.
In another photo where she is pictured signing a wall, Michele’s name is already written on the wall as she poses and draws a line underneath it. At least she’s photo-ready, I guess?
When the cast of Glee got invited to play Cards Against Humanity—a fill-in-the-blank card game that requires the ability to read—on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, some internet users noticed that while the rest of the actors were shuffling through their cards, Michele didn’t interact with them much, implying that someone picked them in advance for her. I’m not sure I witnessed the same thing, as, to me, she looked like she was rummaging through her own cards too:
In March 2018, the actress took to Twitter to answer some of the elements of this now-full blown crackpot conspiracy that were circulating at the time. Though she deleted her account in 2020—deleting the tweet with it—SCREENSHOT found a copy of it online:
Evidently, this reply only led subtractors to knuckle down more and claim someone else wrote it for her. Whichever side you land on now that you’ve been presented with all the arguments conspiracy theorists seem to think are enough to prove Michele can’t read or write, I’ll leave you with two of the funniest memes I stumbled upon while researching this complex deep dive.