Why we all think Lea Michele can’t read

A look into where this recurring theory began.

by Meka Boyle
|
15 July 2022, 3:37pm

Lea Michele made a deal with the devil to play the lead in Funny Girl on Broadway, the Twitter user @freyabwg believes: she’s like Ariel from The Little Mermaid, “but instead of trading her voice, she traded [her] ability to read.”

Yes, the jazz-hands-heavy, sometimes bullying Glee and stage star cannot read. Or so many believe. But where did this theory begin? And is there actually any truth to it?

Internet sleuths have traced back the rumour to 2017, when Jaye Hunt and Robert Ackerman, of the pop culture podcast One More Thing, dove into the memoir of Lea’s Glee co-star, Sorry Not Sorry by the late Naya Rivera. The pair fixated on a section of the book in which Naya reveals that, during the filming of Glee, Lea had refused to improvise with guest star and TV legend Tim Conway and made his granddaughter, who was visiting the set for the shoot, cry. Jaye and Robert looked for a response to the claims from Lea online and couldn’t find anything. That, in turn, made them question whether she’d engaged with Naya’s memoir at all: “Maybe she can’t read so she can’t read the book,’” Robert told Jezebel.

It inspired a 40-minute long Ted Talk style video aired live on Facebook titled “Lea Michele Is Illiterate”. The video has since been taken down (perhaps this was the doing of Lea’s team?), but not before the claims made their way around Twitter. The podcasters don’t claim that Lea has a learning disorder, but rather that, because she was a child star (having made her Broadway debut in Les Miserables at eight years old), she’s simply never found the time to learn how to read or write. Now, they claim, she just pays people to do it for her.

The video’s bold but seemingly substantiated theories track Lea’s career from those early moments, all the way through to her long standing working relationship with Ryan Murphy, her social media presence, her appearances on The Ellen Show, her own book that she purportedly wrote, mixed with a series of incriminating photos of her “pretending to write”. The deeper we collectively dive into the theory, the more so much of it makes sense. 

Let’s lay their hypotheses out clearly: The hosts claim that during her time on Glee, Lea memorised the lines to her songs by listening to the recorded versions, absconding the use of lyric sheets. Which leads to the next big claim: that Glee creator Ryan Murphy was in on the secret. Lea’s next job after Glee was on Ryan Murphy’s Scream Queens where, Jaye and Robert claim, he would feed her the lines on set. Keep the circles small, make sure the secrets never let out. 

You might ask: how does this woman, if she is actually illiterate, manage to stay in touch with her 7.4 million Instagram followers? Well, Jaye and Robert proposed a theory behind that too. In paparazzi photos at the height of Glee’s popularity, Lea was spotted shopping with her assistant, who seemed to be using Lea’s phone. If a caption consists of only emojis, they’d argue, Lea wrote it. But if there are words and emojis? It had to be written by someone else.

Which brings us to her book. In 2014, Lea released Brunette Ambition, followed by 2015’s You: Journal Your Way to Your Best Life. Both seem to notably lack words. Instead, their pages are filled with photos, workouts and recipes. When it came to signing said books too, paparazzi photos left a lot to the imagination. Even though Jaye and Robert’s video has been taken down, many of the photos featured live on. One image shows Lea purportedly signing a book — her sharpie nowhere near close enough to the page. Then there’s the photo of Lea signing a wall — only her name is already written, and she’s simply underlining it. This is canon Lea Michele can’t read material.

“The genius I’d say to the theory is that there is so much evidence that helps us as opposed to what hinders us,” Robert told Jezebel. In the age of conspiracy theories, our desire to debunk is often greater than our drive to believe in falsehoods — and for good reason. But there’s something irresistible about the batshit possibility of Lea Michele — a Grammy-winning artist with two books(?) to her name, and the capacity to lead both a hit TV show and a Broadway classic — not being able to read or write. A huge part of it is fuelled by the public’s perception of her: in the wake of Glee finishing, rumours of Lea’s notorious on-set behaviour — like that put forth in Naya’s book — have become common knowledge. 

When Lea’s Funny Girl casting was announced ⁠— a role she has been vying for her entire career ⁠— Twitter began rehashing some of the most memorable Lea horror stories. There were the claims of bullying and racism levelled against her by former Glee co-star Samantha Ware. Amber Riley and Heather Morris corroborated on claims of her being a bully. “Remember when you made my first television gig a living hell?!?! Cause I’ll never forget,” Samantha tweeted in all caps in 2020. “I believe you told everyone that if you had the opportunity you would ‘s— in my wig!’ amongst other traumatic microaggressions that made me question a career in Hollywood.” In the wake of these accusations, Lea was dropped from her deal with HelloFresh.

So far, Lea Michele has shut down these rumours on two separate occasions. In 2018, she responded to a Twitter user who raised them:  "Loved READING this tweet and wanted to WRITE you back. Literally laughing out loud at all this. Love you!!” she wrote in a since deleted tweet. More recently, in 2022, Lea joked about the theory at an event with a group of high school theatre students. According to Page Six, Lea said: “I didn’t go to college you guys, and look at me. There is a rumour online that I cannot read or write, which may have something to do with [that] fact.”

Whether she proves us wrong or not, it seems like Lea Michele will always have to contend with the rumours of her illiteracy. Truth be told, it’s a highly entertaining rabbit hole to go down. So much so that, nearly five years on, we are — perhaps unlike Lea — still reading about it.

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