‘Lea Michele can’t read’: The internet meme and hilarious running gag, explained

Lea Michele poses in front of a background showing reading glasses and an eye test exam

There are plenty of bizarre celebrity conspiracy theories flying around – including Avril Lavigne being replaced with a look-a-like called Melissa and Keanu Reeves being immortal – but the rumour that Glee star Lea Michele can’t read is among one of the most pervasive.

A meme claiming that the Funny Girl actress doesn’t have the ability to read or write has been doing the rounds for years, with fans claiming that she had her lines read to her during her six-year run on Glee, and that she has in fact never read a script herself. 

The rumours have been perpetuated by Lea Michele herself, who has joked in the past that she needed a friend to read her TikTok comments to her.

Now, even Michele’s friends are getting in on the act, with Emma Roberts poking fun at the meme on the talk show Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen in January.

When asked about the “misconception” that Michele can’t read, Roberts laughed and said: “Well… I mean… we’ve not been in a book club together!”

With fans in a frenzy over Roberts’ comments, belief in the conspiracy theory is as fierce as ever.

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Before you believe the madness, however, here’s everything you need to know about the “Lea Michele Can’t Read” meme and its origins. 

When did the ‘Lea Michele can’t read’ meme start?

The “Lea Michele Can’t Read” meme is thought to have originated in a 2017 podcast episode, with Jaye Hunt and Robert Ackerman from One More Thing joking about Michele’s literacy.

The episode featured the hosts reading an excerpt from the late Naya Rivera’s memoir Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up, which claimed that Michele refused to improvise on the set of Glee

A joke that Michele perhaps had to memorise her lines because she couldn’t read them led to a 40-minute deep dive looking for “evidence” of Michele’s illiteracy, with theories put forward that perhaps she had missed a lot of school due to being a child star.

Other pieces of ‘evidence’ from the pair – who have insisted that their segment was purely fabricated for humour – included that she has assistants write her Instagram captions, that she has lines fed to her, and that she does not write her own signature.

Hunt and Ackerman also joked that Glee creator Ryan Murphy was in on the secret, and would have Michele learn her lines through recordings of the songs.

Fans went wild with the claim, finding clips of Michele presenting awards where she appeared to allow her co-presenter to read the name off the card before saying the name herself. Detective-like fans have also found pictures of Michele signing her name without the pen actually touching the paper.

In an interview with Jezebel, Ackerman explained: “The genius I’d say to the theory is that there is so much evidence that helps us, as opposed to what hinders us.”

Michele then fanned the flames herself with a quote she gave in the New York Times, explaining that she “knew my lines every single day” on Glee, with one writer claiming her wording, hilariously, didn’t deny the rumours at all. 

“I believe Lea Michele can read, but I have to say it’s hilarious this is worded in a way that doesn’t actually confirm she can,” Caitie Delaney wrote on Twitter

What has Michele said about the meme?

Lea Michele has both condemned the joke and also demonstrated that she can see the funny side of it, slamming the meme as sexist when it saw a resurgence in 2022.

In an interview with the New York Times in September last year, Michele said: “It’s sad. It really is.”

She added: “I think often if I were a man, a lot of this wouldn’t be the case.”

The singer and actor has also poked fun at the rumours, even leaning into the meme with her own videos. 

In 2018, she responded to a tweet making fun of the rumours with: “Loved READING this tweet and wanted to WRITE you back.”

When Michele joined TikTok last year, her first video saw her lip-syncing to her own rendition of “Don’t Rain On My Parade”, which she sang on Glee years before winning the lead in Funny Girl on Broadway. 

She captioned the post: “Calling Jonathan [Groff] to read me the comments on my first TikTok”.

Fans loved the star’s tongue-in-cheek nod to the ‘Lea Michele can’t read’ meme, with one fan writing: “Lea Michele wins the internet today?”

Even Grindr joined in, commenting: “Help.”

Neither Emma Roberts or Lea Michele have commented further since Roberts’ interview with Andy Cohen, but with one fan commenting, “the evidence is MOUNTING”, it’s clear that without hard evidence, this meme is going nowhere fast.

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