My free time is basically gone. I miss it, a little bit. One thing that I filled up a sizable portion of my mornings while not working was the daily new content from my subscriptions on YouTube. I would wake up every day and lay in bed a good half-hour at the least just watching vlogs, channels, and other regular videos in my feed. It feels weird to say, and really to admit in a way, that YouTube, its community and content creators, have become very much an integral part of my life. It all happened very suddenly and looking back, I can’t really say I could have anticipated this ever coming to pass.
The first video I saw on YouTube was this one:
Blast from the past, right? I don’t even know why I remember that as my first video, and it’s possible it’s not but I’m sticking to my story. It’s probably the first viral video I ever saw, not counting the Flash- or gif-based memes of the late 90s and early 2000s. In 2007, during my first week in college, a few new friends in my residence hall showed me the following short, to this day still one of my absolute favorites, though it apparently hasn’t fared well on the technical side:
My friends in the hall and I could quote every line of that video (and its sequels) verbatim. I’m sure our co-residents and RAs hated us.
The first time I really was exposed to the YouTube “mythos” was during the summer of 2008. Living at my fraternity house in college, one night a bunch of my friends and I sat down and just watched one viral video after another. That night exposed me to such legends as Chocolate Rain, Dramatic Chipmunk, Evolution of Dance, Charlie Bit My Finger, and too many others to name.
All of that stayed in my head for years, though I still rarely gave YouTube any of my time. I still chuckled at every new reference I understood. That one South Park episode made a heck of a lot more sense, yet I was still oblivious to the culture and community growing inside YouTube.
The first so-called “YouTuber” I followed was JennaMarbles. I don’t know why. I found her funny and, most importantly, relatable, which is something “entertainment” at the time failed to do. All she did was talk (often rant) at the camera about topics that concerned people around our age and I couldn’t stop watching. It was smart, but crass. Perfect for a guy in college.
Now, flash all the way forward to the middle of 2012. Ugh, not a good time for me, yet it was also the hidden catalyst for all of what follows here. I saw a link on Reddit r/music for a video titled ELDERS REACT TO DUBSTEP (SKRILLEX). I thought, well that had to be good. It was fantastic. Immediately, I discovered the other series under the “React” umbrella, Kids React and Teens React, all by The Fine Brothers. I spent a few days that summer marathon-ing React videos. I couldn’t get enough of the insight, the quality production, and the humor. At the end of the year, The Fine Brothers debuted a new series, YouTubers React. This was the spark that set everything in motion.
The first few YouTubers Reacts exposed me to so many different online personalities, basically none of which I’d ever seen before. Of the handful featured in those episodes, they were all incredibly popular, but for the most part I had no idea who they were or what they did. I was curious. Suddenly, a whole new world was open to me. It was in May of 2013 that I finally found myself falling down the rabbit hole. Because I feel like sharing (and, for myself, remembering), these are my favorite YouTubers, a little bit about them, and an exemplary video that may interest you in watching more. I discovered most of them through each others’ videos and social media, many around the middle of last year. Follow me into the rabbit hole, won’t you? (Warning: it goes deep…)
First and foremost: Grace Helbig, comedian, vlogger, all-around hilarious woman. She produced daily videos on her aptly named channel DailyGrace until the end of last year. She restarted her career in January on her own independent channel It’s Grace, where she amassed over 1.5 million subscribers in a month. There’s not much not to like about her. She’s witty, upbeat, and, I don’t know, quirky, but real? As far as personalities go, I think I might be more like her than anyone else on this list, which makes her far more endearing as a performer.
Next, Hannah Hart, creator of My Drunk Kitchen, my favorite show about watching someone attempt to cook whilst inebriated. Hannah is adorable, one of the quickest I’ve seen with a pun, and seemingly one of the nicest, most genuine people on the internet. There are a handful of people who can put a smile on my face just by talking at me, and she’s definitely one of them. She also runs a vlog channel, yourharto where, among travel videos, book discussions, and more, is an excellent multi-part series on her experience with coming out.
And of course, the third of YouTube’s so-called “Holy Trinity”, Mamrie Hart, host of You Deserve A Drink, the mixology series with the best (or worst) puns one can imagine and some of the more inventive drinks I’ve ever seen. I’m actually a little disappointed in myself that I’ve never made one of her drinks yet. She’s outright hilarious, even moreso when joined by the aforementioned Grace and Hannah. In fact, she recently co-wrote the funny and heartwarming indie feature film Camp Takota, in which she stars, along with Grace and Hannah, and which was just released this past Friday. She also has a second vlog-style channel, Mametown where she creates videos in similar style to It’s Grace a few times a month.
First among the gentlemen: WheezyWaiter, probably my favorite YouTube personality. I found out about him through Grace back in June. He has created over 900 videos over the last seven years and has developed his own expansive universe complete with clones, a whale tank, an alligator pit, punch-able eagles, choose-your-own-adventures and explosions! (well, actually that last one’s not a thing, according to Oprah). His writing, acting and editing abilities are masterful, not to mention his penchant for witty humor and occasional ridiculousness. He also fronts an indie band Driftless Pony Club, occasionally posts to a vlog channel (which he did everyday for a year between Augusts 2012 and 2013), and helps produce a monthly series called The Good Stuff (see much farther below).
Jacksfilms. I came upon Jacksfilms by means I don’t remember sometime in 2011 or 2012. All I remember is I spent a good chunk of my Christmas break in 2012 watching the hilarious Your Grammar Sucks series, where he basically just reads horribly-written comments from social media. Jack also writes original songs, sketches, and parodies, in addition to a few other regular series such as JackAsk, where he “answers” questions from fans, and The News In Haikus, where he creates haikus from the news (duh). The following video features many YouTubers, including the aforementioned Fine Brothers and Grace Helbig, the soon-to-be-mentioned Toby Turner, and many others including Olga Kay, Brock Baker, Steve Greene, and Sean Klitzner.
Tobuscus / Toby Turner. One of the more outright ridiculous personalities I’m subscribed to, I feel as though I might be a little old compared to his largest demographic. Regardless, Toby is talented; dude can do everything it seems. He writes and sings songs, plays guitar and piano, makes countless parodies, literal trailers, rants, vlogs almost daily, develops and plays video games, has a podcast, not to mention he’s actually kind of on TV too. He produces so much content on multiple channels I actually had to unsubscribe from a few to keep my feed from being overrun.
Rhett & Link. These two funny dudes have known each other since they were six. They too write and sing parody songs, have epic rap battles, as well as create sketches, and, dare I say, artistic videos? They are, however, more indirectly famous as the brains behind the Nope, Chuck Testa! viral commercial and the meme it spawned. I found out about them through YouTubers React first, and second because the following video features two young women I’ve already mentioned here. They also host a daily morning show, Good Mythical Morning, (see below) on their second channel. In addition, they have a terrific podcast Ear Biscuits, where they sit down and talk with an interesting person from the internet. Several of the people here have been featured!
RocketJump (FreddieW). The last of these YouTubers that I started following, I actually met Freddie in person before I subscribed to this channel. Story here, again. Freddie’s a wiz at special effects, editing, and the whole RocketJump team is amazing at creating wild sketches that will melt your face off. They’re also the team behind the awesome Video Game High School series. I had a hard time choosing a film to put here, since they’re all really great. I settled on the film I saw for the first time at the 5-Second Films house in the presence of Freddie himself:
Finally, and perhaps my favorite YouTube channel of all solely because of its non-stop high quality of entertainment, and its somewhat unique sense of humor, is Brian and Maria, the solo channel of Brian Firenzi, founder of 5-Second Films. I honestly think the guy is a genius. I was so starstruck when I met him I could barely bring myself to talk to him even though I was overflowing with questions. Unfortunately updates on his channel have been getting rarer of late, however that does nothing to diminish the brilliant catalog already up there. If you’re a fan of 5-Second Films but have somehow always thought they were too short, you must check out this channel.
The thing that unites all of the YouTubers above is that they’re all comedy oriented. I watch them to cheer up, to feel awesome, to expand my sense of humor, or simply to laugh. However, there’s another group of YouTubers that I almost look forward to seeing new content from more. They are the creators who educate, who make learning entertaining. These are my favorites:
VSauce. A series of videos documenting some really interesting questions in the fields of science, psychology, and philosophy. Michael’s energy and enthusiasm are incredibly infectious, as are his bizarre tangents and segues. Without a doubt my favorite more-serious channel on the internet. Seeing a tweet in my feed from @tweetsauce with the line “NEW VIDEO –>” in it never fails to get me excited and make my day a little better. I came across him because I asked myself the very question he discusses in this video. I’ve been hooked ever since.
Minute Physics / Minute Earth. Henry Reich discusses difficult scientific concepts in a short amount of time. With illustrations! It’s a great channel, seriously. (My description is brief on purpose, just like the videos! Just go watch them!)
SmarterEveryDay. Like so many of these channels, the creators have a clear and evident passion for what they do, and Destin is no different in this regard. He’s made over 100 videos for just that reason, to make the viewer smarter, and he’s doing a damn fine job. It couldn’t be more obvious that he absolutely loves not only learning, but sharing what he learns with us too. While not a daily series, his occasional upload is always of the highest quality and full of delicious brain food. Also, he likes to use slow-motion cameras a lot.
(Aside: Flula is the best)
The Vlog Brothers. These guys are everywhere. John Green is the bestselling author of such widely-praised books as Looking for Alaska and The Fault In Our Stars, while brother Hank Green is the founder of DFTBA Records, a writer, entrepreneur, as well as all-around smart guy. These two do a twice-weekly video (one each) where they talk “to each other” about topics of interest, news stories, or generals stream of consciousness. Together, they founded VidCon, the annual YouTube convention in Southern California, making them perhaps the de facto leaders of the YouTube community. They’re so ubiquitous among the YouTubers I follow that I knew who they were long before I’d even seen one of their own videos.
Good Mythical Morning, the daily morning show by Rhett & Link mentioned above. Every day they present a topic and talk about it. It’s usually something offbeat, topical, advice, a challenge,… anything really. I’ve woken up to this show almost every day for the last four months and it’s been great. Join these guys, have a laugh, and maybe learn something new! Let’s talk about that:
The Good Stuff. Each month Craig Benzine (WheezyWaiter) and The Good Stuff team put out a playlist of 5-6 videos concerning a topic, be it topical for the time of year or educational. They discuss topics amongst themselves, travel around to different locations, interview all different kinds of people and experts, and get the fans to share their own stories. If you’re a fan of WheezyWaiter or Driftless Pony Club, and are also interested in learning about all sorts of neat things, watch The Good Stuff.
Lastly among the major genres of YouTuber I follow: vloggers. In the last few months I started to follow the secondary vlog channels of everyone listed above. If they had them, I subscribed.
I also came across one of the possibly best known and prolific vlog channels among the YouTube community, CTFxC, the daily vlog of the life of Charles Trippy, now almost done with its fifth consecutive year. That’s all it is. Charles and his wife Alli produce a roughly ten minute video every day, without fail, documenting the highlights of their day. The ups and the downs. And sometimes, really amazing things like this:
Vlogging is an interested facet of this culture. I once tried it myself, but gave up after a few days. At the time, I just didn’t have an interesting enough life, or anything that memorable or insightful to say, really. Besides, I don’t know how to edit videos and would rather not invest time and effort into another hobby.
I will say this: there’s something addicting about following people along in their lives, living vicariously through them in a way and forming a connection with someone, even if it, in most cases, only goes one way. It’s kind of like playing The Sims in a sense. I don’t fully or truly understand why vlogging is even a thing, why they’re so immensely popular, and why I watch them myself. One day I’ll understand, but for now the explanation hasn’t surfaced in me.
Actually, that reminds me of a film that will explore this very phenomenon. It’s titled Vlogumentary, produced by YouTuber and vlogger Shay Carl Butler, and prominently features many of the personalities I’ve described in this post. Check out the trailer that premiered at VidCon this past year:
It looks fantastic and I cannot wait to see it, whenever it comes out. Just the trailer gives me goosebumps.
Finally, one of the most distinct features of the YouTuber community, compared to traditional media, is the ubiquity of collaboration. YouTubers are always getting involved in each others’ content, usually to reward for both viewer and creator. As is clearly evident, I would not have found so much fantastic work if each of these individual channels and their creator(s) were on their own island, on their own network, or otherwise working completely alone. Looking back on some of the videos that got me invested in the YouTube community, I’m often shocked to notice appearances from YouTubers I didn’t follow at the time but am now a big fan of. It’s like a big happy family and, because of the two-way interactive nature of the internet, I feel like maybe I’m a part of it too.
Which is why it’s difficult to say goodbye to some of them. Once in the rabbit hole, I kept finding more and more content I enjoyed. Now, without so much extra time, I can’t possibly take in it all anymore without failing to live my own life. I’m at the zenith now and from here my involvement can only go downward. I can only hope that those wonderful people I mentioned above will remain a part of me, and even if I don’t keep a close eye on them now as I used to just a few short weeks ago, I know they’ll always be there, on YouTube, chugging away on new material for their fans. These people helped me through a wildly uncertain and stressful period of my life, and for that I’ll always be thankful. They’ve never failed to brighten my worst days and make my best ones that much better.
You’re all awesome. Thank you, YouTube.