How This 30-Year-Old Became a Mainstay of the 'Weird Corner of YouTube' With His 'Short' and 'Snackable' Sketch Comedy Videos
In this series, YouTube Icon, Entrepreneur speaks with the individuals behind popular YouTube channels to find out the secrets of their success.
There’s no set path to success in the filmmaking industry. There are no credentials you have to obtain to get your big break, just experience. Or “enough experience that you can exaggerate into looking like official experience,” as Brandon Rogers puts it.
After Rogers dropped out of community college on paper, he continued attending the classes that would teach him various aspects of storytelling, including TV production and English classes. The college’s speech and debate team coach even let him travel and compete. Meanwhile, Rogers worked “crappy” odd jobs and eventually saved up $1,000 to move to L.A. Even when he had cobbled together a bit of experience he could “exaggerate,” he still didn’t make it in the TV or film world.
By his late 20s, he was working at a law firm and getting used to the idea that he’d be working a desk job for the rest of his life. But in his spare time, he and a co-worker, who today remains his producer, were making YouTube videos as a hobby.
Rogers posted his first video to YouTube in 2005, the year the platform launched. He was 17 then. The following year, like many people at the time, he propped up his webcam in his bedroom and recorded videos of himself doing celebrity impressions.
“I wanted to do a funny version of this, so I said, ‘I'm going to be a channel that does impressions, but instead of talking to the camera, I'm going to be other people,’” Rogers told Entrepreneur. “And in many ways, that's what the channel is today.”
Today, that same channel boasts more than 4.5 million subscribers, though it took a long time for it to reach that number. Rogers’s signatures are his offensive sense of humor and his original characters. When he posted a video titled “Grandpa Hates Valentimes” in February 2015, parts of that 81-second clip circulated on the yet-to-fold video app Vine, where they caught the attention of the Fine Brothers, a famous YouTube duo. Rogers had had a couple of viral videos over the years prior, but the Fine brothers propelled him to YouTube fame “overnight.”
Rogers’s channel took off, and when he’d made enough ad revenue (before the YouTube “adpocalypse,” he noted), he and his producer quit their law firm jobs in January 2016. He’s since gone on a live comedy tour, and this year, he and his small team were nominated for a couple of Streamy awards for the second consecutive year.
“It still feels very, very surreal that we're getting recognized by such an official entity,” Rogers said. “A few years pass by, you accept the fact that you're just an obscure sense of humor that a lot of the internet just isn't into, and it's not a market to grow in.”
Rogers spoke with Entrepreneur about what it was like to hit his YouTube stride in his late 20s, as well as why he’s more nervous than ever when he uploads a video, even after 13 years of doing so.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why do you think your humor found an audience after so long?
I feel like we all kind of have a taste for the weird and twisted. I remember the dancing baby and a lot of stuff on eBaum's World -- a lot of that stuff was very strange, and we all got a fix from that. As the years went on, you saw a lot of that with Adult Swim and smaller channels. There's a lot of normal stuff out there on YouTube, and I like to think that our channel is one of the strong ambassadors of the weird corner, the dark side of YouTube. I like to be one of the troughs that people can eat out of when they're looking for that.
It's an audience that wasn't there when I was younger. Or maybe they did, but Nsync maybe had all of them. But when I was a kid, entertainment came in the form of, what are the five movies out right now? It wasn't, "Hey, you guys want to watch a web series about literally anything we feel like searching?" When I was a kid, I would shoot myself in the head if I forgot to tape an episode of Power Rangers, because you'd never see it again. Today, we can learn how to do anything in video form. If we're going through any kind of personal crisis, we can watch someone else who's going through the same crisis talk us through it. It does seem like there's a whole new audience, but is it just the same audience that was watching Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network when we were kids?
When you were working at the law firm, did you harbor any secret hopes that your channel would blow up one day?
You always make videos with the intent that they could blow up. You always gamble with the intent of winning a ton of money, even if that's not a likely scenario. But realistically, when I was at the law firm, I was learning how to accept my fate of this being my future -- essentially a desk job, doing videos every now and then because they're fun. At this time I was about 28, and I'd been doing it for 10 years. I figured, if it didn't happen by this point, it's not going to happen. Especially in this day and age, where everyone who's big on the internet, they're under the age of 25, it seems.
How do you feel about finding success on YouTube instead of in traditional media?
I still get to work as a director in the elements of filmmaking that I love so much, like casting, writing and telling a story. I still get to create a lore, sort of a mythology with these characters -- sort of a mini-Marvel, Rogers universe. I still get to live out my dream through YouTube because it's such a great platform for filmmaking and for letting your imagination grow and in whatever direction it wants.
We're in a day and age right now where the middleman is getting cut. And the middleman's always been the rich man. He's always been that guy at the top in the suit and tie, like a producer between the artist and the audience. As a creator, I get to put content out there that my fans like. I don't have to necessarily get it approved. As for the people I have worked with, they’ve put a lot of faith behind the fact that even though I don't have a lot of industry experience, I still know what I'm doing in terms of creating a specific story and telling it in a certain way.
Many people would have given up. You kept at this because it was your hobby.
It is my hobby, and it always will be. Even if the channel hadn't blown up, I'd still be doing it today.
How much time do you spend on a video, and what does that entail?
Every video is different, because it has a different setting, but usually it takes about a day or two to write the concept or come up with the video, and then a couple days of shooting it and about a day of editing. They're easy videos to make, they're fast, and they don't involve a lot of people. It's just my cameraman, my producer, myself and whatever actors we happen to have that day. We're lucky to have a system that works pretty efficiently.
A lot of YouTubers have the luxury of always maintaining one persona every time they come on camera. With our videos, it's usually a different character every video. There's always the risk of, what if this is the video that people hate? What if this is the character that no one relates to? In fact, I'm probably more scared to upload videos now than I was before, because there are so many more eyes watching.
Other than hiring a PR agency, what other support people do you have, if any?
My manager, Rachel Williams. I wouldn't be able to do any of what I'm doing without her. And obviously my PR team, and that's about it. We're all a very, very tight family both on and off set. In fact, we're all going to Puerto Rico this December for Christmas.
What is your content strategy?
Having really short, snackable double bite-sized comedy that people can literally reach into their pocket and find on their phone. Sometimes you just want to laugh on your lunch break or you want something to mildly entertain you for a few minutes while you're waiting for a friend. I make the stuff that I'm hungry for, because I love going on my phone and watching funny, short videos.
At two and a half minutes long, on average, it's not a very long watch. You don't feel like it wasted too much time if you didn't necessarily enjoy the video, and if you did, then it's not too long to go back and rewatch again. Our view counts reflect that. There are so many jokes that you can't quite get them in one watching. The videos are intended to not be watched only once.
How do you leverage YouTube and to what extent do you monetize it?
I've tried doing it with my live show, I did a show on the fullscreen platform when that was around. I had a show for two seasons on there. I just started doing a podcast, and there's a few other platforms I'm going to start doing as well.
Every platform is different, but YouTube is the centerpiece, and as long as I take care of YouTube and people are tuning into that channel, that will always give me the possibility of working with many other platforms, because a lot of platforms are interested in someone who has a higher subscriber account. Every time I upload a video on YouTube, I notice my Instagram following jolt up a bit.
I never made my stuff necessarily to sell out and get a bunch of views and money and brand deals. I made my stuff, as I always have, because it's fun. It's fun to write a character and put them in a scenario, and it's fun to tell a story through film.
What is your advice for others who want to build brands on YouTube?
To become any kind of influencer, there are so many elements. It's all about how you are with people and just luck, in general, and who you know, how much content you pump out, how hard you work. It's a mixture of so many different variables that it's almost an impossible question to answer. It's almost like, how do I become not just a likable person, but someone who's likable to millions of people? Or maybe these people didn't even follow you because they like you. Maybe you're hot or you're edgy.
What I can say is, if there's one constant variable between everyone who is a successful influencer today, it's that they're all true to themselves. A lot of people who are big are big doing what they love or giving the advice they want to give or sharing the content they want to share. Authenticity never hurts, but there is no formula.
Viral fame, especially, is like a plant that you’ve got to keep watering, because if not, you’ll die out. The turnover rate can be so high if you're not staying relevant. I'm interested to see where it goes 10 years from now. I'm interested to see where so many people who are famous on the internet today go.
See below for Rogers’ picks of his five favorite videos.
"This is my Infinity War -- an extra-long, 22-minute video involving many of my popular characters."
"A documentary about a blind man who violently runs a fashion empire."
"A local ad from the '80s featuring a not-so-legitimate clinic and its problematic staff."
"A twisted parody on Power Rangers, my favorite show growing up."
"A horrible depiction of romantic comedies, had they existed in the sickly Rogers universe."