YouTube spawning new generation of comics
MONTREAL - While comedy stars have long been associated with live performances and TV shows, there's a growing number of funny people amassing millions of dedicated fans around the world by creating their own YouTube shows on the Internet.
And these shows have reach.
Take the Hitler vs. Darth Vader rap showdown on the "Epic Rap Battles of History" series, for example. It snagged 60 million views — which is even more remarkable considering the series finale of the top-rated "Seinfeld" on network TV in 1998 had around 70 million viewers.
"A recent stat published by YouTube said that for every minute that goes by, 72 hours of footage is uploaded to YouTube," said Burnie Burns, creator of "Red vs Blue," which he described as the longest-running series on the Internet.
"If you wanted to watch every video on YouTube, you would fall three days behind every minute you tried to do that," said the filmmaker who had been trying unsuccessfully to flog one of his movies to distrbutors when he posted it on the Internet and suddenly found an audience.
While some of that mountain of YouTube footage is hokey amateur film of cats flushing toilets, there's lots more polished fare like Burns' "Red vs Blue. The science-fiction spoof has run for a decade, amassed 250 episodes and now counts Elijah Wood of "Sin City" and the "Lord of the Rings" series among its cast.
Money to pay for all this merriment comes from a variety of sources, including merchandise like DVDs and T-shirts and a cut of the ads that precede the videos.
"On iTunes, we're usually No. 1 every time we upload," said Lloyd Ahlquist, of "Epic Rap Battles of History." Other money comes from companies wanting to place their products in the videos themselves.
"There's tons of products wanting to do branded integration on Hitler videos," Ahlquist added jokingly, citing the rap contest between the Nazi dictator and the "Star Wars" villain on his program.
But success doesn't come easy.
That was one of the points driven home at a panel this week at the Just For Laughs comedy festival, which addressed the YouTube comedy phenomenon.
"It takes a long time to develop a voice, like any comedian or writer," said Grace Helbig of the "Daily Grace" show. She's posted a video a day, five days a week, since 2008.
"Be consistent and put work out there until you figure out for yourself and your audience what you enjoy and what they enjoy," she said. "Your activity and the intimacy of the Internet is really what separates it from TV.
"I make all those videos from my apartment so people feel like they're in the room with me and I'm talking directly to them," said Helbig, whose show is a sort of daily comedic chat on life.
Helbig didn't start in comedy immediately.
She waited tables and was a product manager for an entertainment company before getting into her current gig. She had been doing some improv and immediately saw the potential in the Internet after noticing how 100 people had looked at one of her video blogs.
It struck her it was a lot more work to try and sell out a 100-seat theatre than making a video in her own home. Equipment can run from a basic computer webcam to more sophisticated gear.
Ben Relles, who is the head of programming for YouTube and founder of "Barely Political," said hopefuls should ask themselves if they're doing something people would be interested in seeing — and sharing.
He knows a few things about that, having created the "Obama Girl" spoof video of a woman singing to Barack Obama during his first bid for the White House.
"I did that on a Friday afternoon and the week we put it out it got a few million views," he said. It was a slow news week and a lot of people were talking about it so we used it to launch the 'Barely Political' channel on YouTube," he said.
He said format is important.
One example cited was the popular Canadian "Epic Meal Time" YouTube cooking show where high-calorie meals are put together, often using bacon and alcohol.
The Montreal-based "Epic Meal Time" brings in tens of millions of views with its consistent diet of host Harley Morenstein cooking artery-clogging meals while he slings hip-hop slang at the audience.
The episodes end with him and his guests dining on their creation, sometimes using bizarre utensils like chainsaws and hockey sticks.
"The channels that are kind of scattershot with bits and sketches, people may love them a lot but I've seen them have a tougher time," Relles said.