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John Green, New York Times Bestselling author and half of vlogging duo the Vlogbrothers, joins Rhett & Link this week to discuss the recent success of his novelThe Fault in Our Stars, the effect fame has had on his personal and professional life, how his upbringing, formal education, and early career aspirations shaped his current view of religion and spirituality, and the significance of forming an online community to support endeavors like the charitable Project For Awesome foundation and YouTube convention, VidCon.

 (00:00) to (05:00)

Rhett: Welcome to Ear Biscuits. I'm Rhett.

Link: And I'm Link. Thanks for joining us in another biscuit from the road today, not from the round table of dim lighting, Rhett.

R: No.

L: We are at VidCon and we're actually talking with one of the founders of VidCon, also New York Times best selling author and one half of the Vlogbrothers, John Green.

R: Now I was so excited to have this conversation with John, as excited as I've been to talk to anybody on Ear Biscuits. Not just because he was recently named one of the 100 most influential people in the world - In the world, Link! - by Time magazine. Not just because...

L: Really. Not just by you?

R: No. He's influential in my life but top 100 in the world! This is on Ear Biscuits, Link! This is happening on Ear Biscuits! Not just because of that, not just because he's been a friend for a long time and we've always looked up to the Vlogbrothers and what he and Hank do on the internet. Not just because he's got a book, The Fault in Our Stars, that has been on the New York Times best sellers list for over two years, it's been at number one for over two years! And then he's got a movie that, as of the time of recording this, it's made over a hundred million dollars. The movie based on his novel that was adapted, The Fault in Our Stars.

L: Well then why are you excited?

R: I, I, I'm, I... I'm just super exci... You know. I was because we've had the conversation, we know what we've talked about and we want you to be excited about it.

L: I'm excited for him and I was excited to talk about all of these things that are happening, all the success that he's experiencing and the way that YouTube is such an integral part in him getting there. Just to get back to The Fault in Our Stars if you don't know much about it, the plot follows two teenagers who fall deeply in love after meeting at a cancer support group.

R: Here's a clip

Gus: What's your name?

Hazel: Hazel.

G: And what's your full name?

H: Hazel Grace Lancaster. Why are you looking at me like that?

G: Because you're beautiful.

H: Oh my God.

G: Let's go watch a movie.

H: What?

G: Hmm?

H: Huh? (Laughs) Um, I'm free later this week.

G: No, I mean now.

H: You could be an axe murderer.

G: There's always that possibility.

R: And you might know before the success of The Fault in Our Stars and probably even a bigger part of what John is all about is what he does with his brother Hank, the Vlogbrothers. I mean, these guys have been an inspiration to us. They essentially started back in January of 2007 with something they called Brotherhood 2.0 which consisted of daily back and forth vlogs. They communicated with each other through vlogs. They said "We're not gonna have"...

L: No texting.

R: ..."any texting but we're communicate with each other every single day"...

L: No emailing.

R:..."for a year back and forth".

L: Right. And then if they didn't meet the requirement of making their video for that day they had to undergo a physical punishment that they agreed upon earlier. And they did it for the whole year. After the year was up they continued and - they changed the frequency of them - and they still do them to do this day. When you watch the videos, they're addressing each other as well as their fanbase, the Nerdfighters.

John: Good morning Hank, it's Sunday, it's news day. And the news around here is that my house is a construction zone and most of the electricity is turned off and we don't have any place to sleep. And unrelated to the incredibly expensive home renovation, my basement flooded on Friday so now I have to take out all the carpet and fixing it is going to cost a billion dollars and I'm cranky! And when I get cranky I put Willie in his tiny elephant costume.

R: And of course they've gone on to just a crazy amount of success on the internet. They call their fans the Nerdfighters and there's a lot of them out there. They have an amazing community. They started the Project for Awesome, they started the Foundation to Decrease World Suck, they started VidCon. You know, the Green brothers have done all kinds of things and then we find in this conversation we're finding John in a really interesting time where he's experiencing, he's in the midst of experiencing this amazing success with The Fault in Our Stars but he's also still doing every other thing that he's always done. And so we talked to him about what it's like to be in the midst of this.

L: Right. I love the quote here, I think this is in association with Time magazine's list of 100 most influential people. Actress Shailene Woodley from The Fault in Our Stars is quoted as saying, "Some say that through his books, John gives a voice to teenagers. I humbly disagree. I think John hears the voices of teenagers. He acknowledges the intelligence and vulnerability that stem from those beautiful years when we were, for the first time, discovering the world and ourselves outside of our familiar, familial stories. But he doesn’t just listen to young adults. He treats every human he meets as their own planet, rather than simply one of his moons. He sees people with curiosity, compassion, grace and excitement. And he’s encouraging a huge community of followers to do the same."

 (05:00) to (10:00)

L: "What a gift to be alive at the same time as this admirable leader."

R: Wow.

L: And what a gift to have this conversation with our friend John.

R: Wow. That was eloquent.

L: Yeah. So here it is, our Ear Biscuit with John Green


L: You were just telling me that you're, like, coming off a marathon and I don't know, you're not at a finish line, but VidCon is usually a crazy time of year but put it in perspective of everything that's been happening to you and your family. All great, but...

J: Yeah, VidCon... Yeah, feels down right relaxing. Uh, yeah, I'm happy to be here but I'm very excited for Sunday. We're going on, my wife and kids and I are going on vacation and that'll be really nice, so.

R: Oh, nice.

J: Yeah, yeah. We're just going to really just have some downtime as much as we can.

R: How old are the kids now?

J: Four and one.

R: That's not a vacation.

J: No. (R & L laugh) Well you're right, it's not a vacation, but it's just a different kind of stress.

R: Yeah, OK.

J: But a really welcome kind of stress. But you're right, it's not, it's not properly relaxing too.

R: I mean, mine are ten and five now and that's just now getting to the point where it could be considered a vacation.

J: Yeah, yeah. So they both...

R: You got some time to go.

J: I'm just, I'm excited for when they're both potty trained. That's gonna be amazing.

R: Well hopefully one is now.

J: Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah. (R & L laugh) He's great, he's great.

L: Well let me ask you, how's your shoulder?

J: Oh, it's better. I got a cortisone shot. I injured my shoulder playing FIFA, which is very embarrassing. Um, it's...

L: What was the diagnosis when you went to the doctor?

J: I went to the doctor, I initially lied to the doctor and I told the doctor that I'd been throwing my kid up in the air because I couldn't bring myself to tell him the truth that I had been playing FIFA. But he was like... He was like, so there was, like...

L: You were playing a video game and you threw your fist in the air in celebration.

J: Yeah, and I badly injured my right shoulder. And he was like "So you had some resistance when you injured it?" And I was like "Not really." And he was like...

R: Air resistance.

J: And he was like "You were pushing up your kid." And I was like "Well, all right fine. I was playing a video game and I raised my arms in triumph and I felt my right arm pop and it really hurt." And the doctor was like "Oh, well that's a completely... Now I... You need to be honest with me."

R: Yeah. These details are important.

J: Yeah it turns out. So anyway, I got a cortisone shot. It worked really well and we'll have to kind of wait and see on the long term effects of me throwing my hands in the air while playing FIFA.

L: I mean, 'cause you're gonna think of it every time you score a goal on FIFA now.

J: Oh, yeah. No, like, ev... Now...

L: Like subconsciously you're gonna tense up.

J: I don't celebrate anymore and I think it's made me a worse player. (R & L laugh)

R: So you're just kinda, you just sort of just sit in the afterglow of a goal.

J: Yeah, I just try to enjoy it quietly now.

R: He's a very pensive FIFA player.

J: Yeah. Yeah.

L: Forgive me for reaching for a connection here but is there some analogy, I'm wondering if there's an analogy between all the success of the book and the movie and just, it's phenomenal what's happening and I'm so excited and it's amazing. But is there an associated injury with this celebration?

R: Was this self inflicted?

J: That's a good analogy. I mean, I definitely think that any kind of dramatic change in your life, even if it's a really positive change, is stressful. Like, you know, moving is stressful, getting married is stressful, having a kid is stressful. These are all wonderful, wonderful things. Like it's some of the best stuff that can happen to you but it's also kind of overwhelming. And this experience has been totally overwhelming and at times really, um, really stressful even though it's been also joyful. And, you know, it's about the best book to movie experience you could possibly have. To be proud of the movie, to have the movie do well, to have been included in the process, all of that stuff just really doesn't happen to authors very often. So...

L: And you kind of built, you kind of built that in because you weren't jumping at the chance for it to be adapted into a movie if it wasn't going to be with certain stipulations, right?

J: Right.

L: You weren't just hungry, "Please make this into a movie".

J: Yeah, and I've been in a position where I had to be hungry before and that does make you a lot less discerning and this time I wasn't hungry. I didn't really want to see a movie made of this book initially because it's so personal to me and I just didn't think anyone could really do a good job. I thought that it would be sort of schlocky. And I think they really succeeded in staying true to the tone of the book. Now most of that was luck but some of it was kind of waiting for the right people to come around.

L: Because you didn't direct the film, you were gonna say it's luck.

J: Right. Yeah, well it's not my movie, it's Josh's movie so like, and ultimately I didn't pick Josh, I wish I could take credit for that but the producers of the movie picked Josh. I mean I, you know, saw his movie and talked to him before he was hired but, um, yeah, everyone else did a great job, I did very little.

 (10:00) to (15:00)

R: Now, are you - are you having a good time? Are you enjoying the process?

J: Yeah I enjoyed, um, I enjoyed like going to the premier so much and, um, we had a showing in Indianapolis that was just with family and friends and people who have kind of helped us along the way of writing the book and then making the movie um, you know, just whether like by babysitting for our kids or whatever. And that was really special to have, you know, 200 people in a room, all of whom you care about, all of whom helped make this possible, and to be able to watch the movie with them was really really special. 

L: But isn't it kind of a challenge when, I mean, so many people in their lives, they dream of one thing, and I mean you tell me but I would assume that there's just been a number of dreams come true for you at this point, like woah! everything is falling into place, but with that experience is there this "well, it's not as good as I thought it would - now that I got these dreams and they've kinda lined up in a row" -

J: Right.

L: - um, is it not all it's cracked up to be? Is it still a "grass is greener"? Is it, I think that's the question behind, are you enjoying it overall or is it actually very difficult to enjoy it because of all the other pressures that are coming on as well?

J: Yeah I think, well, I think you guys have - you're probably sensitive to that because you guys have had some dreams come true.

L: Yeah!

J: Um, and it's always a fun, it's a bit of a weird experience because you're like "this is what I've always dreamt of", which is not quite the same thing as "I'm so happy". You know what I mean? Like it's similar, but it's not quite the same thing. Um, I - a lot of this isn't what I dreamt of, for the record -

L: Okay

J: - like I never,  from a long long time ago starting maybe like 2008, I would say to Hank like "I really do not want to become widely-known" because I think that would be, I think it wouldn't be fun. Um, I started, you know you get a glimpse of proper celebrity and you see how it could be destructive and how it can be so disruptive in people's lives especially their family lives, um, and so I was very wary of that. That's why we've never done a TV, made a TV deal or anything like that, um, because you guys can attest to how famous TV will make you.

R: Oh yeah, especially when you're on that IFC.

J: Oh man yeah, no no no that one, that's in like 20,000 homes now.

R: Oh yeah buddy, like the population of Fuquay Varina. 

L: I mean, I wouldn't categorize it as a setback, it was a great experience but yeah it was, I mean it, sometimes I feel like it was in terms of what I was - what we wanna do and what we wanna accomplish and where we are. 

R: It's the kind of thing that you enjoy... It's like when you go on an incredible trip somewhere that's kinda challenging but exciting and you got all these new experiences. I think it's very difficult for people to enjoy it in the moment but you enjoy it in the pictures and in the memories right?

J: Right, absolutely.

R: Have you thought about that actively through this process like, I want to stop and enjoy this. 

J: Yeah, yeah. I've tried to stop and enjoy it a lot and I've been lucky that things have been so enjoyable, you know, that it hasn't stressful, or needlessly stressful at least like you know that I haven't had to go around and pitch a movie I don't like, which is what most authors have to do and that's not nearly as fun. But, um, yeah I've real- I have taken time to enjoy it but I think that I will enjoy the pictures more, you know, like I think inevitably, looking back on something you can look back on it with such unambiguous fondness because you're not tired anymore, you're not stressed out anymore, you're not thinking about when you have to get up in the morning or the fact that your stomach hurts anymore you're just, um, really enjoying it. So, I'm okay with that. I've always been, like I don't know there's something about being a novelist that makes, um, my whole life oriented toward the past a little bit like, I like having written a lot more than I like writing. You know like I like looking back on a writing experience a lot more than I like being in it, so I don't mind enjoying things in retrospect. 

R: Right. And you know, there is this romanticized version of the life of an author, right? I picture you in a cabin somewhere - 

J: Yeah.

R: -with, there's no electricity, you're writing

L: Like a Gandalf type

R: On a typewriter by the, like a lamp oil, you're smoking a pipe

J: Yeah. 

R: You know, I think everybody has this picture that's like okay, well now you've reached that level right? Okay you've got this smashing success, now we're all gonna read the next thing that you write, but we all know that there's a lot of other facets right, so there's so many other things that you're involved in and you haven't slowed down any of that stuff, so... is there this temptation now that's like, "Oh yeah, I could do that. I could go spend a week with a crazy woman somewhere and she might hold me hostage for a while."

J: Right. I feel like a lot of your understanding of being a novelist comes from Misery. I was just thinking that even before you said that I was like, "Well somebody saw a movie about being a writer."

R: Yeah right

J: I am, I do worry about the Kathy Bates coming to my cabin. 

 (15:00) to (20:00)

J: That's why I don't have a cabin.

R: Yeah. Right.

J: It's not worth it, man. It's not worth the risk of Kathy Bates showing up. Um, no - like, I write in a Starbucks. I've written in the same Starbucks for a long time. Um, yeah. I don't know. I want to keep doing all the stuff that we do. I mean, I do want to write another novel at some point - I like writing books, I like being inside of a story - but, um, I really love Crash Course and Vlogbrothers and, um, I love The Art Assignment; like, that stuff, I'm really passionate about that stuff, and um, and it's right in front of you. There's a fulfillment - y'all know this - there's a fulfillment in doing something that goes up in a week or in a few days as opposed to something that takes, you know, six months of work and then it's out and then, you know, there's always sort of that, like, postpartum depression of "It's out, and oh, God."

L: And I think we experience the fear sometimes of never creating that big thing, so, I mean we look to you as an inspiration to - okay, in the midst of all the things that you're creating and you and Hank are working on, that you've written and you will continue to write and create that thing that requires the investment. And then it's going to take a year or years to put it together.

J: Right. I mean that is a challenge that--

L: Not procrastinating.

J: Right. Yeah. Like, how do you stay disciplined even when you have other work and when your other work is quite fulfilling?

L: Successful. Successful too.

J: Yeah. It's doing well, and, like, um, there is that challenge. For me, though, they're so separate. Like, the passion that I feel for writing is so different than the - than my, like, interest in online video. Um, because it's one part of me that wants to, like, be in my basement, you know, 12 or 14 hours a day;  um, and then there's another part of me that's really started to like collaboration as Crash Course and the other things have grown to involve teams. Um, I really like that, you know. I really like working with smart, interesting people who kind of keep me a little bit young and help me to think more broadly about stuff, uh, than I otherwise would if I was stuck inside my own head. So, I'm hopeful that I can find a way, to um, kind of chart the middle path, even if it means that there's a little bit less Crash Course and a little bit longer between novels, um, that I can still stay involved in both.

R: Now, I would say that you're probably - you and Hank - some of the least materialistic people that, uh you know, I know. But we all know that - I mean, there's been some financial success with what's happened with The Fault in Our Stars.

J: Yeah.

R: Have you splurged on anything?

J: Yeah. Yeah, um, I bought my dream car a year after The Fault in Our Stars came out - on the one year anniversary. A brand new cyber-metallic-gray Chevy Volt. (R&L laugh) I'm not kidding! 

L: I know you're not. I'm not laughing. Was I laughing? I'm sorry, I thought that was in my mind.

J: It was five years of desperately wanting a Chevy Volt, and we got rid of our station wagon and got this Chevy Volt. And it's so -  0 to 20 it's just the fastest car in the world. Um, it's all torque. It's like driving a super-fast, uh...

L: Golf cart.

J: Golf cart, yeah. It's like the fastest golf cart in the world.

R: That's great.

J: But it goes 80. It's like a golf cart that goes 80.

R: Wow.

J: It's so fun to drive, man. It's all - it handles so great. So, yeah, I got a Volt, and then--

L: But there's a lot of rednecks where we're from that have golf carts and lawnmowers that'll go faster than that.

R: Yeah, but definitely gas-powered.

L: Yeah.

J: I was going to say, "not electric."

R: And definitely louder than a Volt.

L: Yeah.

R: You can hear them coming from 30 counties away.

J: Yeah, so I - we did that, and then we did, um, I don't know, we go on nice vacations and stuff. But, no, we don't - I mean, you know - Sarah and I don't have any particularly - I mean, we like art, and we like books, but we don't have any particularly ambitious non-philanthropic plans.

R: Right.

L: Has the success of, uh, the book and the movie, uh, created an imbalance in the Vlogbrothers?

J: I think a little bit. That's a great question. You guys - you guys - man, it's always good. That's why I like this podcast. (R&L laugh) Um, I think that's an interesting question. It - it hasn't because Hank doesn't care about material success at all. Um, but it has in the sense that there are all these people watching our videos that maybe don't identify as closely with Nerdfighteria as we're used to. Um, and so they don't identify as people who are interested in Nerdfighter projects, um, and who are, you know, kind of equally interested in both of our work. That's always been the hallmark of the Vlogbrothers channel is that, like, there was never any competition; Hank and I never fought. That's pretty rare for, um, a two-person collaborative. I mean, you guys have been very lucky, and Hank and I have been very lucky, but I think a lot of times it gets - it gets weird at some point. Um, but we were very conscious of that going into the movie, and so I feel like now that the movie is--

L: Well, what was - You were conscious of it, was there a conversation?

 (20:00) to (25:00)

J: Yeah yeah yeah we had several conversations where we talked about what we were going to do about kinda the influx of fans who maybe aren't Nerdfighters, and I think we both felt like some of them will become Nerdfighters which is amazing and some of them will go on and like other stuff which is good too. And we've just been trying to stay true to that and to make - you know, in this whole process as far as possible to make videos that are for Nerdfighters, and hopefully we've been doing a pretty good job of that so that the people who are really interested in the community and the project-based stuff will stay into it.

L: Essentially, you seem to be - the answer seems to be very much focused on the audience and - well, but there's the psychology of it within your mind and within Hank's mind. You know, I know for me and - well, I'll just speak myself; I won't speak for Rhett, but there's a thing in a partnership where, at least for me, there's a question in my mind of, "Am I contributing enough?" You know, it's not "Am I the favorite in enough people's minds?" you know, "are half the people's tweets who say 'so-and-so's my favorite' are me?" (J laughs) You know, as long as it's - because people will tweet that stuff, right?

J: Because you count it up; you count it up every day.

L: Right, I count it up. No, but it - okay, am I - I want to be an equal contributor here.

J: Right.

L: And that's something that goes through my mind. There's a psychology to that that it's -

R: Well this is probably a good time for me to tell you that I'm working on a book about two teenagers that have cancer (J laughs) so...

L: Good luck with that.

R: So if that goes well...

J: That sounds like a terrible commercial idea.

L: Yeah, that'll never work.

J: Um, yeah. No, I guess for us, we don't really feel that - or I don't feel that way because I'm conscious of what I'm contributing. I'm also extremely conscious of what Hank is contributing: I mean, Hank works tirelessly, more than any other person I know, and so I never worry if Hank is - I mean he may worry if I'm pulling my weight. I'm sure he does sometimes, but I certainly never worry if he's pulling his because he just - he is absolutely indefatigable when it comes to finding new stuff to do, finding new stuff to share, finding new ways to make educational material; like he just has no quit in him, and so... no. I feel like we contribute very different things, and that's been a lot of the strength of it is me knowing what's mine and him knowing what's his, you know?

R: Mm-hm. I think that's definitely a part of the maturation process of a duo.

J: Yeah.

R: You know, we're a lot more like brothers than we are friends in a lot of ways having known each other for so long.

J: Right.

R: But, yeah, I think a big part - even over the past decade is, like, specialization between the two of us, and you're kind of like "Oh, yeah," you know: when Link takes this, it's better; when I take this element of it... the final product ends up being better. I think that's been a big thing for us.

L: Right.

J: Yeah, you gotta learn to trust each other...

R: Yeah.

J: Even when you don't necessarily agree. If it's someone else's - but I'm like, "Well, that's Hank's thing, so he's probably right."

L: Yeah, leave room for their strength.

J: Yeah. Right, exactly.

L: Got it. Now, were you guys - I've read that you guys weren't close as kids.

J: No, we really weren't. I mean, well, in the sense that we were - you know, it was just the two of us, so we were kind of close just because we lived in the same house all the time.

L: Two years, three years apart?

J: Three years apart. And then - but I went to boarding school when he was 11. I was 14 and he was 11, so I didn't know him past childhood, you know? And then we didn't really - we liked each other a lot. I think we had great admiration for each other and for - I had a lot of admiration for the work that Hank was doing back, you know, after he graduated from school. But I didn't know him well until Vlogbrothers. And know of course I know - I mean, I know him arguably too well. 

R: Right.

L: Okay, so, I want to - I'll get back to Brotherhood 2.0, but just to kind of - When you went off to boarding school, and then from there - what was life like for you there? I mean, that's...

J: It was great. I mean, I went to this weird, very progressive boarding school in Alabama that was responsibility-oriented; so unless you did something to get your privileges revoked you had a lot of freedom. It was co-ed, and it was very open and liberal and everything that you don't picture when you picture rural Alabama. 

L: And why did you go there?

J: Well, I was kind of a terrible student; that was reason 1. And then also I had a lot of social problems, and my cousins had gone there - a couple of my cousins had gone there - and so I really wanted to because I thought my cousins were cool; and I also just wanted to start over. I wanted a place where people hadn't known me for - as this, like, massive nerd - for my whole life, and so this was a chance to start over. And of course it turns out that you take your nerdiness with you.

R: (laughs) Yes.

L: So you picked up right where you left off? It wasn't much better?

J: Yeah, well, I mean, it was better in the sense that nerdiness was celebrated at Indian Springs. So I quickly found a group of friends and I became, you know, by the end of school - there were only 52 people in our graduating class so there wasn't a ton of room for cliques.

 (25:00) to (30:00)

J: And I really - I was lucky to - that was the place where I made my first real, deep school friendships. You know, I'd had two best friends growing up, but they hadn't been in the same grade as me; so that connection of like school to life was just complete because we were never off-campus unless we were together. So there was an intimacy to it that I think most people associate with college that I kind of had in high school. 

L: And so that was perfect fodder for a book.

J: Yeah. Yeah. And a lot of Looking for Alaska, my first novel, comes from that time, you know, living with a bunch of young people together with sort of minimal adult supervision.

R: Now, were you writing at that time - at those ages?

J: Yeah. Yeah, I liked to write a lot. I wasn't very good, but I wrote for fun as well as for school. So I did - writing was really the only, I guess like productive extracurricular activity I had: the only thing that I did that wasn't bad for me. And I was lucky to be surrounded by really good writers in high school. I had good teachers, but I also had classmates who were, in retrospect, really,  really great writers, some of whom went on to be published, like Daniel Alarcon, but some of whom didn't. But it was a great environment to think about writing because there were so many people reading so much and writing so much and having lots of conversations about it. 

R: And why were you guys in Alabama? What were your parents doing there?

J: Well, I lived - my parents were still living in Florida at the time. My dad was the state director of the Nature Conservancy down there for a long, long time, and I was - yeah so we just moved to - Basically, I moved to Alabama and they stayed in Florida.

R: Okay. 

L: And then when you went to college, you studied early Islamic history?

J: Yeah, yeah.

L: So was that the name of the major? 

J: No, I was a religion major, but my area of academic interest, I guess, was early Islamic history; so that's what I wrote all my papers about.

L: Okay. So what goes into that? I mean, in terms of the choice? What was the motivation? 

J: Yeah, I mean - well, I took one class in - I took an intro to religion class and I took kind of an Intro to Islam class, and it was just really interesting to me that there was this world view that a billion people shared that I knew basically nothing about. I mean, this was in the late 1990s, so Islam wasn't really part of the cultural conversation in the United States. And so I just became really interested in it, and I wanted to learn a lot about it. I wanted to learn especially kind of about the emergence of Islam and how it spread. I've always been interested in how ideas spread; and we like to imagine really simplistic ways of ideas spreading, but it's really, really complicated. So we always think that Islam spread by the sword, for instance, with the growth of the Arab empire, when in fact it's much more complicated than that. And a lot of times, the conversion happened without any kind of war or battle or anything, but the reasons why it happened were equally complicated. So I just found that really interesting in my thinking about, you know, "How do I have an idea that gets inside of someone else's head, and then how do we have ideas that get inside of millions of people's heads?" That was a very early but kind of modern example of it because it happened, in you know, 622 CE, so - This is what Ear Biscuits listeners come for: a little bit of Islamic history.

R: (laughs) Oh, yeah.

L: But the - so it sounds like you came at a religion major from an academic perspective.

J: Yeah, very much so.

L: But was it also a personal faith perspective? Because you wanted to be a priest, too, right?

J: Yeah, there was. I mean, I'm not a Muslim, I'm Episcopalian, but I did - I was really interested in religion; and my interest in becoming an Episcopal priest was not primarily, looking back, like, about my personal faith. It was about my, like, interest in theological questions and in questions of meaning and suffering and thinking that that would be a good place to have those conversations. Like, thinking that - church for me growing up, and especially in college, was a place to have those conversations about suffering and about hope and whether there was any meaning in human life. 

R: And that was Episcopalian, your background?

J: Yeah, I'm still Episcopalian. Yeah.

L: Like, growing up with your parents or...?

J: No, they were Methodists. It's all the same, though, and it's like that sort of, you know, lefty Protestant stuff.

L: Got it, got it.

J: It's pretty interchangeable. I shouldn't say that as an Episcopalian, no. (L laughs) The only benefit of being Episcopalian is you get to kneel more. I'm a big fan of kneeling and crossing myself. You get to do that hardly at all as a Methodist, so that was the number one draw for me. 

L: Well, that sounds like a joke, but there may be some truth to it.

J: No, I'm completely serious. No, really. I like the sort of - I like ritual, and I like rituals that pull me back through history, you know, that connect me to people who lived 1800 years ago or whatever.

 (30:00) to (35:00)

R: And I know that - I mean, you've said this a number of times in other interviews - how that wanting to become a priest, you ended up becoming a student chaplain in a children's hospital and that was kind of the beginning of the story of The Fault in Our Stars.

J: Yeah, that's where I started trying to write it, right after I worked at the hospital.  I worked there for about six months. You know, it was a weird job because I was a student chaplain, but when I was on call there were no other chaplains in the hospital; so I was the only person that if someone died, if a baby was going to die and needed to be baptized, I was the only person there to baptize the baby; or if someone died, I was there with the family as they went through that process. But also if there was any kind of trauma, a chaplain is always part of the trauma team; so the chaplain and the social worker usually are - stay with the family, you know, through the emergency department and the process of getting admitted to the hospital.

L: So what has the experience of being that close to dying children - what kind of impact does that have on your faith?

J: A pretty severe one. 

L: And not necessarily a positive, I would...

J: No, no. I mean, I had a lot of ideas about why - theologically sound, I think, ideas about why good people have horrible things happen to them, about why suffering exists and why it's unjustly distributed and all that stuff - the problem that Christians call Theodicy: the problem of evil in a world where God is good and powerful. But all of my ideas about it proved kind of useless, you know? I mean, I could say that those things were intellectually true; I just didn't care because, you know, I was face to face with the randomness, arbitrariness, of human existence, and the idea that this stuff was happening for a reason seemed problematic to me. Now, that didn't destroy my faith, and I still go to church, and it's still an important part of my life. It did make me think that I shouldn't be working from inside the church: like I shouldn't be doing this work from inside the church because I just didn't have the right kind of DNA for it, you know? Also, I couldn't do it. Like, I mean, after - a good chaplain or social worker or anyone that works in a children's hospital, really, has the ability to do this incredibly difficult work, this emotionally wrenching work, to be fully present, to be fully there for the people who need you, and then to go home and be fully there for your family and for the people in your non-professional life, and I did not have that ability at all. So I kind of learned that about myself, and that's a good thing to know, and I still really - I have great affection for chaplains. Whenever I am in the hospital, I'm always like, "Bring me the chaplain!" (R&L laugh) "I want to hang out with whoever's on call tonight."

L: So, Carson Daly couldn't do it either, you know (J laughs). So you shouldn't feel too bad.

J: Was he a chaplain?

R & L: He wanted to be a priest.

J: Wow. 

L: So...

R: You should connect with him. So did you and do you find satisfactory answers to those questions that you're kind of faced with when you see children going through that kind of suffering. Do you find that in your faith?

J: Um, I do to an extent. I don't as completely and without reservation as many of the people that I know and many of the people I admire, both intellectually and in the way they go about their lives. I just - I'm okay - I guess for me, like, I'm okay living in a world that's arbitrary and random and unfair. I need to know the kind of world I'm living in in order to be happy, and I need to try to orient as much of my work toward injustice and inequality as possible because otherwise - because that's what makes me feel meaning, you know? And that's true in the church, like, the stuff that gets me most excited about being a member of my church is about service and connection more than its about any kind of evangelism or direct evangelism or whatever; and the stuff that gets me going in my professional life is about, you know, the Project for Awesome or building a school in Bangladesh or whatever. Like, that stuff is a lot more interesting to me than how many subscribers we have.

R: Well, and brings up another thing, which is obviously Hank is involved in all those things and seems very much equally motivated, but as far as I understand, he doesn't share your faith. 

J: No, yeah. Not at all.

L: He's an atheist, right?

J: Well, I don't know if he'd identify as an atheist, but he wouldn't identify - he'd identify as close. 

 (35:00) to (40:00)

J: Um, I don't know! I don't - we don't talk about that stuff that much, mostly because um, our world views are turned in the same direction.

R: Yes.

J: So like what we wanna do on a daily basis is turned in the same direction, and there's kind of two ways of imagining meaning to life. One way is that like we as human beings construct it, we make it up as we go along, and another is that we derive it - we derive it from some organizing principle to the universe or some source... scripture, whatever it is. Um, an in the end I don't know if I care if meaning is constructed or derived as long as like um, the people I'm working closest with are turned in the same direction -

R: Yeah.

J: - Like the meaning that they find is similar, so it orients us similarly? And then with Hank I mean, we're pretty much a hundred percent on the same page all the time like we never - one thing we never argue about is like... purpose. So that's - that's good because that's a pretty core argument if you end up having it you know. 

R: Right. 

L: That's so fascinating. I guess I'd like to go to the Brotherhood 2.0 because that kinda... it sounds like that defines your friendship.

J: Yeah.

L: You know to - what you just said it's like a real testimony to the fact that even though you guys may become - you have beliefs that are rooted in different places, that you're so aligned when it comes to what you guys are accomplishing together as a team, it's amazing. Having not been close as kids, was the whole Brotherhood thing was that... Brotherhood 2.0 was that his idea?

J: It was my idea.

L: It was your idea!

J: Yeah, I was a big fan - well we were both big fans of Ze Frank, um and the Show with Ze Frank and...

L: It's - I'm... I didn't think that because the first video was his.

J: Was by Hank, yeah.

L: But then the second video, your first one, the first thing out of your mouth is "Pbfff. I'm not gonna be good at this."

J: I know. I know. 

L: It's - to me it seemed like you were saying "Uh, I don't know if this is a great idea Hank but I'll do it."

J: Right, right. It was my idea but - 

L: My wife's not gonna show her face but... So it was your idea! Okay.

J: It was my idea but I have to say that if Hank hadn't gotten enthusiastic about it, it never would've happened. Um, so I was like: we should so a collaborative video blog that's like The Show but you only have half as much work because you're talking to each other and plus then we can stop textually communicating and start like, talking to each other every day, which we hadn't done really because we only talked over text, so... that-

L: Was Ze's show done? At that point?

J: No. It was...

L: It was - it was going strong.

J: It had 3 months to go. It had 3 months to go, but everyone knew it was gonna end. And so we were kind of thinking about the future and how sad we would be... and yeah if Hank - I had the idea but if Hank hadn't been like "Yes let's do that, let's - here's where you go get a camera, here's the camera that you get, here's how you edit video, like I mean you know he - I'd never made a video before, I'd never owned a camcorder before so it was a...

L: And you didn't believe you could do it, that was the first words out of your mouth! 

J: Yeah! No, I thought I would be terrible and to be fair, I was. I was terrible for many months. Um, i was - when you go back and you watch those old videos and I find them just crushing! Crushingly slow.

L: Well you caught... in that first video you were referred to the endeavour as a documentary.

J: Yeah, I know that's what I thought it was gonna be too. That's how I was imagining it.

R: Right.

J: Yeah, but it is not. I mean maybe it is! It's kind of a... it's kind of - it's a document of our lives over many many years which is something I'm gonna be so grateful to have and I think that our, you know... my kids will be so grateful - I hope um you know, to have but you know almost from the beginning we saw it as a project with an audience, and an audience that we had to engage with and that doing stuff, even if it was only a couple hundred people, doing stuff with those two hundred people was going to be a lot cooler than anything that we could do just with each other, like just talking to each other was not going to be as interesting as actively engaging the people watching. 

R: So you - you uh, I mean I'm assuming that you got some of that, the idea of an audience or almost creating a movement with the way that Ze kind of dealt with everyone who was involved in all the ideas that he had. 

J: Yeah. Absolutely.

R: So when you started you had that in mind like, this is a... this is community building.

J: Well, I think maybe for the first two weeks we didn't think of it that way, but we started to think of it as community building very quickly. Um, I think the first time that we really understood that there was a community around the videos - we only had maybe 300 regular viewers and I had to be hospitalized because I had this very rare weird infection behind my eye. It wasn't serious, but like you had to get IV antibiotics, and to cheer me up the uh... Hank asked people to put something on their heads, because that had become an inside joke somehow. And um, we had like 300 viewers and we got like 240 pictures. And I was like "Oh my gosh!" 

L: That's a pretty good percentage right, participation?

J: Can you imagine a conversion rate like that today?

R: Yeah, right.

J: I mean it's just unimaginable. 

 (40:00) to (45:00)

J: So it was a different time a different world, but yeah it was -- that's when we realized like oh my gosh, like we should probably do something other than just have people put stuff on their heads. 

L: And because of that your eye got fixed. 

J: Yeah it did work. Look at me now!

L: Still two eyes. Pretty awesome.

R: Well I mean, I can definitely say that when we decided that we needed to name our community, we need to do this, it was definitely looking at you guys and thinking 'Oh look what they've done here, they've created -- they're not creating content only, they're building a movement and they're accomplishing so many things and they see the potential in that community. I mean, what was that process like -- obviously you just kind of reveal that first initial realization of how they could be motivated to do something but when did you start thinking this is a strategic community. I mean, here we are at VidCon, kind of seeing the culmination of that but, you know what's that process like. 

J: I think, um, you know we never -- we never wanted to think of the community just as like a launching pad for other ideas. Like we wanted it to live, to have its own life and to have its own meaning. Um, but you know, I think VidCon was really the first thing that emerged out of Nerdfighteria that became much different from Nerdfighteria and much larger, and you know it really -- it came of Hank's feelings that we needed a conference and that he knew a lot of people who made YouTube videos, and so he should just do the conference! And I thought that was a terrible idea, I thought it would make people who made YouTube videos hate us, and that if the conference was bad it would be the end of our career. Also it was very expensive, so we essentially like had our houses against the conference. I just... I thought it was a bad idea but I did know by then that I have to trust Hank when he has an idea, um, if he sticks with it for more than like 6 hours, it's usually something that he's going to do whether I like it or not so I better uh -- I better get behind him. Um, and then of course VidCon turned out to be amazing and then from there, we did start to launch channels that are kind of outgrowths of Nerdfighteria but are separate from it like Crash Course or SciShow or The Art Assignment. Um, and we've done that -- I still think of that as an extension, a way of kind of like building small groups within a big group, um, because it's really problematic when a community becomes so large that it's unwieldy. It's hard for people to think of themselves um, as you know, as Nerdfighters -- what's a Nerdfighter if everyone's a Nerdfighter? 

R: Yeah.

J: Um, and so we want there to be communities within the community whether it's the Minecraft server or the people who like to watch me play FIFA or the people who are passionate about the Art Assignment, whatever it is like that's really important I think to the future -- to like making it work, making it sustainable so that people are still involved enough to want to be... wanna do stuff with us. 

R: Well you know, I think about the fact that -- 'cause it goes back to the question that we asked earlier was does the success of the book and the movie... is it upsetting the balance of the Vlogbrothers but it also potentially creates this sense that -- your community is built on so many different things that you guys have done over time, and then to have something that is this landmark achievement in a real traditional sense almost, have you thought about how that might threaten the community.

J: Yeah. I mean it's been a big concern for us is how do we sorta like -- you know kinda build a sea wall against the rising tide of The Fault in Our Stars so that it doesn't become, uh, a moment that we all look back on and say like "oh it was all magical until then."

R: Yup.

J: And... you know our main strategy for that like -- the first video I made after um, after The Fault in Our Stars came out was devoted almost entirely to the book that we're reading, the Summer for the Nerdfighter Book Club about um, living in a slum in Mumbai. Um, and I just was basic-- I did that partly as a way of saying "Okay, well now back to normal." Like you know, like now back to talking about stuff we care about with people we care about, and um, and you know like it-- being a fan of the Vlogbrothers means a lot of this, you know. For better or whether -- I hope you like this because this is what it is. Um, instead of trying to orient ourself to the most possible viewers. I think that in that respect we've taken inspiration from you guys because you were very conscious about choosing community over virality at some point, and... and using virality as a way of building community instead of using community as a way to build virality? Um, and, that's -- I thought that was really smart and it also like -- it also made me like more of a fan, if that makes sense. Like it made me more interested in your work, um, instead of it just being like "oh I know I can go there to see a funny video" it was like "oh, I like those people." 

L: We can hang out. Yeah I mean we didn't know Good Mythical Morning that it would become what it has.

 (45:00) to (50:00)

L: But we're very glad because we... It's based on our friendship and it's based on who, you know, what we wanna talk about and letting people in on that conversation. You know the us that is not just the two of you guys but is your entire community is something that we constantly kinda check against to kind of see "Okay, what is our us? Is it just the two of us or is it also our fans, the Mythical Beasts", kind of a thing.

J: Yeah.

L: What was a milestone early on that kind of bumped up Vlogbrothers from... I mean you knew pretty early on you had an audience.

J: Yeah but it was tiny. 

L: You weren't... It was tiny but you weren't... Very early you were talking to, you would always talk to each other, you still do.

J: Yeah.

Link: But you're not really.

J: No. Yeah, we're really...

L: You're talking to everybody, you just have this, like, innate way to address each other in the right moments of your vlogs, but then you're talking to everyone. It's, uh, it's an interesting talent.

J: Yeah. It's a weird balance. When I first started...

L: It's a weird thing that no one else really has to do.

J: I know. No one else has to say "Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday". Um, yeah. I've said "Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday" on something like 250 consecutive Tuesdays.

L: And when you say Hank, are you still thinking Hank or are you thinking everybody, but I just say Hank?

J: I just call them Hank. Um, you know, I really, I do still think Hank, and I still think that Hank is the first and most important member of my audience, but I'm very conscious that it's not just Hank, and there are lots of times that Hank knows something that I have to tell everyone. So in that case I try not to say Hank, in that case I try to come out of that, like, idea that it's just an open letter to Hank and be like "Hey, Nerdfighters. Hank knows this but Hank has a concert on Wednesday" or whatever, you know.

L: What was the Philip DeFranco milestone?

J: Um, you know, we had a few milestones. The first one and the first big bump was back in the days of featured YouTube videos.

L: OK, yeah.

J: Hank had a video that was featured about the last Harry Potter book coming out. He sang a song about it and suddenly we went from 200 subscribers to 7,000 almost overnight. And then along the way there were a lot of other bumps. There was a huge series of bumps really from Phil where Phil would talk about the Vlogbrothers, how much he like the Vlogbrothers. One time, I think the first time in a video intro he referenced us. You know, he had that old video intro where he would, yeah. And he was very Ze Franck sounding back in 2007 as were we. And he mentioned the Vlogbrothers and we got another several thousand subscribers then. But it was a, you know, YouTube still, I think, but especially then for us was really about YouTubers helping YouTubers. There was very little, at least in my memory, there was very little of anybody trying to take anyone else's audience and a lot of trying to expand the overall size of the pie which was really, it was a good, uh, yeah. It was a good era in YouTube history. It felt like we were Hollywood before the studios system came in, you know. Like Hollywood in the teens where we were kind of making up the rules as we went along and what we were doing was accidentally important to the future. Like it shaped the future, we just didn't know it at the time. And of course more than anyone, Ze did that. Ze, by inventing the idea that online video projects could be community oriented and then also by inventing most of the conventions of the vlogging genre which he had no idea he was doing at the time of course.

R: Right. It's amazing. It's amazing how, like you said, how much Phil sounded like him in those early days.

J: So did we. Almost everyone in 2007 sounded like Phil if they were vlogging.

L: Right, right. And he says that.

J: Yeah.

L: Now he also promoted the book. Was that Paper Towns or before?

J: Yeah it was Paper Towns. Yeah, he promoted Paper Towns when it came out.

L: Did you know he was going to do that and what happened?

J: I didn't know he was gonna do it and it was responsible for it being on the best seller list a second week. I mean I think the first week that it was on it was Nerdfighters and then he kind of got it on for a second week just by talking about it and saying he liked it. And then it held on for a third week and then it fell off and I thought that was about as good as book sales would ever be or could ever be. I mean, that was amazing to me the idea that my book could make The New York Times best seller list was just...

R: For any period of time.

J: Yeah, it was crazy. I mean I could never have imagined that. I certainly never thought about that when I was writing it. I mean it never occurred to me that it would be a book with that kind of audience.

R: And you pointed out in, you know, in a Tumblr post that a lot of people have assumed "Oh, well this book was popular, The Fault in Our Stars, because of your YouTube career" But you've explained "Hey, I had three, four books already out there and they would make it to the best sellers list because of Nerdfighteria and then they would fall off."

 (50:00) to (55:00)

R: How many weeks was it at number one?

J: It's still there, yeah.

R: And how many weeks are we talking now?

J: 130

R: It's insanity. Absolute insanity

J: Yeah I know it's so weird.

L: But you say, you kind of outline the reasons why and it's things beyond- Well it's actually kind of simple well I'll let you-

J: It is things beyond Nerdfighteria, that said it never would've happened without Nerdfighteria, right? If I hadn't had this audience it never would've happened because the initial activation energy never would've been there. We sold 80 000 books in the first week and that was entirely, or at least primarily, because of Nerdfighteria. I mean I'd like to think that I had some people who just liked my books but let's face it, not that many!

L: And you committed to signing every pre-sold copy, which turned out to be...

J: 150,000.

L: 150,000 that YOU signed?! Did Hank also sign the books?

J: Hank put little Hanklerfishes in five percent of them which is still a huge undertaking.

R: That's still a lot of books.

J: It was, it was.

L: And Sarah did the same thing and she did a yeti, right?

J: Sarah did it on a few hundred, yeah.

L: But you went all 150k.

J: I did.

L: And so obviously A) That's nuts. I don't know how that's possible that you actually did that. I don't believe that you did, but it's okay. There was a stamp involved. A machine with a stamp.

J: No. Nope. No stamp. I did it. It took two months. It was really enjoyable. I might do it again just because I found it so relaxing and, I'm sure you guys know this, our work can be very stressful and on some level you're never not working, but during those two months I was signing, people would call and I would be like "I'm sorry I have to sign 150,000 sheets of paper so we'll have to talk about this later."

R: It's a different kind of writing, ya know? It's just your name. Just writing one thing.

J: Like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

R: It comes really easy.

L: But I mean, the point is yes without Nerdfighteria it wouldn't have had this huge- well, before anybody could even read it...

J: Right, right. It had that initial energy but the reason that the book has hung around is, I mean it's partly that people like it. I have very good Goodreads ratings, much better than any of my other books, so I think people have responded to it generously. And then I think it's also partly, you know this is under appreciated by us on the internet but the IRL people worked IRL hard to sell IRL books. So I think I had an amazing, and still do amazing, sales team around that book and Penguin just believed that they could force it down people's throats and if they force it down enough people's throats that it would catch on by word of mouth. And that's what they did.

L: I mean, it was a great book- It is a great book and it's just a confluence of everything working correctly, I think that's what you said at the beginning about the movie. So now you've cursed who knows how many different industries with the expectation.  You know, people in suits in all types of industries are now expecting-

R: They're throwing you around in so many rooms.

L: If you've got a website or a YouTube channel plus you've got- get the DeFranco guy to mention you three years earlier and then okay, and what else...

J: Right, right. Well  in Hollywood they all think it's because of my Twitter. They don't really know about YouTube in Hollywood, you know? So they're just like, "Man he has a lot of Twitter followers. He must've told them to go to the movie and they must have gone." And I'm like, "Yeah, you're right. It was Twitter."

L: But the inescapable truth is none of it works if it's not good.

J: It has to be good, it also has to be authentic. You know, you have to really, genuinely want to talk about something and want to connect, you know? It can't just be about a desire to, oh like this is a way to get rich. First off, it's a terrible, terrible way to get rich. If you wanna get rich like go move the big pile of money around and try to make it bigger, like that's the way to get rich. This has to be about a desire to genuinely connect with people and to have real conversations that matter to you and if it's not then I think it never works.

L: And it's interesting because at this point if i zoned out for a second, which I didn't, and came back to your statement I wouldn't know if you were talking about The Fault in Our Stars or the Vlogbrothers or any other project because that is the cornerstone of all of it is the authenticity, you know. You're not just looking to move a big pile of money around.

J: No, no no. You have to want to do something, but I think most people do deep down. I think people want to do work that matters.


 (55:00) to (1:00:00)

J: and there's lots and lots of ways of doing that, I mean, it doesn't for most people it doesn't get to be their profession. You know, so, I'm always amazed by people who aren't defined by their profession the way that I am who just go out and do volunteer work and it's something that they're passionate about and they find a lot of fulfillment there. But if you're not guided by that desire to make a difference in others' lives then I think you get off path really quickly. It's really hard to stay focused on that but if you get off that path it goes to all bad places.

L: Well let me ask then, I think we've pinpointed your passion. What makes you angriest?

J: Aw, man. I guess like lack of nuance. Lack of nuance in conversations, that sort of, that idea that things simply are or simply aren't. um, or whether it's about history or religion or all of the things that the internet fights about, if we're not seeing it nuanced, if we're not trying to understand another person's narrative--

L: You mean they grey?

J: The grey! The grey.

L: The grey areas of life 

J: All the grey spaces are really fascinating to me and I want--

R: Talking about that Liam Neeson movie? Boy, that's good.

J: That was a good one. Little dark.

L: With the plane?

J: You want to talk about being angry, he's very angry.

R: Yeah, he's always after somebody too.

J: Liam Neeson has, he needs to get revenge. Um, so yeah, I do think for me at least that's the thing that makes me mad is when people don't know--

L: Where do you encounter this? 

J: I mean, you see it a lot on the internet, I think, when people, people make sort of bold statements that are easily rebloggable or that lo--are sort of the internet version of a bumper sticker, you can't--I don't think you can get to the--I don't think you can get to the capital T truth via the internet version of a bumper sticker.  I think you have to have nuanced conversations and complex conversations about complex ideas that are open to the idea that you might be wrong or that you wanna have your thinking further clarified instead of coming into it, you know, wanting to shout the unassailable truth that you know to be true, and that's a frustration for me on the internet, because I want us to have a really high quality of discourse, so like, I see that a lot in YouTube comments.  Nerdfighteria is incredibly blessed in this respect, the comments on our videos are amazing, but even on CrashCourse comments, it often quickly descends into fighting about the gold standard or whatever. 

R: Right, well, it's interesting 'cause there is a large level of irony in the fact that you're a very eloquent guy, you speak eloquently, you write eloquently, your characters speak in ways that most teenagers that I know don't speak.

J: Yeah.

R: And they don't speak in any way that is reflective of YouTube comments.

J: No, no, they don't sound like YouTube comments.  It'd be great to write a novel--okay, here's an idea for you guys, maybe we can work together on this, write a novel that's just YouTube comments, where you try to construct a narrative, you know, but like, it's one person is really mad the whole time.

R: We've got an idea based on YouTube comments, but we'll share--

L: We're not gonna share it with you!

R: We'll share it when the audio's off. 

L: Oh, that's a teaser.

R: But yeah, but you know, I thought about that, and that was one of the observations that my wife made as she was reading the book, was that she's like, the way they speak to each other, it's almost like you're calling people to a higher level of discourse, is that intentional or is that just how you want your characters to come across or--?

J: I mean, I do, I want them to--I'm more interested in them sounding like we feel like we sound.

R: Yeah.

J: We always feel like we sound pretty smart, you know, but then when you actually diagram the things that we say, it's completely undiagrammable, like this sentence I'm sure is not a sentence in any way.

R: Yeah, I hate reading my interviews, you know, with us.

J: Oh God, when people just--they just write down what you said instead--

R: Exactly.

J: And I'm like, make it into a sentence, you know what I meant! 

R: I'm a sixth grader in every single interview we've ever done.  

J: Yeah, I know, I know.

L: You know?

J: They have to use ellipses all the time to like, cut through my sentences, but yeah, I do wanna--I'm interest--I like writing about people who are really openly enthusiastically engaged and not terribly embarrassed about it, and I think those people, in their best moments, like, do have conversations, at least that feel that way.  But particularly with The Fault in Our Stars, I was also conscious that I was writing in this genre of the starcrossed lover, and that genre is defined by its sort of purple prose, you know, like the fact that Romeo and Juliet's first twelve lines back and forth to each other form a sonnet, like, people don't talk like that, but it's always been part of the way that we think about kind of cursed romance, so I wanted to use it but hopefully also undercut it at times, particularly in the second half of the book.  

 (1:00:00) to (1:05:00)

Rhett: Right.  Well.

Link: Well, I wanted to ask, just to get back to you and Hank, so are you guys best friends?  What--I mean, what--the whole process over the years since Brotherhood 2.0 and it sounds like beginning your friendship, really.

John: Yeah.  Yeah.

Link: Was that the beginning of your friendship and characterize it now.

John: It was the beginning of our friendship as adults on equal footing for sure.  Or at least, it was a dramatic change, you know, where we became really, really close.  Yeah, I definitely think--I mean, I have a best friend in Indianapolis who I see every day and who, like, you know, is like, essentially they co-parent our kids and we co-parent theirs, and so--

Link: And who is that?

John: My friend, Chris.

Link: Okay.

John: You don't know him.  

Link: Okay.

John: But he might come to VidCon someday.

Link: What does he do?

John: He works--he owns an interpreting company.  He does medical and legal interpreting.  It's really cool, actually, he works with a huge Burmese community in Indianapolis, a lot of Burmese people settled in Indianapolis in the last 20 years, and he works with that community to make sure that people, you know, when they're in the hospital or whatever, can have high quality conversations with their doctors by providing good interpreters.

Link: Right.  That's difficult anyways.

John: I know, right?  Yeah, even if you can speak the language, I struggle with it.  Look, I lied to my doctor about how I hurt my shoulder.  But yeah, so, but Hank and I, I mean, Hank and I are best friends and we are--

Link: No, you can only have one. Is it Chris or is it Hank?

John: Oh, you can only have one?  I mean, Hank is my brother.  We are super tight brothers.  We could not be closer as friends.  Also, I think my wife is probably my best friend.  

Link: Ooh, okay.  Yeah, I could have really thrown you under the bus.  I'm glad you got out of there.

John: Yeah, thanks for doing that.  

Link: But you crawled out.

John: But I, yeah--

Link: You listed her third, but okay.

John: I have seven best friends.  

?: Now that I think of it.

John: Yeah, no, Hank and I are just so close that it doesn't seem--I mean, we're--I can't imagine working without him.  I can't imagine--I wouldn't be interesting in doing things if it weren't for collaborating with Hank.

Link: Is the nature of your conversations--do they--are they ever like friends, or is it because you're business partners, too?

John: Yeah, I mean--

Link: With Rhett and I, so much of our conversations are just about our collaborative business endeavors, and that defines our friendship.  I don't even know if that's the--I mean, that there's pitfalls associated with that, but it's not necessarily a bad thing.

John: I don't think it's bad.  I--you know, I need shared projects to talk to Hank about, because otherwise, I don't know what to talk about, and not just  to him, but to anyone.  I don't--like, I'm not--I don't know how to have like, a conversation about nothing, and Hank and I--I think Hank doesn't either, and so this gives us something to talk about, it gives us something to do together, it's like, you know, if I--I always think it could have been model planes, you know?  It could have been that I build the model planes and Hank paints them.  

Link: What?

John: Well, it could have been anything.  

?: But you said model planes.  

John: I'm really into the--I'm fascinated by people who like, devote their lives to model planes or model cars or whatever, like, people who really are really passionate and like, they come home from work--

Link: Yeah, 'cause they could be as big as this couch.

John: Yeah, I know!  And people come home--

Rhett: The people or the planes?

John: Both.

Link: Both.  Well, yeah, there's a linear relationship.

John: They come home from work or whatever, and they've had a long, hard day of work, and they think, 'You know what I would like to do to calm down?  I would like to build a model plane now.'  And I think that's really cool, and yeah, so Hank and I could collaborate on model planes or whatever, but like, we need to collaborate on something in order to stay close.

Rhett: Oh yeah, well, there's that--we talked about it a lot, there's--when you have a shared goal, it--you're willing to work through things that, if the only goal was just to maintain the friendship, at some point, you'd be like, okay, well, this got frustrating after 30 years.  

John: Right, right.

Rhett: Right, you know?  I mean, it's almost like a marriage in one sense.

Link: Absolutely, yeah.

John: It absolutely is.  I think you need shared projects in a marriage, too, like, you need things that orient you.  

Rhett: Yeah.  That's why so many people get divorced after the kids leave.  Because it's like, you know--

John: Oh, that's interesting.

Rhett: You know, we've got this project, which is to get this kid prepared for life, and then they leave, and it's like, 'Okay, we need model planes now.'

John: Right, right.  Yeah.

Rhett: You know?  You have to have something there.  

John: Yeah, yeah, you gotta take care of the relationship as well as the relationship with your kids, which can be challenging, because kids--it's easy for kids to kind of take over a marriage.

Rhett: Right, true.  

Link: So what's the next model plane, if you'll forgive me?

John: I'm glad that I introduced that to our conversation.  You know, well, the next thing is that we are working with the Gates foundation to expand our CrashCourse channel to include this thing, Big History, where we zoom out, it's a really interdisciplinary approach to studying the universe, so you begin at the beginning of the universe and you go through the lives of people.  

 (1:05:00) to (1:10:00)

But by taking a sort of zoomed out look, it's a very different world of history, it includes a lot of science and a lot of astronomy and lots of, you know, lots of time before people, and then even trying to imagine a time after people, what that's gonna look like, what the future looks like, and that's really cool, and then we're also--I'm going, I don't think I can say where I'm going and who I'm going with, I'm going on a trip far away with someone I really admire and I'm really looking forward to that as an extension of our work on global health and poverty.  

Link: And will we expect like, what on the backside of this?  Videos or--?

John: Yeah, so on the backside of that, videos and then also a discussion of what works in--when it comes to making life--making it so that kids have healthier lives in the developing world.

Link: Okay, so it's Oprah.

John: So there'll be a campaign as well as a--yeah, Oprah.  It is Oprah, I'll be going--I'll be traveling with Oprah on Oprah's plane, so excited.

Link: Okay, so it's not Oprah.

John: It's not Oprah.

Link: We now know that.

Rhett: It's Steadman.  

John: It's Gayle.  It's Gayle.  I'm going with Gayle.

Link: I mean, you've already--I'm gonna continue to engage.  You've already mentioned Gates, so maybe it's Bill Gates himself.  

John: It's not anyone as cool as Bill Gates, but it's someone really cool.  

Link: And that person is listening and their feelings are hurt right now.

John: I'm sorry, person.  But I think we both know you're not as cool as Bill Gates.

Link: Oh, for a second, I thought you said, "I'm sorry, Percy" and I was like, ah, it's Percy!  I now know who it is.

Rhett: That guy who sang 'Stand by Me'?

John: Percy Jackson from the Rick Riordan books?

Link: Percy Sledge, I think.

Rhett: Percy Sledge.

John: Percy Sledge.  

Rhett: Yeah, it's Percy Sledge, he's a big philanthropist.

John: That's why there needs to be two of you.  One to remember half of the joke, and the other to remember the other half.

Rhett: There's a lot of that that happens.  Well, you know, unfortunately, because we're at VidCon, we can't have you sign the round table of dim lighting, but you could write on this table in the presidential suite.  

John: In silver sharpie?  I'm signing it with my mind, though.  I just signed it in my mind.

Rhett: And then next time you're in the Burbank area, you've gotta come in and sign it.

John: Yeah, absolutely.

Link: Yeah, this has been a great conversation.  Thanks, man.  

John: Thank you guys so much, and I have to say also thanks for making stuff that I can be a fan of lo these many years, it's been great to watch--to watch you guys make so much fascinating stuff and I really think it's just the beginning so, here's to many more years.

Rhett: Yeah, thank you.

Link: Together, thank you.  We're honored by that, sir.

John: Alright, take care, guys.

(end music)

Link: And there you have it, our Ear Biscuit with the one and only John Green. 

Rhett: You know, it's just confirmation talking to him in the midst of all this, it's just confirmation of how great a guy he is and how down to earth he is and how--

Link: Well, he's obviously smart, too.

Rhett: He's very smart!  I think me and you together, we're about as smart as John Green.  Like, if you combine us--

Link: And that's why we didn't--

Rhett: and that's why it was an equal conversation.

Link: That's why we didn't let Hank be there.

Rhett: Oh, exactly!

Link: It was like, 'we're gonna interview Hank separately at a later date.'

Rhett: Not the Vlogbrothers at the same time.  Definitely, we're not that stupid.

Link: Yeah, or we don't--we don't want to look that stupid.  

Rhett: You know, it's just amazing--I hope, you know, one of the things that we want Earbiscuits to be and hope that it is is a place where you hear a conversation that has a different tone.  We talk about slightly different things, and I hope that we just haven't regurgitated and done another typical interview that a lot of people are gonna do with John, but I hope that, you know, I know that what I got was just some insight into the fact that yes, the media may see this guy as the author of The Fault in Our Stars, and he is very much that, but hopefully what we've kind of, you know, revealed is that he's so much more than that, not just as a person, but as an artist, as a creator, as a person who is just such a voice in so many ways to our generation, really, and he sees himself in that way and it's refreshing.  He hasn't just checked out because he's had a huge success.

Link: Well, the fact that it was, I mean, yeah, we're friends, like, acquaintances/friends, but we sent an e-mail about being on Earbiscuits and he was like, he replied and he was like, yes.  You know, it's like, I appreciated the fact that we were still able to get through to the guy and he graciously accepted our invitation.

Rhett: It was no different.  Sitting down with him at this VidCon was no different than sitting down with him at last year's VidCon, in spite of what he's experienced, and I just personally appreciate that, and I know you probably do listening.

Link: It is great when great things happen to great people.  Let John know what you think of this Ear Biscuit.

 (1:10:00) to (1:11:03)

Tweet at him, it's @realjohngreen, his first name is actually 'Real'.  We didn't talk about that.

Rhett: Yeah, that's weird.

Link: But his middle name is John and his last name is Green.  Real John Green on Twitter.  #earbiscuits, let him know what you thought.  Also, rate us on iTunes.  You know, that's always helpful.  Comment on SoundCloud.  We appreciate it.

Rhett: Yeah, and keep a look out for my new book, as I already mentioned, about two people with cancer--you know what, three people with cancer, screw it, I'm going with three people, three teenagers.

Link: Still teenagers?

Rhett: It's a love triangle, but they all have cancer and--

Link: Wow.

Rhett: Really hoping that it's really gonna do well and--

Link: You are shameless.  Alright guys, we do this every week, as you know, except next week.  We're taking a one week break from Earbiscuits, but rest assured, the following week we will be back with another biscuit for your ears.  Thanks for listening.