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A "weekly" "documentary" series about YouTubers, with fantasy elements and sketch comedy and awesome.

Written, directed and edited by BENJAMIN COOK ( Twitter:

In order of appearance:

Sound Editor:

KEVIN MACLEOD ( & ALEX DAY ( All tracks used with the kind permission of their respective artists. Kevin MacLeod track licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0, "Wish For Is You" is from Alex Day's upcoming collection, Epigrams and Interludes, to be released later this year.

Track list:
"Hall of the Mountain King" -- EDVARD GRIEG/KEVIN MACLEOD (incompetech), 2012
"Wish For Is You" -- ALEX DAY, 2013

Find out more about Nerdfighteria: and
Project for Awesome:
Benjamin Cook: I have met you briefly once before, um, in, I think, 2010, we met backstage at Ice Father Nation where you were doing a talk to thousands of nerdfighters, lots more queuing around the block, and you were absolutely adored.  Do you ever sort of get used to that?

John: No.  I mean, I think that you become more accustomed to it, but I don't feel used to it at all.  And, in fact, like, I feel intensely uncomfortable when I'm in the physical presence of lots and lots of people, not because I feel like I'm adored, but because I feel like I want them to have a good time, and I want them to walk away from this experience not disliking me or not having me, you know, disappoint them in real life, so I'm very focused on that, and uh, so, yeah, sometimes, that's, that's the challenge, for me, not, not getting used to it.  I'm not gonna get used to it.  

Benjamin: Was there sort of a moment for you at some point of the last few years where it kind of, it really clicked that people actually watched these videos?  'Cause I've found, just from sort of starting YouTubing myself over the last few weeks as part of Becoming YouTube that, you sort of, you film these things in the privacy of your own home and you put them out there and it, it, it doesn't necessarily click until people start tweeting you and commenting or meeting you at gatherings, that people do watch this stuff.  

John: Yeah, there were two moments, both very early on, like, before Twitter or at least before Twitter use was widespread, um, the first was right when Hank, uh, in the days after Hank uploaded his video Accio Deathly Hallows which, right before the last Harry Potter book came out, Hank made a song about how he wanted the Harry Potter book to come out sooner, and that song became the first Vlogbrothers video to get more than like, a couple thousand views.  Uh, and it get hundreds and hundreds of thousands of views and suddenly we went from having, you know, 200 subscribers on YouTube to having thousands.  And uh, the information flow changed dramatically from me being able to read and respond to every single comment on our website or on YouTube to being totally overwhelmed.  

The second moment was the first time that we had sort of an IRL nerdfighter gathering, which was also in 2007, uh, in a little town called Grand Rapids, Michigan, I think, I think it was Grand Rapids, there's a Grand Haven, as well, but I think this was in Grand Rapids, and um, you know, I'd done dozens of book signings over the years, um, since my first book had come out and I'd never have more than about six people come to any of them, and uh, we announced that we were gonna be in Grand Rapids, my brother and myself and uh, another writer friend named Maureen Johnson, and we, as we were driving over, one librarian called the librarian who was giving us a ride and said, 'There are like 60 people here,' and I couldn't fathom the idea of 60 people coming to a book signing and uh, Hank didn't even have a guitar with him, uh, that was really, that first nerdfighter gathering was just magical.

Benjamin: Seeing what people like, um, uh, Charlie and Alex go through when they go to either UK gatherings or what Charlie has experienced at VidCon where you sort of, you go along and they are treated like, well, like a member of One Direction, right?  What a lot of young new YouTubers don't have is the support that One Direction would have, they're not surrounded by PR people and they're not surrounded by people sort of, you know, advising them how to deal with fans.  Do you sort of anticipate that for younger YouTubers ever being a problem and what advice can you give people who, for instance, sign to DFTBA and know that they're gonna go onstage at VidCon and get all that?

John: I mean, I think particularly for young people today, you grow up thinking that that's what you want, that like, that's the end goal of being a human, is to be popular, and not just popular in your school, not necessarily, but popular in some wider internet space that didn't even exist when I was a kid, there was no version of this when I was in high school, which was a real blessing to me, in retrospect.  But um, most people who make YouTube videos are actually quite introverted people, obviously there's something exhibitionistic about them, um, but if you're going to make a good YouTube video, you're gonna spend a lot more time editing than you're gonna spend talking into a camera, and even when you're talking into a camera, you're by yourself, you know?  I mean, like, for me, the process of making a YouTube video is I go into my basement by myself, I spend an hour talking into a camera by myself, and then I spend six hours editing a video by myself, and then I upload it by myself, and at no point do I leave the basement or even see a window through which I might view other human beings, and that's a lot of what I enjoy about making a YouTube video, right?  And then, to have a vastly different experience of IRL interactions with people, um, can be really intimidating, um, and like you said, you don't have the support that um, you don't have like a security staff or someone who tells you what to do, I mean, my thought is, and my advice, I guess, is to both be generous and have boundaries and respect those boundaries.  So for instance, I can't hug strangers, I have, I have social anxiety problems, and I sometimes have panic attacks when strangers hug me or grab me from behind, and you know, then if I have a panic attack, then I'm sort of, ruined for the rest of the day, so if something like that happens at VidCon for instance, it's very difficult to get through the rest of the day weekend.  So, I have to say, like, when very sweet loving wonderful people come up to me and they're shaking and they say, "Can I please have a hug?", I have to say no, and that's a horrible thing to have to say, and it creates a really tense, uncomfortable situation that I feel really bad about, but if I don't say no, if I don't honor that boundary, like that need that my brain has to protect its, its, you know, personal space, um, if I don't do that, then I'm not going to be, you know, of use to the other people um, who I have to, who I have to meet and talk to and listen to over the course of the weekend, so, you know, I try to be as generous as possible, but I also try to respect my boundaries and understand that, you know, I am, like, I am also a person, even though it's very hard to imagine, you know, like, when I'm meeting my heroes, I never think about them as people, when I'm meeting people I really admire, I never think about, like, you know, the fact that they have their own set of problems, but yeah, so, that's what I try to do. 

Benjamin: In the UK, certainly, the model of a gathering, where lots of people will sort of get together in a park and sort, you know, play ukes, is increasingly sort of becoming unworkable as YouTube and YouTubers become more and more popular.  Uh, in America, your, I think, you're sort of a few years ahead of us, with events like VidCon, but how much longer do you think it's possible to put on an event like VidCon and have, for instance, um, creators, uh, be idols and those who watch their videos all staying in the same hotel and socializing as well as taking part in sort of events during the day?

John: Well, I think's, there are sort of two questions in there, the first, the most important thing for me is that on YouTube, one of my favorite things about YouTube, is that there's no bright line between creators and viewers, there's no, you know, firm, fast, hard distinction between people who make stuff and people who watch stuff, because most of the creators are viewers and most viewers are also creators, whether they're creating their own videos or their own comments or, or whatever, they are creating.  And so, you know, it isn't the same as Comic-Con for instance, where, you know, I go to see David Tennant who doesn't watch anything that I make, you know, like, and I have a very different relationship with someone like David Tennant than I do with someone like Charlie, um, you know, like, I feel like I know Charlie in a way that I would never presume to feel that way about, you know, the guy who used to play Doctor Who.  I think things like VidCon are scalable, hopefully, because we try to build in ways to make sure that people are okay, which isn't really possible in that world of like, a free open world of 'let's all meet in a park and play ukuleles and hang out together' which is a wonderful, wonderful world and I loved living in that world, but when you go somewhere and you're surrounded by, you know, a thousand or two thousand people, it is very, very scary.  Um, there's no other way to put it, like, it is intensely frightening, and, and anyone in that situation would feel panic.  Um, it is a challenge, like, what, I thought what Charlie did at VidCon last year, where he just put out a table and he said 'I am Charlie, if you wanna meet me, you can come meet me' was awesome, but, you know, Charlie literally sat there eight or ten hours a day, constantly um, you know, person after person after person, and that's, that, it's just massively draining.  Um, so, I don't know, we're all trying to figure that out, because no one's ever, no one's ever had quite this kind of relationship before, um, between creators and viewers.  So, I think we're still, we're still trying to figure it out.

Benjamin: Um, in the last video, I describe Nerdfighteria as an accidental movement, uh, how far would you agree with that?  

John: Oh, I mean, it's definitely, it's definitely an accidental movement in a lot of ways, um, you know, when we started making videos in 2007, Hank and I were both conscious of the audience pretty much from the first day, and we were also conscious of the community building potential of online video, because we had seen Ze Frank's The Show and we both identified as Sports Racers, which is what, uh, his, his community, the community, the group around those videos was called, and um, we both saw a tremendous potential in it, and we thought it was really amazing and so, I wouldn't say it was entirely accidental, in the sense that, you know, that, like, we just had no idea that this could happen, we did know that it could happen because we'd seen it happen with Ze, um, I certainly never imagined that I would be making YouTube videos six years after um, Brotherhood 2.0 or that I would be, that, that, that so many people would watch us, I mean, at the time, it was just unimaginable.  Like, it was just, you know, when we had, the first 100 videos we had fewer than 200 subscribers, so it was just, yeah, it was unimaginable.  That said, even when there were only 2-or 300 people watching the videos on a regular basis, there was a community, and that community could be organized to do fun, interesting stuff, and we started doing that fairly early on, like, I think the sort of community project was I was hospitalized with an infection behind my eye in like, March, and to cheer me up, Hank asked our viewers to send in pictures of themselves with stuff on their heads, and probably at the time, we had 250 viewers, and I think we probably got 250 pictures.  Um, you know, the audience conversion rate back then was just incredibly high, so it felt like it was a community and a movement in some ways very early on, but it was just a very small community, you know, all of this stuff, the Project for Awesome and VidCon and all that stuff was, was unimaginable at the time.  

Benjamin: Can Nerdfighteria get too big, then?  Because I think something sort of, which a few people who I interviewed, many of whom considered themselves Nerdfighters, uh, said was that Nerdfighteria seems to have grown beyond the size of even sort of John and Hank's expectations, and maybe even that you guys might feel that it's sort, it's a beast that you're no longer in control of.

John: It is a beast that we're no longer in control of, but that's good.  I like the idea of Nerdfighteria being about more than us and, um, I like to imagine a world in which people identify as Nerdfighters or embrace the values of Nerdfighteria without even necessarily knowing who I am.  Um, that sounds great to me.  So, that, that, that doesn't bother me, but there is a problem that as communities grow, they tend to weaken.  So, like I said, when we made a, you know, when we did one of our early projects, we had a 100% conversion rate, like, 250 people watch the videos, 250 people sent in pictures of stuff on their heads.  Um, these days, the conversion rate for any project is gonna be much lower than 100%, um, you know, when 200,000 people watch, watch the videos.  The solution to that inevitable weakening, um, I think, is to build groups within Nerdfighteria that can still be strong, that can still be, smaller groups um, where people feel uh, connected to each other and they feel supported and they, they, you know, they feel like their interests and their passions are being honored and celebrated, so, um, you know, that's why there's the, there's the Kiva group that, of Nerdfighters, um, who loan money to entrepreneurs in the developing world, there's the Nerd--Nerdfighters of Minecraft, who own a huge Minecraft server and work to like, build a sort of quasi-physical Nerdfighteria, um, there's all kinds of different groups within the group, and I think that, we need to do a better job, I think, of facilitating those kinds of groups, because it's in those smaller groups that you really feel supported and that you make friends and make connections and that, in turn, allows you to, kind of, deepen your relationship both with the idea of Nerdfighters and with, like, the projects and stuff that we're doing.

Benjamin: Is there ever a danger with Nerdfighteria and the positive messages at the heart of it, that that can be lost in some of the things you're supposed to like?  You're supposed to like Doctor Who and Harry Potter--

John: Right, yeah, yeah

Benjamin: --you've got to like video games, and actually, can the central message get lost, do you think?

John: Yeah, it's a messy, it's a messy world, right?  And it's a messy identity, identifying as a nerd or as a Nerdfighter is um, like a very malleable identity because we're still deciding what it means every day together.  Um, and so, you can get, you can have it just be about 'Oh, I like Doctor Who' or 'I like the Harry Potter books' or 'I like John's books', um, and, to me, none of those things really makes a Nerdfighter, to me, it's a values-based identity, it's a way of imagining the world around you, a way of imagining other people more than it's about uh, sort of superficial shared interests?  Um, so whenever people ask me, like, oh, I think Doctor Who is really uh, stupid, or, to be honest, like, there's many, many, many episodes of Doctor Who I haven't seen, so I don't have an opinion about them, you know--

Benjamin: Shame on you.

John: --I didn't see every Harry Potter movie on opening night, and I'm a Nerdfighter.  So, uh, you know, I--those superficial identities aren't nearly as important to me as, sort of, um, you know, identifying like, the values-based stuff.

Benjamin: Something which, and part of the idea behind the Becoming YouTube project, was that I would uh, sort of attempt to become a YouTuber along with the series, and what I have found is that when sort of debates start up or, or arguments in the comment section or, or on my Twitter feed, people tagging me, there will sometimes be a, a sort of a quite vocal uh, vociferous sort of minority of people who will say kind of shitty things, but in defense of me.  

John: Right.

Benjamin:  How do you sort of deal with that?  You're gonna get lots of awesome Nerdfighters, and you're gonna get a few Nerdfighters who are dicks, because that's what happens in any community.

John: Totally.  

Benjamin: How do you reconcile those things in your mind?

John: Yeah, I mean, well, that's really difficult, right, because you wanna, you wanna just, you wanna celebrate your audience and say 'We have the best audience, our audience is 100% perfect', but of course that's not true at all.  You know, I am a big believer in that stuff going, kind of funnelling top-down, like, I believe that if you don't encourage, if you stand up against it, um, and if you try to model better ways of having uh, of disagreeing or of having you know, conversations that, that are, that are frank and open, um, without being cruel um, if you can model those ways of talking with each other, then you'll find that happening more in comments.  That's my strategy for dealing with it, but it's not 100% and the truth is, people can always hurt you, there is always something that people can say that will, that will sting and that will get you and that will elicit a response that you just can't stop yourself from responding to, so for me, it's, if people criticize me as a parent or say something about my family, I never ever, even though I rationally know that I'm going to accomplish absolutely nothing by ripping into this person who is probably a, you know, a very nice 13 year old, you know, even then, like, I just can't stop myself, you know, like, and so, um, you know, yeah, I--I, it is, it is a ma--it is, in a way, a matter of imagining the other complexly, because when you just read text, you think, like, oh, this person is me, um, only a slightly different version of me who is a horrible, horrible person.  You don't think, 'Oh, this person is 12' or 'This person um, may have had a very different like from me' or, you know, 'This person may have had an awful, awful week that I could only begin to imagine, um, and maybe is like, venting some anger here', all you think is, 'RAAAAGE'.  Um, so, I think, like, when we give into that on the internet, it becomes a cycle.  

Benjamin: The other side, though, of course, is that you're gonna get a lot of people who uh, are telling you that your videos and Nerdfighteria has changed their life, and um, made them feel a lot less alone, I think is one of the best things that communities on the internet can do.  How does, if this isn't a really wanky question, how does it make you feel?

John: Um, I mean, it's hard to internalize, to be honest with you.  Um, and I don't know that it's particularly helpful to internalize it, like, I don't know that it's helpful to be like, 'Oh, I changed this person's life', like, I don't know, so what, now, now should you retire?  How does it make you feel?  Like, you, you've started doing this, so you have that, I'm sure you see that same thing, like you've inspired people, I mean, you've certainly uh, improved the quality of discourse on YouTube, like, do you, do you internalize it?  

Benjamin: The first few comments I got of people telling me that I'd inspired them to make YouTube videos, I mean, it's, it's, it feels kind of awesome, but it's something I can't quite quantify it, it's like--

John: Yeah.

Benjamin: --you know, I think, beyond about a thousand views, I can't really imagine that many people watch--I, y'know, if, if 200,000 people have watched something, I can't, I, I, I, my brain can't yet process that and I don't know whether I'll be able to at some point, but at the moment--

John: You won't.

Benjamin: --but at the moment, I can't.  So the idea that there are people, y'know, all over the place, making videos because they've seen Becoming YouTube, it's, it's just started to become now just impossible for me to imagine that, really, which I think is probably down to my own limitations, but I'm wondering if it's sort of been different for you, since you've been at it for far longer.

John: No, I can't take it in really, but I also don't think I should take it in.  Um, for my mental health, I cannot like, really all the way take in that idea of being an important inspiration to someone.  I'm very grateful for it, but I tend to believe that people are responsible, you know, people who feel that they've been saved by something generally saved themselves, um, you know, one way or another, and I know that when I was in, you know, when I was a teenager, there were writers that I had relationships with, not that I knew in real life, but like, that I felt that way about, that I felt like they had really kind of saved me or changed me, um, and bands, too, but you know, the truth in retrospect is that while those bands and writers did make great stuff that was really important to me, you know, a lot of the work was being done by me, and I want people people to be able to take credit for that in their own lives, too.

Benjamin: Something I found about communities on the internet, as I mentioned earlier, they make a lot of people, especially a lot of young people, sometimes coming from shitty places where they, you know, they don't feel they fit in, it makes people feel less alone.  But what I've also found is a lot of these people will identify as socially awkward, I think I'd probably call myself a bit socially awkward, but for, for an increasing number of people, they're sort of wearing that sort of social awkwardness almost as a badge of honor and sometimes, that makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable, the idea that somebody will put, say, in their Twitter bio, "socially awkward" as the very first thing, how far do you think that social awkwardness is something that should be aspired to?

John: Right, I don't, I don't have aspirational feelings toward social awkwardness, um, but I don't, also I guess I don't have to, because I've always been socially awkward, but um, look, I think there is great joy and um, fulfillment to be found in real life relationships between, you know, physical human beings, and I don't think that the internet um, for most people anyway, uh, is an effective or complete replacement for those relationships, and I don't think that it really is supposed to be, um, to me, it's, it's just a different way, it's a different way of being with people and a different way of um, you know, of talking about stuff that matters with people who matter to you.  Um, I don't buy the argument that um, you know, like, that whole "I don't need a life because I have the internet" argument, I think is a little bit um, over-over-simplified.  I think, I think it's useful to have relationships with human beings and I do think that it's hard work, and like, the business of, now, now, I don't mean this universally, this isn't necessarily true for everyone, but certainly for me, the business of you know, being a human, interacting with other humans in the real world is not something that comes particularly naturally to me, um, and so I did have to work on it, so in a way, um, you know, I did have to not be--when I was a teenager, I had to not be all the way okay with being socially awkward, but at the same time, I think as a teenager, when I learned that it was okay to be you know, to be, for lack of a better word, "myself", um, I found myself much more able to have meaningful social relationships.  

Benjamin: How do you think you would have, sort of, turned out differently had you had YouTube and the internet you know, ten years earlier, 'cause I remember being uh, I think I was in my teens the first time I sort of, I used this weird thing called the internet, and I do sometimes wonder, if I'd had the internet from the age of four or five, if it had just been a thing as a sort of a thing that could have always existed for what it was worth, how that would have changed me.  How do you think it would have changed you?

John: It's so hard to imagine, um, but I think that's very interestingly put, and I've never thought about it that way.  The internet is something that could have always existed, um, you know, the way that I felt about the Vietnam War, um, you know, that it really could have happened at any time in history, all I knew is that it hadn't happened to me.  Um, you know, and, and, you and I did live through the creation of the internet.  I think that's been very helpful to me, actually, as a YouTuber, I think it's given me kind of context, and it's given me a little bit of uh, perspective, uh, on the whole phenomenon, um, but uh, yeah, it's so hard to imagine what I would be like if I'd just always thought that Wikipedia was the source.  

Benjamin: In an earlier Becoming YouTube video, I talked a bit about, for me, 2012 felt like sort of the year that YouTube lost its innocence somewhat, in that there seems to be certainly, again, maybe this is more of a UK thing, but there is a trend towards a lot of new YouTubers, usually male, usually quite good looking, knowing sort of how to play the YouTube game, to do a thousand cinnamon challenges and all that, do you consider it to be a particular problem or is it just inevitable?

John: Well, I do think it's inevitable, I also think it's been happening for a long time, like, uh, you know, people were gaming the system in 2006, um, and they're still at it.  You know, I mean, people are still trying to uh, sort of, find a formula to build an audience, and of course, it turns out that there is really no formula.  Um, but, you know, I think that's inevitable, I also think that as YouTube grows and it becomes much more of an economic engine, much more of a job for people, um, it's inevitable that production values will go up, um, and that there will be teams of people working on things instead of just individuals and that, uh, you know, there will be studios and networks coming in and um, you know, and our challenge, or at least my challenge, is how to remain relatively independent within that world, um, even as all of these people uh, rush in and try to, you know, try to find and take all of the money.  That's fine, they can have the money, as long as we can have the audience.

Benjamin: Has it always been sort of, with um, Nerdfighteria, with DFTBA, has it always been relatively straight-forward for you to sort of divide the business side from the, uh, from the sort of video making and the ideological side, because I'm sort of starting to think like there were certain things from Becoming YouTube that I could turn into t-shirts, and I'd love to do a DVD and things--

John: Yeah.

Benjamin: --but I think that's not what I said, I didn't set out to make money, then again, this does cost a bit, so it'd be quite nice to make some money, so all these things are sort of going on in my head.

John: We've really struggled with it, and we still struggle with it.  I mean, I struggle a lot with an advertising supported model, because um, I don't get to choose the ads, I don't particularly like seeing ads for um, you know, click here to tell Obama not to ban assault rifles, um, is not an ad that I particularly wish to make money from.  Um, you know, all those kinds of ads that I see on our, um, on our videos, uh, and so I, I don't love that, um, but as you say, it takes a bit of money, and also it takes quite a lot of work and um, it's not such a bad thing to be paid for your work, it's not, I don't think there's anything wrong with that or evil about it, um, but we struggle with that question a lot, I mean, it's something that Hank and I have talked a lot about over the years and one of the reasons that we started, or that Hank started DFTBA Records with Alan Lastufka is because they were looking for a way to kind of build a better model, where the vast majority of revenue profit from something could go to an artist instead of to you know, the company doing order fulfillment, um, and that was always sort of the model, um, and that's worked really well for us, and honestly, you know, that's most of selling t-shirts and posters and um, the direct support from Nerdfighters from that stuff is more of our living than um, than ad revenue.

Benjamin: Which sort of brings me to the final thing I wanted to ask you about, really, which is, I know you're, you and Hank have asked again and again uh, about why don't you just take what you do on YouTube and do it on TV instead?  Uh, or do you think that YouTube and TV will always be distinct?  

John: Well, I don't think they'll always be distinct, um, I think that they are running toward each other um, and like two cars headed at each other um, very quickly, that they are going to hit head-on and then they will be one very strange looking car that isn't necessarily, at least initially, particularly good at driving.  But, I do think it will level out the playing field a little bit, right?  I mean, right now, I can't compete with HGTV, I can't compete with, you know, Sky Sports, um, because I don't have, I don't have the money coming in from cable packages and everything else that they have, uh, when things flatten out and we're all watching the same stuff on the same screen, um, or we all have access to the same stuff on the same screen, then I can compete with them, and uh, you know, then my message, which is, you know, not great quality maybe in terms of the visual quality, but like, I think, will be interesting to lots of people, um, will have more ability to get out there and so, I think that'll happen for a lot of people, I think there will be a lot more sort of, individuals making their way into more um, into more peoples' lives than we have now, which I think is good, I think that that decentralization will be very good, um, for media and also just for the overall quality of discourse on the planet, so I'm enthusiastic about that, but I'm also a pretty optimistic person, so I might be wrong.  

(End Credits)

Benjamin: I do worry that, certainly in America, but even here in the UK, that in a few years' time, we could have lost that sort of, the kid in his bedroom vlogging, which I just think is the best of things.

John: I think it's the best of things, too, and, and I don't think we'll ever completely lose it, right?  I think that, you know, Shay Carl will always be Shay Carl, Charles Trippy will always be Charles Trippy, the question for me is: how do new people like that emerge?  You know, how can that ever be again?  And I don't know that that can ever be quite that will ever happen again, I don't know that there will ever be anyone um, who just emerges out of apparent obscurity to become you know, someone who I wanna watch for 12 minutes every day, um, but I do think that there will still be vlogging, and there will still be, um, people whose wit and intelligence and clever editing kind of come together to make something that I really wanna watch.