Ian Hecox has been on YouTube since the very beginning.
Hecox, now 34, and Smosh co-founder Anthony Padilla began posting videos on YouTube in 2005, and gained popularity by lip syncing to cartoon theme songs and posting sketch series. The original videos continue to generate traffic.
Just three weeks ago, one person commented on Smosh’s 2006 “Food Battle” video, writing: “Every year or so I make a pilgrimage back to this video to relive a large part of my childhood.”
The brand, which Padilla left in 2017, has expanded rapidly in the last decade, launching multiple new channels, mobile games and sketch series.
Now, the team is preparing to host "Under The Influence," its first live show in six years. The show will feature scripted sketches and fan favorite segments like "Try Not to Laugh" and "Eat It or Yeet It" — all while drunk. The ticketed event will be streamed on Thursday at 6 p.m. PST.
Ahead of the show, Hecox spoke to NBC News about the evolution of Smosh's comedy, producing videos under Mythical Entertainment during the pandemic and how to stay relevant after a decade and a half online.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How's it going?
I'm doing all right. Have you recovered from VidCon?
Honestly, barely. What about you?
Yeah, I'm all good. That was VidCon number 11 for me, so I'm very, very strategic with my VidCon-ing these days.
You're kind of an expert on it. I'm glad you brought that up — you were at the very first years of VidCon. As an OG YouTuber, what's the biggest change you noticed at this year's even, versus the ones you attended when VidCon was still new?
I mean the biggest change was, when the first VidCon happened, that was probably the first time any creator was meeting another creator. And everyone at that point knew who everyone was. It was a pretty small community.
And as the space as expanded exponentially every year, I expect to recognize fewer and fewer people. Obviously this year was no exception, given that TikTok had a much larger presence there. I went in knowing I wouldn't know most of the creators there, and I was shocked to see how many people I did.
You've been embedded in internet culture from the beginning, and a lot of people who emerged as YouTubers when you did either have logged off, or pursued paths in traditional media, or tried to keep up with the internet and haven't been successful. But how do you stay relevant, and make sure your content is growing with the internet?
I can point to, I think, several moments in our YouTube career where we got a little complacent, and kind of rested on what was working. And we saw how that can not be beneficial for the channel. You have to be in a constant process of learning. You can't ever just be like, "Oh no, I know how YouTube works. I'll be fine."
Because it's constantly evolving. It's constantly growing. It's constantly changing. Like six years ago, if you were to tell people that Minecraft was going to be bigger than it ever was, you'd be like, "No, Minecraft is an old thing."
But during the pandemic, Dream SMP got big. It's huge. They're some of the most influential people on the internet, and nobody could've predicted that.
You always have to be open to new styles of videos, new forms of comedy, new creators, new ideas.
I'm glad you brought up the pandemic, because I was just about to ask about how it affected Smosh's creative process. A lot of your sketches are collaborative, but at at time when no one could really see each other, how did you keep making content?
Well, it definitely wasn't fun. Trying to get a writer's room together over Zoom was such a pain in the ass, but we really didn't have any other choice. I'm really proud of what we were able to accomplish when lockdown was at its strictest.
We were probably fully remote for about two years straight, just solely coming together to shoot videos, and creatively, that is a huge challenge. When we had our first writer's room in person, we moved into our new studio, and everybody just walked out of there feeling amazing without that sort of latency over video.
I'm proud of what we were able to do and pull off in those remote times, but I'm also very excited that we're back in person. We're still being safe, but it's nice to work together in the real world.
I've also noticed that Smosh is becoming more active on TikTok. How do you make comedy work for both YouTube and TikTok?
What we've learned is that it's not just making different content for TikTok and YouTube, but it's making different content for Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube and Facebook. Every platform has a different audience that consumes content in a different way.
It is totally different. Something that might do OK on YouTube killed on Facebook.
Every YouTuber, the dream is that you creator content for something like YouTube or Twitch, and you cut it down, and put it on everything else. That's a great strategy, but oftentimes it needs to be more nuanced than that.
Obviously TikTok is very much a volume game. A lot of what seems to pop off on TikTok is people doing a one trick pony kind of thing. They have one bit, and they repeat that bit over and over and over again. The moment they veer from that bit, the views suffer.
So the question becomes, "How do we exist as a comedy channel trying to bring original comedy each and every time?" And you avoid being that one trick pony.
Tell me about this live show. It's your first in six years. What's different about it from previous shows?
It's called Under the Influence. I was inspired what Mythical did with their Good Mythical Evening show. Their hook was like, "You're gonna hear Rhett and Link say the F word," because it was a little bit of a naughtier show.
We put our heads together, and we thought, what's our version of that?
We settled on this idea that we would create this variety show that's a mixture of scripted content, some of our unscripted content, and we would do it all while drunk.
So obviously that's what we could put on YouTube. That's a big no-no. So we are working with this company Kiswe, which has done a lot of concerts. They've done concerts with BTS.
I'm excited for it because it brings this unexpected element. We've never drank on camera. So I love that anything can happen. Everyone's a professional and nobody's gonna go too crazy. But I'm expecting some flubs and I love that. I'm expecting a bit of drinking, a bit of tomfoolery, and just a good time.
And one last question: What advice do you have when it comes to being online and staying online?
The advice I've given to YouTubers, for almost a decade at this point, is the moment you start making any bit of money, hire. Hire an editor, or hire a producer, hire assistants.
Oftentimes YouTubers and creators in general get so sucked up in the idea that only they're able to do what they're doing. And they're like, "I can't have somebody else edit this video. They don't understand my style."
It's OK. You're not Francis Ford Coppola. You can teach somebody your style.
Burnout is so common in this space. And it's honestly sad to see it happen to people that are so talented, and all they need is just some assistance. That's always been a frustrating part for me is seeing really, really talented creators that are making really great stuff have to bow out for a while because they just can't handle the burden of consistently making content.