Their homemade videos have been viewed by tens of millions of people around the world. But how famous do these popular online auteurs really feel?
Just two months after the glitz and glamour of TIFF, Toronto will welcome another slew of celebrities next week—except, instead of Hollywood blockbusters, they’re famous for homemade videos posted on the internet. The city’s inaugural Buffer Festival, organized by local YouTuber Corey Vidal, will run from Nov. 8-10, 2013. Fans will get a chance to watch their favourite videos and meet the people behind them in six venues across the Entertainment District, including the TIFF Bell Lightbox and Scotiabank Theatre.
Among the many personalities taking part in Buffer Festival are some of our city’s most popular online auteurs. Here, we get to know five local video-makers on the Toronto YouTube A-list. (Note: This list represents just a small sample; there are others out there who’ve also amassed views well into the nine figures)*
Name: Corey Vidal
Best known for: His YouTube channel, ApprenticeA, where you can find mostly comedic skits and short films, many of which are Star Wars-themed. Vidal also founded an online video production company called ApprenticeA Productions.
YouTubing since: August 17, 2006
Play count: 68,256,000-plus total views; 222,500-plus subscribers
Greatest achievement?: With his production crew, Vidal collaborated with other internet celebrities and directed a documentary about the YouTuber phenomenon called Vlogumentary. The trailer, released this past summer, has already amassed more than a million views. “I’ve been focussing less on making videos on my main channel and more focussing on big projects that I’m really passionate about,” says Vidal.
How famous does he feel? Vidal says the extent of his YouTube notoriety really hit him when he released the trailer for Vlogumentary at VidCon 2013, an annual YouTube convention held in L.A. “There were probably 8,000 people in big stadium seating who watched the trailer,” he recalls. “And when it ended, the applause that I heard from that… I’ve never heard anything like that before. I don’t know if I’ll ever hear anything like that again.”
YouTube got him where?!?: George Lucas himself requested that one of Vidal’s Star Wars videos be included with the bonus material of the series’ 2011 Blu-ray release. “I actually got to go to Lucasfilm [studios], get a tour,” says Vidal. “George wasn’t there but I got to see his office, I got to sit in his chair and just see where they made my favourite movies ever.”
Name: Andrew Gunadie
Best known for: His YouTube channel, gunnarolla, which features short films, vlogs, and quirky, original music.
YouTubing since: September 28, 2006
Play count: 11,359,000-plus total views; 65,300-plus subscribers
Greatest achievement: Gunadie’s most popular video is his 2009 viral hit, “Canadian Please,” which racked up more than 3 million hits. As the video gained attention, Gunadie faced a racist backlash for not looking ‘Canadian’ enough. “I’m proud of the fact that it touched so many people in different ways. It inspired me to become a lot more interested in issues of identity, stereotypes, racism, which have become themes in my work.”
How famous does he feel?: “I was in the airport in Hong Kong and someone was like, ‘Were you boarding a plane on March 6?’ I was like, ‘Yes, I was…’ That can be a little borderline scary…. I think I don’t totally grasp yet what 60,000 people looks like.”
YouTube got him where?!?: For the past two years, Gunadie has co-hosted a 12-hour event showcasing YouTube videos at TIFF Bell Lightbox for Nuit Blanche. “It’s great for me, too, because I worked at TIFF. I was never onstage hosting an event, but here I am now, as an artist.”
Name: Andrew Huang
YouTubing since: September 7, 2007
Best known for: His YouTube channel, songstowearpantsto, a one-stop shop for original music videos delving into every genre imaginable, many based on viewer-submitted challenges.
Play count: 17,346,000-plus total views; 119,000-plus subscribers
Greatest achievement: Huang’s most popular video, “Pink Fluffy Unicorns Dancing on Rainbows,” went viral in 2010, attracting over 4 million views. The idea for the song came from a comment left by a viewer on one of his other videos. “It’s a double-edged sword,” he says. “I don’t want to be known first and foremost for comedy music. And that song is almost like a kid’s song in some ways.”
How famous does he feel? : “A couple of people have cried when they met me. That was, like, very sweet and sort of flattering. They were just these cute, high-school girls. I mean, you’re really emotional when you’re that age right? But yeah, it’s strange to be the target of that kind of thing.”
The next Justin Bieber? : Huang is a multi-genre, multimedia artist, and, as such, he says isn’t an easy sell to the masses. “I’ve talked to managers and entertainment lawyers and some record labels—people who’ve recognized that I’m doing something that requires talent, and that I’ve reached this audience. But I’m not a perfect, branded package.”
YouTube got him where?!?: In 2011, Huang’s fans helped him win American Express Canada’s Room for Thought contest, through which he got to meet Metric’s Emily Haines. “It was cool to be able to talk to someone who’s been that successful in the industry and is very creative and passionate. We ended up bringing this music-art installation idea I had to life in the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto.”
Name: Andrew Bravener
Best known for: His YouTube channel AndrewBravener, which features vlogs and rants and a mish-mash of whatever else amuses him.
YouTubing since: Sept. 4, 2006
Play count: 11,180,000-plus total views; 71,500-plus subscribers
Greatest achievement: In 2011, Bravener uploaded a video called “An Open Letter to YouTube” discussing then-recent changes on the website. “There were a lot of points that I was addressing,” said Bravener, “like [how] they weren’t spotlighting the smaller YouTubers that didn’t have a lot of subscribers… That’s kind of always been one of my issues with the website, and I made a video about that and it started this huge discussion.”
Why he’s not as active anymore: While still involved in the online-video community—co-hosting a YouTube show at Nuit Blanche and participating in Buffer Festival—Bravener has taken a step back from the streaming site. “Back in my heyday, it was more community-driven, with more people sharing and participating,” says Bravener. “YouTube is totally different now than it was then, and that’s part of the reason why I haven’t been making as many videos as I used to.”
How famous does he feel?: On his YouTube channel, Bravener has mentioned his love for all things space-related. In 2009, a fan somehow divined Bravener’s home address from his videos and left him a (broken) telescope on his porch. “That was the first time I felt like someone was invading my personal space,” he recalls. “I totally don’t mind when people come up to talk to me, obviously. But when you find out where I live… that weirded me out. I kept [the telescope] as a memento that there are crazy people in the world.”
YouTube got him where?!?: Bravener reached the Top 16 in MuchMusic’s 2009 VJ search, which led to him interviewing celebrities at the VMAs in Los Angeles for MTV Canada. “They decided that they wanted to trust me enough to be with a real producer and a real crew while talking to Lil John and 30 Seconds to Mars and all of these people from L.A.,” says Bravener, “It was such a weird world for me. I mean, I would never have that opportunity anywhere else.”
Name: Lilly Singh
Best known for: Her YouTube channel, IISuperwomanII, which includes an assortment of light-hearted rants, skits, and the occasional serious, motivational video.
YouTubing since: Dec. 9, 2010
Play count: 127,000,000-plus total views; 1,423,000-plus subscribers
Greatest achievement: Her 2013 video “How Girls Get Ready” features Singh attempting—and failing— to get ready on time for a night out; it has accumulated more than 3 million views to date. “I do a lot of stuff based on gender, just because I feel like people relate to that automatically… And [the video is] absolutely true, because I am late for everything and that is the reason why,” she laughs.
How famous does she feel?: For starters, Singh required security guards the last time she attended an event. “Almost every gig I go to, someone will come up to me and be like, ‘I just want to let you know that your videos have saved my life,’” says Singh. “Or, like, ‘I don’t cut myself because of your videos’ or something along those lines. It’s not even about the fame or anything. It’s about that: to have that much of an impact on someone.”
On being a South Asian woman on YouTube: “I didn’t see a female, especially a South Asian female doing this and I felt that presence was strongly required,” Singh says. “There’s a lot of sexist people out there; I get a lot of sexist comments. But it’s to my advantage, because I think people see a girl and subconsciously expect very little, and so I’m hoping that when they watch my videos, they’re like ‘Oh, holy crap, she’s kind of funny.’”
YouTube got her where?!?: “Because of YouTube, I got to audition for a small role in a film that’s coming out next year called Dr. Cabbie and one of the co-stars is Kunal [Nayyar], who’s Raj from the Big Bang Theory. We became really, really good friends.”
Buffer Festival runs Nov. 8-10 at various venues in the Entertainment District. Go to www.bufferfestival.com for more information.
UPDATE, NOV. 4, 2013: Since this article was originally published, this text and the headline have been modified to clarify this list was intended as a sampling of notable local YouTube stars appearing at Buffer Festival, not an absolute survey of the GTA YouTubers who’ve racked up the most pageviews.