Drew Gooden and Danny Gonzalez: The John Olivers of YouTube Culture

Comedy Features YouTube
Drew Gooden and Danny Gonzalez: The John Olivers of YouTube Culture

I’m in my mid-30s and, as many dudes in their mid-30s are, I am immediately dismissive of things I don’t understand. I dragged my heels on streaming videogames kicking and screaming. I’m too old to understand Snapchat, despite the fact my mom uses it. This was the first thing I thought of when fellow former Paste contributor Terence Wiggins approached me last year with an unorthodox proposition.

Terence: “There are these young white dudes on YouTube I think you’d find really funny.”

Me: “What do they talk about?

Terence: “Mostly other people on YouTube.”

Me: “Is there… is there something I’m missing here?”

Terence: “They used to be on Vine!”

Me: “I think you have wildly misunderstood my interests and perhaps our friendship.”

By way of explanation, I only use YouTube at this point to watch what my friends have made, and absolutely nothing else. The algorithm won’t stop recommending alt-right trolls and conspiracy videos, so I’ve missed out on a lot of incredible voices in the video essay world. I’ve had a year or so to catch up on this unfortunately blindspot. Now I can say things at parties like “Have you heard of Lindsay Ellis?” and fully reveal how out-of-touch I have become.

The recommendations I got from Terence were for two early 20s white guys named Drew Gooden and Danny Gonzalez. I’m writing this all out in detail because, while half of the readers here are definitely dunking on me for not knowing some of the biggest names on YouTube, the other half have no idea what I’m talking about—nor why I fell in love with their work. Both created a large following by making silly videos back when Vine was a platform, then migrated to YouTube and continued to make content that (I will admit) makes very little sense to me. It’s what you think of in your head when you think of YouTuber culture. Then, they both independently adopted a shift into making videos about cultural criticism.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

These are mostly longform videos averaging in the 15 minute range. They are effectively deep dives into parts of YouTube (and extended internet) culture, where they explain via monologue and cutaway examples, how completely disconnected from reality this deluge of content is. In a period where we’re finally examining what kind of material is being force-fed to children by The Algorithm, Gooden and Gonzalez are meticulously picking apart what makes these things toxic, and are doing so to protect a younger audience that is actively in danger of being hoodwinked by said creators.

By way of summary: a friend saw thumbnails of their videos that included pictures of notorious YouTube wanker Jake Paul. She assumed they must just be guys that are similar to Jake Paul. And I had a small breakdown explaining how “Actually, these guys are the ones pulling back the curtain to protect a generation from Jake Paul and his ilk.”

Here’s a playlist Terence put together as an introduction of their work for my wife. Maybe it will help you too.

Both Gooden and Gonzalez make videos that dismantle the facade of what are essentially their peers, but make it hilarious in a way that has universal appeal. Via their work, I’ve learned about so many corners of the internet that are new sources of Unending Hate for me, but I know that through their own comedic version of investigative journalism, they’re waking up teens that might have once just inherently believed the reality of these influencers and their community.

They’re John Oliver for entire online worlds you’ve probably never heard of. I’m obsessed with them.

Both creators are heading out on a live tour across America. YouTube tours from bigger names have been a point of hyper-criticism for these critics in the past, so finding out what delivers a worthwhile experience versus a money-grab was of exceptional interest. Also they’ve called it the We Are Two Different People tour, which acknowledges that they are similar looking white guys of the same age and are often difficult to separate. It’s a level of self-awareness that two white dudes from my generation would not possess.

Paste: Thanks to your videos, and the new parts of the internet you’ve exposed me to, I’ve got all these New Versions of rage that I didn’t know I had inside of me. Why do this? What made you go from creating six second comedy on Vine to doing cultural commentary on this scale?

Drew Gooden: That’s a good question. I would say that it was a slow transition for me, from Vine to this. The content I’m making now is the type of content I liked to watch on YouTube a few years ago, before I started making it. When I was trying to figure out what to do after Vine, I just started doing longer sketches and longer versions of that I was doing before, but that wasn’t really working. It’s really hard to make sketches work on YouTube. Then I started incorporating them into videos like this, where the sketch I make is parodying the thing that I talked about. So I saw it as something I could do well; I like to sit and talk, and that’s exactly what I get to do. But I also like to make these silly sketches where I play all the characters, and I can just film it all in my house. It seems to appease the YouTube algorithm, so that’s good.

Danny Gonzalez: Yeah, my answer is sort of similar to Drew, in that this type of content is what I would like to watch before I started doing YouTube. Especially once I started watching Drew and Cody Ko started doing it, both of them started doing this commentary genre. I guess I didn’t realize how funny commentary could be until they both started doing it. This seemed like a really good path. Like Drew, I was basically doing longer sketches on YouTube before I started doing that. It’s also a good format to break off and do other things within it; it’s really easy to break off and do a sketch of your subject and put it in the video.

Gooden: Or in your case, making songs.

Gonzalez: Yeah, making songs. It’s so easy to do, just throwing it into this longer form thing.

Gooden: I think everyone knows that YouTube likes longer videos, so it’s cool to have this longer format you can throw pretty much anything into.

Paste: I tried to convince a friend to watch your videos recently, and she saw that the thumbnails were Jake Paul and Logan Paul. She’s like, “Oh, so they’re just like that guy,” and I’m like, “No! They’re trying to save a generation from that guy.” Do you ever think that that’s what you’re doing? It seems like you’re offering a lot of good advice to kids on how to—some of this stuff actually scares me, like when you have a video of ostensibly YouTube people hiding for 24 hours in their significant others’ house in the crawl spaces. There’s a generation that’s being raised to think that that’s not only normal, but something to shoot for. That seems really scary. Do the two of you think that you’re bringing realism to this or helping out the generation beneath you?

Gonzalez: I think that one of the reasons our videos are funny is that they’re taking what people are thinking anyway and putting it into words. I feel like most people see those videos—if you were a reasonable, rational person and you found one of Morgz’s videos, your reaction would pretty much be the same as ours, we just know how to put it into words. It’s funny to see other people who feel the same way about it. But you’re right, there are kids who maybe wouldn’t have figured it out for themselves because they’re just surrounded by that culture to begin with.

Gooden: Right. I think the kind of videos we make can help sway public opinion in regards to certain people—a lot of people watch Jake Paul or whatever, and they think, “This doesn’t seem right. This feels off.” Then they see a video about how off it is, and then it’s like, okay good. That confirms it. As more and more of that happens, it becomes more popular to think, “This guy’s bad.” So I would say that we do have some power over public opinion. One of my favorite comments to get when I’m talking about a YouTuber is, “Oh, I used to watch this guy, after seeing videos like this, I realized how weird he was.” So it’s like we saved someone from whatever garbage it was.

Paste: You have media literacy and children don’t have that. I have a friend, she got fired from her job on a podcast for saying that Storage Wars is staged. Adults couldn’t handle that, or believe that it was true. There’s a chunk of people out here that will believe absolutely anything, and children are susceptible to it. I see how you guys run the gauntlet of that, including covering the science show like “Looking For the Loch Ness Monster” and stuff like that. Kids are going to be watching the show, but kids have no ability to tell the difference between what’s real and fake here.

Gonzalez: Yeah, it’s kind of interesting. I don’t know about Drew here, but I didn’t start making commentary videos with the intent of showing people the light. It’s sort of just been a side effect. When I see videos like that, my first reaction is, “Oh my god, this is so funny that the people who make these videos think that anyone would buy this.” It’s just a side effect that it turns out that some people actually did buy it, or that we actually are changing people’s minds. It’s cool.

Paste: What is one thing you’d tell kids to just absolutely never do, especially for content?

Gooden: I would say not to do anything on the internet until you’re like, I don’t know, 16? It just breaks my heart to see kids doing anything on the internet. Whether it’s Instagram, YouTube or whatever, I just—I’m grateful that Danny and I grew up just before it got big. It wasn’t the norm to have a YouTube channel. The stuff I would’ve made when I was 12, I would’ve gotten bullied for. It would have made me think that I wasn’t able to do that, even when I was smart enough to know that I was a funnier person when I became an adult. I wish kids would just stay off it, man.

Gonzalez: I think it’s so romanticized to be this 14 year old YouTuber who’s the most popular kid in school because he has a million subscribers. I couldn’t imagine being in high school and having to worry about what everyone in school thinks about me, and a million people on the internet. It’s hard enough to deal with hateful comments when you’re 25, I couldn’t imagine what the stress of being a teenager would be on top of that. I guess my advice is: you don’t need to be famous yet. Make videos if you like making it, but don’t do it for attention.

Gooden: A lot of people do it for the wrong reasons, they want to get attention. Don’t try to do what other people are doing because you think that’ll work for you. Do what you like, and then if people like it, that’s great, but make what you want to see. That’s a problem a lot of kids have; they want to be somebody who everyone likes, but they’re going about it the wrong way. They’re not being authentic.

Paste: I think my video intro to Drew was your “Jake Paul Live” video, which is a longform takedown of YouTuber tours and what a waste of time they are. So. Uh. You guys are going on tour now? What is the plan for the tour, and why did you guys decide to do it?

Gooden: Well first off, it’s funny that you say that because that has been in the back of my mind since we started doing this. People are definitely going to use the criticism I had against me. I could already see people editing the audio of me over footage of our tour if it’s applicable to what we’re doing. So that’s definitely the goal with the show; let’s just do the opposite of what Jake Paul did. We’ve seen a few YouTubers do these live shows, and it doesn’t always translate, because it doesn’t always make sense for it to translate. For some people, Game Grumps is an example; when they go on tour, they just do a live version of their YouTube videos. So that works great. We’re not going to do a live version of a commentary video, that doesn’t really make any sense, that wouldn’t translate. So we wanted to approach it like a standalone show, a comedic show where we’re not just reacting to things. These are bits we’ve worked on, we have original songs parodying what other YouTubers do, but a lot of it is original bits.

Gonzalez: Yeah, I think Drew’s video about Jake Paul’s show is one of the reasons why we wanted to do a tour. Obviously Jake Paul’s content wouldn’t work on a tour because he makes a vlog every day. What would his tour even be? He doesn’t do sketches in his vlog, so it doesn’t make sense. One of the things was just figuring out what a YouTuber tour could be if someone actually put in the time to do it. Then a lot of it is parodying what we’ve seen other YouTubers do for live events.

Paste: As somebody who’s gone back and watched a lot of your videos in sequential order, I’ve seen how the two of you had to dip your toes into things that you previously made fun of other YouTubers for doing, like getting into merch and starting ads and stuff like that. Is there a part of you that wishes you would have embraced this earlier, but you always made fun of it too much? Or was it just accepting how the world works and making a life out of this?

Gonzalez: I don’t know if it’s so much having merch that we’ve made fun of; it’s more of the way in which they promote the merch. I think we can all agree that the way that Jake and Logan Paul promote their merch is very annoying. I have no problem with making merch, especially since—being a fan of someone, you generally want to show your support for them. Sometimes you want to show more support than just watching a video, so we want to give people the opportunity. When we’re doing merch, I think we both try to do it at the end of the video, so you’re not bombarded with it immediately or repeatedly throughout an entire video, like you would in a Jake Paul vlog. Then when we do brand deals we try to make them entertaining as possible, because obviously just reading talking points isn’t very interesting.

Gooden: Yeah, I agree with everything you said. I think that’s a good point; we have to be careful about not being hypocritical. We have stated on record what is bad to do, so we need to always make sure we’re not doing the thing that we said is bad. When you say something is bad, you can’t do it yourself. So we’ve had to get creative with stuff like that.

Paste: For both of you: what’s your favorite video that the other one has made?

Gooden: Oh, I’ve never watched any of Danny’s videos. [Laughter]

Gonzalez: Yeah, I didn’t know Drew had a YouTube channel.

Gooden: Danny didn’t know I had a channel until just before this call, so he’s got a lot to catch up on. My favorite Danny video—I always like the videos where there’s a song at the end, because I think that’s the thing he does that not everyone can do the same quality. I think the “Slime” video is one of your best because it was so well-produced, and then you also had the full music video.

Gonzalez: The one I always think about is the Christmas Mail video, about the really low-budget Christmas movie. I feel like there’s commentary and movie reviews that seem like two different genres, but that was the first time I’d seen that blended in a really good way. Also, that movie is so ridiculous and it’s rewarding to watch someone make fun of it in a smart way.

Paste: So you have to immerse yourself in pretty weird and toxic cultures to be able to be on top of emerging trends. How much time do you spend just surfing through the worst shit imaginable, and how does it not poison your brain?

Gooden: Oh man. That can take a toll on you for sure, making a video. The most recent one I made about the Ace family, I had to sit through a lot of their videos to get certain clips. After a while, you start to doubt yourself, too, watching all these videos. It’s like, “Is it even worth doing this to my brain?” I can feel my brain dissolving. But you do spend hours going through footage that you don’t end up using, so when people see the final product, I don’t think they always understand how much went into it. But it was a lot of sitting there and pulling my hair out.

Gonzalez: Yeah, it is hard when it’s just mind-numbing content. I think that one thing that people might not realize—I think this is true for Drew, too—when I’m making a video about something, if something is so bad it’s not even funny, I just disregard it immediately. There’s kind of a weird mix that something has to be to make it worth making a video about. It has to be bad in some way, like maybe it’s poorly written or something, but it can’t be so bad that it’s not even funny to watch. We get sent stuff like that all the time, like that video of that girl abusing her dog recently. I got sent that a lot. I try to make my videos funny, and there’s no way I could talk about that and not feel sad all the time. There’s some things that, the second you see it, you don’t want to go down that rabbit hole because you know it’s not worth it.

Paste: So a lot of the comedy you do comes from a place of genuine curiosity and fascination. If you aren’t fascinated and trying to crack why this exists and what makes it what it is, then it’s just not worth it?

Gonzalez: Yeah, I think that’s a good way to put it. When I know I’m onto something, that “How does this exist?” reaction is what you want to feel. It makes you curious from the start.

Paste: What’s a video that you sunk the most time or effort into, only to just pull the plug on it? Hit a wall and just be like, “I’m not going to do it?”

Gooden: I have more instances of that than Danny does. Not so much recently though, it is part of the process of being a YouTuber, figuring out what’s going to work. As I’ve done it more, I know early on when something isn’t going anywhere. So I have gotten into writing a video for maybe a few hours or searching for more clips that would support the point I’m trying to make, and then just coming to the conclusion that it isn’t going to work. But it’s been a while since I’ve fully edited a video—I think the last one where I wrote, filmed, and edited a video and then pulled the plug was almost two years ago: a video about Justin Beiber fans. I made a very obvious joke, to someone who isn’t ten years old on Twitter, and I got attacked by a lot of fans. I was going to make a video about that but after a couple of days watching it, I was just like, “I can’t do anything with this.” You can find things to learn from that. I wouldn’t say anything was a waste of time, but—well no, that was a waste of time. [Laughter]

Gonzalez: Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever had a time where I got to the point where I was filming a video and I had to scrap it. There’s been a few instances recently; we both made videos about the movie Swiped. That was a weird instance where we both started to make videos about the same movie and then realized it. For that video, I made a song and then just couldn’t get the music video done in time to release the actual video, so I just scrapped the music video, but kept the actual video. One time I woke up, had yogurt for breakfast, sat down and shot a video, but when it came time to edit the video, I realized that I had yogurt on my lip for the entire time, like two hours of filming. So I had to reshoot the entire video. But it’s not like I hated the way the video turned out.

Paste: As is a problem for anyone working in entertainment right now, the world is literally on fire and political things are where they are. Do you ever consider that you should do less apolitical stuff, or do you both enjoy being in a place where you can escape that sort of thing?

Gooden: That’s a good way to put it. Trying to stay away from politics is generally best. I am pretty opinionated when it comes to politics. It’s kind of alienating when you inject it into your videos when it doesn’t need to be there, and it’s not as fun to watch content that’s politically charged. We’re all very aware of the things going on; I think people want to watch our videos because they’re silly, they’re about something else. You can redirect your frustration at something a little lighthearted.

Gonzalez: That’s something that confuses me about late-night shows over the past few years: when there’s bad things going on in politics, my initial reaction isn’t to laugh about it. It’s kind of just sad and depressing to think about. As a comedian, I’m not naturally drawn to making jokes about that. I’m pretty opinionated too, but it never comes to mind when I’m coming up with things to make jokes about.

Paste: One thing you have both discussed is the politics of YouTube itself. You’ve covered stuff from the copyright claims to class-action lawsuits. What do you hope that YouTube can get better at?

Gonzalez: YouTube does have a lot of problems with their copyright system and their demonetization thing. I think a lot of people—and I’m guilty of this as well—a lot of people don’t give them credit for how gigantic of a website they are, and how much work they’ve been doing. There’s only so much this company can do when there’s billions of hours of videos uploaded every second.

Gooden: Yeah, as frustrating as it is for your videos to get demonetized, I think it’s a little silly when creators go to @ YouTube support like, “Why hasn’t a human employee personally watched my video and made sure that it’s perfect?” There’s millions of hours of videos. For the most part, they’re trying their best. For a while, especially with the copyright issues, it seemed like they were siding with big record companies rather than individual creators, and that is a problem. It just shows where your priorities are, you care more about money than the creators that drive viewers to your platform. But I will say they’ve made a few steps in the right direction. They are listening, but like Danny said, the scope of what they’re working with…it’s a process.

Gonzalez: Also with the music stuff, some of that’s not really YouTube’s fault, that’s just copyright law. If you use copyrighted songs in your videos, that is technically illegal and YouTube can try to defend you, but if the copyright holder doesn’t want you to have it in the video then there’s nothing—they kind of have to do that. I do think that copyright laws are kind of outdated and people don’t really get that, but then there’s Fair Use Act things too. I think we’ve both had cases where we’ve commented on a movie and the director of that movie has gone into a rage and tried to take our videos down, which should not be allowed because it’s fair use. So that’s one thing where YouTube will seem to side with the wrong person. I do think that’s changing, though.

Paste: For both of you, what part of this tour are you most afraid of?

Gooden: I would say just doing it. I guess the live aspect and the scope of it is something we’ve never done before. We’ve both individually done live performances before, but even—I’ve done improv to a group of sixty people, and I got very scared right before going on stage. I think just doing it, but I’m also excited because the best feelings I’ve had in life are after accomplishing something I didn’t think I would be able to do. Generally, people are going to be—we’re harsh on ourselves, so if we feel good enough then our fans are going to feel really good about it, and they’re going to enjoy it. But I would say the performance aspect is what I’m most scared of.

Gonzalez: I would probably say the same thing, but I’m going to try not to steal your answer. There’s sort of this weird anxiousness about what’s going to be like going away from home and living on a bus for that long, and just doing the same thing over and over every day. It will be a very strange change in pace. Both of us work at home, we both have wives we see everyday, pretty flexible schedules. But this is going to be: go on the bus, kiss your wife goodbye and perform the same thing every day. If you find out that the show sucks the first night, then too bad. You have to keep doing it for a month straight.

Paste: Are you worried that week two of being on a bus all day, every day, is when you two will turn on each other?

Gonzales: I don’t think so, we’re all pretty mild-mannered people.

Gooden: Yeah, I don’t think so. I’d like and really need alone time, but I think we’re going to respect that with each other, like, my headphones are on, I’m going to go sit over there. No one talk to me. I just need to stare into the void for a few hours. We’ll all be respectful of each other.

Paste: Who are the people coming up on YouTube, that you think folks should check out if they like you?

Gooden: Oooh. I always have to plug Eddy Burback. Eddy’s one of our good friends. There’s a lot. There’s a channel I found recently called Girlfriend Reviews. It’s a couple who make reviews about games, from the perspective of the girlfriend of the boyfriend playing the game. It’s really good. Scott Cramer is pretty funny, as far as commentary goes. He’s under-appreciated right now. We actually don’t watch a lot of—I don’t seek out commentary videos as much as I used to. I find myself watching other things. A lot of the stuff I watch has nothing to do with the stuff I make. But there’s a ton of good creators out there.

The We Are Two Different People tour is setting out across America right now.

Brock Wilbur is a writer and comedian from Los Angeles who lives with his wife Vivian Kane and their cat, Cat. He is the co-author (with Nathan Rabin) of the forthcoming book Postal for the Boss Fight Books series.

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