Welcome to YouTube Millionaires, where we profile channels that have recently crossed the one million subscriber mark. There are channels crossing this threshold every week, and each has a story to tell about YouTube success. Read previous installments of YouTube Millionaires here.
Thanks to the democratization of content afforded by the rise of user-powered platforms like YouTube, education no longer has to be boring (even if this sentence is). Instead, companies like Wisecrack are making academic videos that make students giggle while still teaching them about literature, philosophy, history, and other subjects. Wisecrack’s most enduring series has been Thug Notes, which adds a large serving of ebonics to the well-tread classics you’ll remember from English class. Wisecrack, however, is far from a one-hit wonder. Instead, shows like 8-bit Philosophy show the California-based company has a knack for making learning fun, no matter the topic. To celebrate its success on YouTube, we spoke to its co-founder, Jacob Salamon.
Tubefilter: How does it feel to have more than 1.5 million subscribers on the Wisecrack YouTube channel? What do you have to say to your fans?
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Jacob Salamon: It feels fantastic! It’s been incredibly exciting and humbling to build such a smart, hilarious audience of fans who love critical-thinking and pop culture as much as we do. To all of our fans around the world: thank you for all the love and support. None of this would be possible without you!
TF: How did Wisecrack get started?
JS: I guess it all started back in college. I met one of my best friends in Astronomy class (Jared Bauer, my co-founder), and we decided then and there to move to LA and make movies together. We started producing short viral videos in 2012, and the more familiar we became with YouTube and the overall digital space, the more we realized there was a gap that existed for smart content with a sharp sense of humor. That’s when it dawned on us that we could build the smart and funny brand for the digital era – with a particular focus on the growing audiences on YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, and beyond.
TF: Who do you see as Wisecrack’s typical viewer?
JS: There’s no single type of viewer, really. We have tens of thousands of teachers who love the videos we make, many of whom play our content in their classrooms. We also get a ton of emails and comments from college professors, grad students, high school students, etc. But the biggest segment of our audience is the geek-and-gamer type, just like us. Most of our fans are 18-34 year-old guys who love movies, TV shows, video games, books, and music. And excitingly, our fans find it awesome that they can learn great topics like philosophy, literature, history, and more by looking more closely at the things they already love.
TF: How do you think YouTube as a platform is changing the way educational material is shared?
JS: YouTube plays a crucial role in the way information is consumed these days. Not only is YouTube the second-largest search engine in the world (after Google), it’s also the very centerpiece of video consumption for hundreds of millions of people around the world – young and old. YouTube boasts more than 1 billion unique visitors per month, and it’s no surprise: Broadband connections, mobile ubiquity, and the democratization of video production means the barriers to making and watching video content is practically eliminated.
No matter how you look at these trends, it’s exciting. For creators, it means ultimate freedom and unfettered access to diverse audiences. For consumers, it means access to nearly all forms of video content – educational, informative, how-to, music, entertainment, and more. And for advertisers and businesses, YouTube represents an exciting digital platform for meaningful brand reach.
TF: Specifically, do you often hear about Wisecrack’s shows getting used in school? Got any good stories in that regard?
JS: Definitely! We get messages from teachers and students all the time, from folks telling us how helpful our videos have been for understanding complicated literature and philosophy. Both Thug Notes and 8-Bit Philosophy are used frequently in schools, and we conducted a research study not too long ago measuring the effectiveness of our content in the classroom. Unsurprisingly, over 90% of students and nearly 10 out of 10 teachers find our material valuable for school, as a tool to unlock students’ passion and relatability for classics.
TF: Why do you think Thug Notes in particular has resonated so well with audiences?
JS: We liken the phenomenon of Thug Notes to the popularity of the hit musical Hamilton. Hamilton does a great job of inverting stereotypes and recounting history in a fun and unexpected way. Similarly, Thug Notes‘ ability to mix hip-hop, comedy, and graduate-level literary insight makes for a powerful combination. Our co-creator and host Greg Edwards (aka Sparky Sweets, PhD) is unbelievably lovable, and he makes even the most intimidating works of literature completely accessible. Whether you’re tuning in for the jokes or analysis (or both), the show always delivers on helping viewers understand and appreciate great literature in a modern context. People want to feel smarter, and the show helps them get there in a fun way.
TF: Some of your show ideas (aliens + film theory?) seem kind of random. How do you come up with them?
JS: Wisecrack operates as a collective of comedians, academics, and filmmakers, and our ideas come from everywhere. But one thread that runs through our work is the combination of high-brow and low-brow ideas. We love delivering content and ideas that are fresh, things that haven’t been seen before. Whether it’s aliens dissecting movies or porn stars teaching history, we love breaking the mold of how academic topics are explored.
TF: When creating new shows, how do you balance educational merit with entertainment value?
JS: It’s simply part of our DNA. Every show is created as a partnership between an academic and comedian, and it’s absolutely essential that our content is both academically robust and entertaining as hell.
TF: What’s next for Wisecrack? Any fun plans?
JS: We have some awesome new shows in the cooker, one of which will be launching next month. We can’t wait!