Welcome to Creators Going Pro, where in partnership with Semaphore — a creator-focused family of companies providing business and financial services to social media professionals — we profile professional YouTube stars who have hit it big by doing what they love. Each week, we’ll chat with a creator about the business side of their channel, including identifying their Semaphore Moment — the moment they truly went pro.
Nikki Limo is here to tell you sh*t other people don’t.
Each week, she and her husband – fellow longtime YouTuber Steve Greene (who cowrote Logan Paul’s YouTube original film The Thinning and its sequel) – along with various creator guests, dish out a new installment of their cohosted comedy podcast, Sh*t They Don’t Tell You.
The series, where the two have talked about everything from the sometimes difficult intricacies of friends-with-benefits relationships to Bitcoin to home decorating on a budget to UFO eggs, is a perfect encapsulation of what Limo loves about being a digital creator. It’s pure her, no sugarcoating or studio spin, and it’s piped directly to listeners’ ears, without the sort of buffers she’d encounter if it were produced in the traditional entertainment industry as a talk or radio show.
Limo knows a lot — and we mean a lot — about the entertainment industry. Before she joined YouTube way back in 2007, she was a standup comedian and actress, and while she loved her work, she didn’t love the waiting. Having to wait for a new role to act, a new gig to be funny…it, to be frank, sucked. Then-nascent YouTube was an entirely different world: a direct connection between creator and audience, where anyone could conceptualize and film a video, post it the moment they finished it, and instantly reach viewers.
— Nikki Limo (@NikkiLimo) August 12, 2019
Limo knew it was a game-changer. So, when she got the chance to join the cast of a little channel called TotallySketch, she didn’t think twice. The channel, which today has 1.28M subscribers, went on to become one of YouTube’s top comedy channels, and was headed by writer/director Michael Gallagher, who cofounded Maker Studios, the YouTube network that sold to Disney in 2014 for $675 million. (Gallagher later became creative partners with Greene, and also cowrote The Thinning and its sequel.)
At TotallySketch, Limo was a core cast member for two years, and along with keeping her improv and acting skills fresh, participating taught her about the production side of the fledgling digital content world. She took that experience forward into making her own content, both alone, for her channel, and in partnership with the Los Angeles YouTube Space, which provided her with equipment and other resources to make her first big sketch series, Audition Fail.
Between starring in TotallySketch, Audition Fail, and other projects – like Tony Valenzuela’s comedy film The F*** Happened – Limo developed her personal channel (where she now has 585K subscribers and nets an average of around 600K views per month) into an eclectic mix of lifestyle content. She originally took to making casual, vlog-style food, home, and DIY videos for her channel because the format is built for lo-fi, one-woman productions, and her raw, honest approach to personal content has remained the same through YouTube’s many ups and downs, algorithm changes, and trends. She still films and edits her videos herself (now including the occasional sketch), and still uses the channel as a direct connection between herself, what she loves, and her viewers.
Big (and secret) things are on the horizon for Limo, and as this seasoned creator prepares to take the next step in her content career, we sat down with her to ask about YouTube’s first years, how the platform and the digital space have changed since, and why Limo is still here, still creating, more than a decade later.
Tubefilter: Let’s jump right in! You’re an OG YouTuber who’s experienced a ton of the platform’s initiatives and big changes firsthand while making content with some of its biggest stars. How has being on YouTube changed you as a person and as a creator?
Nikki Limo: Being on YouTube has been very empowering for me. While there are still struggles with the ever-changing algorithm, in many ways, YouTube has been a vessel for artists and entrepreneurs to build huge businesses by cutting out the middlemen from the past in traditional entertainment and being able to connect directly with an audience.
Tubefilter: Okay, let’s back up a second. Tell us a little about you! Where are you from? How did you get into standup and acting in your pre-YouTube days?
NL: I’m from Santa Barbara originally. I actually played a part in starting the standup comedy program at UCSB, where I basically got to open for huge L.A. headlining comics in exchange for promoting and helping out the show. That experience allowed me move to L.A. back in 2008, already having built a network of people in the comedy community, so I could continue doing standup at bigger comedy clubs while going on acting auditions.
Tubefilter: What drew you to YouTube in the first place? What appealed to you about it, especially as, then, it was a fairly nascent platform?
NL: When you’re in the acting world, you’re only getting to act when you book a role. In between roles, it can be pretty depressing because you’re essentially an artist without the outlet to do your art (other than scenes in an acting class). I started YouTube in the sketch comedy world in 2007, which was, to me, a fun hybrid of the comedy I was doing in standup and the acting I wanted to be doing more regularly. Sketch comedy was pretty booming on the internet at that time, and I had already been featured a lot on (oh no, this really dates me…) MySpace. I gained an initial audience from being featured regularly on MySpace, and then on YouTube when I joined the channel TotallySketch in 2009 — about six months before they took part in the founding of Maker Studios. One of my first videos with TotallySketch got over 150 MILLION views, and that was in the old-school YouTube days! That really clued me in to the reach that could be achieved through YouTube, and was such a great outlet for me as an actor.
Tubefilter: When did you get your first check for online video revenue? How much was it for?
NL: For a long time in the beginning, I didn’t post on my own channel. I just wanted to be an actor, I didn’t have the resources to produce professional sketches on my own, and back then, the traditional industry really hadn’t accepted the “vlogging” world in any capacity, so it was kind of intimidating. However, when I did post a few vlogs, I had to apply to be a YouTube Partner in order to accumulate any sort of revenue. I had to cite references, and it was quite a process. Finding out I made Partner was extremely exciting. This was the beginning of 2010. I think my first check was $100. It’s been a long time, but I believe you had to wait for $100 to be accrued before they would pay out. It took me about three months, but it was pretty exciting.
Tubefilter: You mentioned to us that you originally started doing vlog content on your own channel because you didn’t have the equipment/budget to do sketches. Do you think this is still a hurdle for today’s YouTubers?
NL: At this point in 2019, vlogging is way more accepted than sketch comedy. We’re in the world of 15-second content, in which it’s almost an advantage to have the professional aspect taken out. The road is pretty paved now for all types of video content. I don’t think equipment can really be used as an excuse anymore. I encourage people to just play! Don’t focus on what’s gonna make you “famous,” figure out what’s fun for YOU.
Tubefilter: Your husband is longtime fellow YouTuber Steve Greene, who’s worked on (among numerous other projects) YouTube-produced films like The Thinning. What’s it like being in a household of YouTube creators? Do you work on each other’s content at all, or are your channels separate pursuits?
NL: Sore subject for my husband, whose channel got demonetized completely recently, haha, but he does appear on mine quite often. It’s definitely nice to be in a creative household. He is also old like me (lol), so we both went through the traditional schools of acting, improv comedy, writing, and entertainment, and creating things together is really fun and we’re very on the same page about it.
We do a podcast together called Sh*t They Don’t Tell You, which is a blast, and we do a lot of work together, both through our own projects, and other people’s projects. Our audiences kind of know what they’re getting from us, both as a duo, and as individuals, so it’s been a lot of fun.
Tubefilter: What was that Semaphore Moment for you — the first time you realized you were a professional creator?
NL: I’ve considered myself a professional creator since I was able to pay all my bills with it back in 2013. However, Semaphore came into the picture when we realized we could actually incorporate it into a business that’s recognized by the federal government, rather than just me being considered an independent contractor, and that incorporating would also be a lot smarter from a management standpoint. That was pretty eye-opening and cool. We (my husband and I) officially incorporated in September 2017.
Tubefilter: How has your channel’s content changed over the years? Have you tweaked your content strategy purposefully to follow YouTube’s (many, many) shifts?
NL: Like I said, I started over 10 years ago on YouTube in sketch comedy, and it has since turned into more personality content, which I also really enjoy. The old content fulfilled me as an artist; the new stuff fulfills me as a whole person, and I’m super thankful for it. I guess that shift might not have happened the way it did if the algorithm hadn’t changed to value vlogs more back in 2013 — however, I actually think it’s better now! Because now, we can put out content more regularly, and put sketches up as we feel creative, rather than try to force a high-production sketch every week.
Tubefilter: What makes you love creating content on YouTube?
NL: It has always been to connect with people. Give them a laugh, speak my truth, connect, and help myself and others not take ourselves too seriously.
Tubefilter: How long does it take you, on average, to put together a video, from scripting to filming to uploading? How do you come up with ideas for videos?
NL: Depends on the video. Anywhere from a few days to a week, usually. Scripted sketches may take a bit longer.
Every month, I take a day to go over any ideas that have given me a spark of excitement, and move from there. Sometimes all the ideas get made into videos, sometimes they don’t make it to physical form, but that’s all part of the process.
Tubefilter: You mentioned hooking up with Semaphore. Who else works with you behind the scenes? Do you have an editor? An assistant? What about a manager or network?
NL: I have an editor for my Tasty Tuesday cooking videos, and had some rotating editors on the Stikki Show format my husband and I do. I’ve experimented with editors on the other videos, but I actually really enjoy editing. Especially if it’s in the form of a story, like my Nikki In Real Life vlogs. Editing is my way of telling the story, and it kind of takes the fun out if someone else does it. I also like editing the sketches because it’s like getting to write it again.
We have Steve’s brother, Nate Greene, as a production assistant. He also runs the social media for our podcast, and helps run our Patreon.
My YouTube channel is partnered with Studio71, who have been amazing working with us on our podcast. They handle the production aspect of it, and have gotten us a lot of cool opportunities, such as doing live recordings at the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal, and the most recent Los Angeles Comic Con. I also have a manager who works with me on all traditional opportunities with acting, hosting, etc., and handles all brand deals. I definitely think it’s important to build a good team around you as a creator!
Tubefilter: What do you think is the most vital skill you possess as a creator?
NL: Being able to express myself in a real, truthful, but also entertaining (hopefully) way. Regardless of the format.
Tubefilter: What’s next for you and your channel? What are you building toward?
NL: That’s top-secret info, but stay tuned! 🙂
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