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 creator has a story to tell about YouTube success. Read previous installments here.
Back in 2018, Drew Talbert committed to making one video a week on YouTube.
“After a year of faithfully doing this, I had a total of 200 subscribers,” he says. “I quit.”
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But that experience wasn’t time wasted. “It wasn’t showing any fruit, but I tell people that’s where we learned a lot of good stuff,” he says. “I had already learned editing, but just faster editing and learning some tricks, along the way of how to create these videos, playing different characters. I had all that ready to go because of that failed year and the years of struggling out here in LA and all that.”
Talbert had moved to Los Angeles two decades earlier, looking for a career in writing or acting, and had supported himself by waiting tables. His experiences in that industry, combined with what he’d learned from his year on YouTube, are what made content work for him when he decided to try his hand at TikTok in 2020.
“It just all came together for this restaurant-style comedy,” he says.
Stuck at home because of lockdowns, he started making videos that drew from his 20 years as a waiter in Los Angeles, Malibu, and his hometown of Nashville. Right away, things were different than they’d been on YouTube. Videos hit, he says, and kept hitting. Talbert paid more attention to comments than views, and noticed people were drawn to the characters he created.
“The more people started attaching themselves to the characters is when I told my wife, I’m like, ‘We really have something here that could go and go,’ because like a sitcom, where people aren’t attached necessarily to these long storylines or just this one joke, they’re interested in the characters,” he says.
Check out our chat with him below.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tubefilter: Imagine somebody’s reading this and they don’t know anything about you. They’ve never seen your videos. Give me a little bit of an introduction about you, where you’re from, and your life previous to social media.
Drew Talbert: Will do, thank you. My name’s Drew Talbert. I am from Nashville, Tennessee, and I moved from Tennessee to LA to pursue a career in acting and writing. Always comedy. I’ve always seen myself since I was a child as more of an entertainer/comedian, more than strictly an actor or writer. When I found content creation, it very much satisfies me because I just want to entertain people, always have.
I moved out and never had enough success to quit my day job, which was being a server in restaurants. I served in Nashville, Malibu, Beverly Hills, the Valley here, bounced back to Nashville once, and came back. The experience working in those restaurants was frustrating because it lasted for over two decades. I’m a little older than maybe your typical content creator, I don’t know, but I’m in my forties, but it turned out to be this wealth of useful inspiration for when this all happened, which was 2020, the COVID shutdowns, I started making TikToks because my wife got on it and I started seeing some really funny stuff.
I had time because my restaurant job shut down. I was teaching also as a second job at The Groundlings, which is an important part of my history too. The Groundlings is a theater and school for improv and sketch comedy here in Los Angeles, notable for some very famous alumni, like Will Ferrell, Melissa McCarthy, and Kristen Wiig, Phil Hartman, Pee-wee Herman, they were all created there, if you go back. It’s character-based improv and sketch comedy.
I’m learning that, to the point I’m performing there and teaching there, and I’m serving in restaurants and then shutdown happens. I start making random comedy videos and then I made one about being a waiter. Basically, the joke was parents that use their server to teach their child manners. It’s like, “Say thank you.” The kid just doesn’t want to and is being an ass, and the server is held hostage even though they’re busy.
I played all three parts because again, Groundlings. Also, I had all these wigs, I have time on my hands and, it was the biggest hit I’d had. I just decided, “Okay, that’s my niche.” Like a lot of us, we find that one that hits. I realized I have so much material to draw on. It grew out of that. I had tried to be a content creator earlier, 2018, I committed to a year of making a video a week for YouTube, created a show called The Curtis Creep Show. After a year of faithfully doing this, I had a total of 200 subscribers. I quit. Also, we were having our first baby, my wife and I, and I was just like, “This isn’t working.”
Tubefilter: A little preoccupied.
Drew Talbert: Preoccupied! It wasn’t showing any fruit, but I tell people that’s where we learned a lot of good stuff. I had already learned editing, but just faster editing and learning some tricks, along the way of how to create these videos, playing different characters. I had all that ready to go because of that failed year and the years of struggling out here in LA and all that. It just all came together for this restaurant-style comedy.
My wife too is an important part of this because we met working in a restaurant and she is the co-creator of what we do. We write together, she helps me style the characters. She communicates with our followers, and a lot of people love her side of it because she does a lot of the behind-the-scenes and a lot of more of the family stuff. If you’re curious about our family, you can go to her IG account, watch her stories and she’s hilarious with how she shows the behind-the-scenes and some more personal stuff. Her name’s Andrea.
Tubefilter: You seemed like you had your legs under you right away with your very early videos. You’ve been thinking about it for a long time.
Drew Talbert: Yes. You’re probably talking about the early restaurant stuff, the Bistro Huddy stuff.
Drew Talbert: Right, because when I think of early, people don’t see all the years before that, and all the garbage I was making. You go back to the late ’90s. I’m in college and I was the friend in the college group that was the video guy. I had a camcorder with mini VHSC tapes. Whenever it was a break, a fall break or whatever, we’d go to my friend’s cabin and I’d be the ones gathering everybody together to make these videos.
We had rural Tennessee, and we made a video about this man deer where one of our guys had sticks tied to his head and we’re chasing him around. It was insane. I was always making stuff and learning along the way. It was just like fail, fail, fail. I’m glad to hear that. When it finally worked, it was years in the making.
Tubefilter: Was there a specific point with TikTok where you were like, “Okay, this is working. I’m going to keep doing this”?
Drew Talbert: Oh, yes. it was early on. It was when that one hit and I made more server videos and they kept hitting, you can just tell by the– It’s not just the views, it’s what people are saying in the comments. I’m a big believer in reading your comments. You get inspiration from them. You gauge what people are really responding to in a deeper way. You build community that way.
Just the way that they were– it was more like the way they’re attaching themselves to the characters. I would make a character and just name her Nicole because I needed a female server for this very specific idea based off my restaurant experience, let’s say, the way cooks treat male versus female, servers, and I made a joke about that. It was a huge hit, but I just needed a name for that character. Then in the comments, it’s always like, “Oh, Nicole, blah, blah, blah.” I’d bring her back and I’d bring this character back.
The more people started attaching themselves to the characters is when I told my wife, I’m like, “We really have something here that could go and go,” because like a sitcom, where people aren’t attached necessarily to these long storylines or just this one joke, they’re interested in the characters. If you do that, then you give yourself a longer lifespan, I feel like. That’s when I was like, “We really have something here if we can really lean into more of the character development.” We, from there, started building it more like a show. We always think of it like a sitcom, where I’m playing all the characters and the episodes are one minute long.
Tubefilter: You leaned into it. What does your average production schedule look like these days? Do you have your wife involved? Take me through it.
Drew Talbert: Oh, yes. It’s like our little cottage industry in the house. A typical week, we try to make three videos for the general audience. We try to do a Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday schedule. We post on four platforms right now, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. Sometimes we’ll have a partnered post, a brand deal that only has ordered for one of those platforms or two, but otherwise, it’s those three. Then I have an extra video a week for my patrons on Patreon. There’s also a couple of things per month we do for Patreon. It’s a pretty full experience, especially we have two kids now and you just go, go, go.
Tubefilter: Two kids, that’s already a full-time job. Sorry, I missed– are you working with a team at all in terms of editing or it’s all you?
Drew Talbert: Yes, I edit. I actually love editing. I studied it. I became certified in it years ago when I was thinking about giving up the acting and moving to editing for a more substantial income stream at the time. There’s more reasons behind that, but I never really wanted to quit performing, but I was just at a point in my life, I’m like, “What am I doing?”
I did, but I had always edited for myself and then I dug deeper into my education of that. Then I worked as an assistant editor for a company that was making– you know Sharknado? It was those guys.
Drew Talbert: I would wait tables till 10:00, 10:30 PM, drive to Burbank, and log footage till the sun came up. I did that for a little while. Editing has always been something I’ve been interested in, but for comedy, it’s very hard for me to trust anybody else with that. Sometimes it’s a frame difference, will make the joke land or not. I love editing. I love the process of taking everything, tweaking it to get just the right– It’s actually really a satisfying part of it for me.
It’s just us. My wife and I writing, I edit, then I show her, and she’s brilliant at just saying, “You don’t need that. This doesn’t work.” It’ll be like late at night, I’m tired. She’ll send me back to even reshoot a character because it’s just like– I’ve always– I lean on her, and she also is great about cutting ideas before they ever are born.
Tubefilter: That’s invaluable, that kind of creative partner.
Drew Talbert: Yes. Yes. Yes.
@drew_talbert Who you with? (co-write w/ @Andrea Kelley) #serverlife #tipping #math #bistrohuddy ♬ original sound – Drew Talbert
Tubefilter: Very cool. How has your stuff changed over the past three years? Do you have any measurable differences?
Drew Talbert: Yes, it has changed. It has become more of a show. If you look at early stuff, there’d be more– “Here’s four jokes in a row, all about the same thing.” Lies waiters say, and I would do like three or four lies, and it’d be just like me playing the server. It’d just be the joke, there’s less character development there.
Now, whatever idea we have, we try to fold it into more of a sitcom vibe where it’s a story, you’re watching a story transpire. We would never– we wouldn’t these days do so much just like the joke-y, three-part joke thing. I’m interested– I still liked that format, but that’s how it’s evolved. It’s become more of a show with these particular characters. It’s these four servers, this manager, these four cooks, blah, blah, blah.
Tubefilter: Yes. That investment in your characters is interesting.
Drew Talbert: Also, time, we’ve had to follow trends along the platforms. For a while, Instagram was paying this great bonus. For a while, Instagram, a real had to be 30 seconds or less. I don’t know if you remember that. If you go back and look, there’s this period of six months where all the videos were 30 seconds, and they felt just as full, the pace of them is insane because I was just jamming it in, and characters talking over each other more.
Now that reels can be longer, I’ve changed it, and YouTube Shorts give such a greater reach than a regular YouTube video for me that I try to keep them under a minute now. Now the sweet spot for me is right at a minute. I’ll make a YouTube version that’s 59 seconds, 0.59 frames. Then I’ll make a version for everywhere else that’s just over a minute because TikTok, you get rewarded for being over a minute. Right now I’m right at a minute. Time has changed over the years too.
Tubefilter: Yes. Got you. Have you thought about getting into longer-form stuff?
Drew Talbert: Very much. Yes. We have a lot of ideas for that. We have an idea for a podcast. We have an idea for one day making– we took a stab at it. We did this– one of our characters goes to Vegas, falls in love with this awful guy. Then the other characters have to go out there and rescue her. She gets literally kidnapped. It’s insane. It was basically, I think, four or five episodes. Then I stitched them together at one point. There’s a five-minute version out there if you want to watch that, Bridget in Vegas.
It’s so much work when I’m playing all the parts. It messes up our posting schedule and it’s so hard to do. I think if we ever did long form again, it would have to be where someone literally takes this and turns it into more of a show with other people playing the parts. The other way I’d want to do long-form would be like– I’ve thought of things that are a little bit different, like training an actual training series for restaurant people for YouTube and that kind of thing, where there’s still that comedy, but it actually has a useful, helpful bent to it. Those are some different ways we might do it.
Tubefilter: Yes. That’s cool, the idea of a almost instructional or edutainment series. On that note, any other future ideas or plans or goals you’re looking at now?
Drew Talbert: Yes, we want to do the podcast. I’m not going to say what the idea is, but I think it’s a really fun idea that stays in the niche but is different, and it would be much more conducive to that. I want to do that. I want to be involved in something outside of just making content too, that might have to do with the restaurant space, whether it’s products, that would be helpful, partnering with different products, and that kind of thing.
Guy Fieri is a fan. He and I have talked about different ways to– well, I don’t want to get too deep into that, but nothing has come of that, but there’s plates spinning out there of different things. I am open, as an actor and a writer, I’m always open to opportunities to perform outside of this Bistro Huddy as well. There’s that, but those are the main things I’m thinking about.
Tubefilter: Got you. Do you feel like social media is a good vehicle for you to advertise yourself for roles?
Drew Talbert: It has not proven to be that because we’re now over three years into this and people have seen me now. The secret is out. It has not shown to be an uptick in any opportunities in that regard. I don’t blame anybody for it. It just hasn’t, those are the facts.
I think it could, I’ve seen it happen with other creators. I think it depends on the style of performance. Mine is a little more sketch-based. I think, having wigs on and an unshaven face, it feels a little– I don’t know, what am I trying to say? I’m not going full immersion into this, which is a part of what people enjoy about it, but I think it also may create some separation from like, yes, Drew’s not going to play Nicole in a real show.
Tubefilter: Yes, I get it. I grew up on Whose Line Is It Anyway? Your videos remind me so much of it, so much of some of the different segments, just the feel, very improv.
Drew Talbert: That makes sense because improv is the background.
Tubefilter: I was just very curious, because I have spoken to other people who got on social media in hopes of finding acting careers and found that they like social media more.
Drew Talbert: I will say this too. If nothing ever happened beyond what’s happening right now, I’m good. This is not, to me, a showcase to get me on a TV show or a movie. I’m in heaven right now. My wife and I get to spend all this time with our kids. We work from home. We have full creative control. The amount of eyeballs that get to see the stuff we create is better than some Paramount Plus shows.
If you literally look at ratings and what numbers of people are seeing things, we’re there greater than some of these shows. We’re making a living from it. I wake up every day excited about ideas. Then I get to run in and implement them right away. It’s very satisfying. Like I said at the beginning of the interview, I’ve always seen myself as more of an entertainer anyway. For me, this is it, man. I’m very happy. I’ll just put it that way with where it’s at right now.
Tubefilter: That’s good. One last question, I’m curious about how your audience is very passionate about your individual characters. Do you have any cool audience stories?
Drew Talbert: Yes, I’ve had to start– I try to save them. People write amazing things. It’s from all over the world is what was first surprising because I think serving in Tennessee and California, I just assumed a lot of this restaurant experience was unique to United States, and probably in other countries, it’s very different because they don’t have the same tipping structure and that kind of thing.
My wife and I both have been shocked at how we get messages from a server in Ethiopia. He’s like, “Oh, my gosh, it’s the same here, dude.” France, Great Britain, and everywhere. The relatability is way more widespread globally than I ever would have imagined. The other thing that has been very wonderful is the messages we get from people, particularly during the COVID shutdown, it was really a dark time for a lot of people.
They say that the videos got them through. The videos were the thing in their life that made them happy a few times a week just to see one, or people will go back and just rewatch them. They’ll tell us they go back and just will spend an hour watching the videos again, and they have this repeatability about them to them. That’s been really, really gratifying because I, again, just want to entertain people, but the fact that it gives people a little levity in their lives is very awesome.