Nobody can say YouTube’s top comedy channel, Smosh, will never do what “Saturday Night Live” does. It just did.
On August 26th, Smosh aired YouTube’s first ever live sketch show, which clocked in at just under 90 minutes and attracted a peak concurrent viewership of 55,000 – with an average watch time of fifteen minutes. (YouTube’s broadcast of the Democratic National Convention peaked at 250,000 concurrent viewers, with a twenty-five minute average watch time.)
“We grew up watching ‘Saturday Night Live,'” Smosh’s Anthony Padilla told IndieWire. “A live sketch show sounded like an interesting idea, we just never had the ability to do it before.” The show was sponsored by 5 Gum (owned by Wrigley), which gave the team plenty of material for commercial parodies with its “#5TruthOrDare” campaign. In addition to the investment required to pull off a live show of this size, Smosh also took advantage of YouTube’s newly expanded live-streaming capabilities, which the site rolled out to all users this year in an effort to compete with Facebook Live and Twitter-owned Periscope.
“We didn’t think a live show was even possible on YouTube, because live streaming has only been a big thing over the past couple of years,” said Ian Hecox, who founded Smosh with Padilla. “Luckily, YouTube had the infrastructure to make the whole thing happen.”
YouTube’s platform has advanced significantly since Padilla and Hecox began Smosh, which pre-dates the video-sharing site. The duo met in the sixth grade, when they were paired together for a biology project: “I didn’t have many friends, and [Ian] didn’t have any friends, and we discovered we had the same sense of humor,” said Padilla. “When we first started streaming YouTube videos, they weren’t YouTube videos; it didn’t exist.” Early on, Padilla posted their videos on his personal website, Smosh.com. “I had just borrowed my Dad’s webcam, and we were like, ‘Oh my God, we have this ability to make video.'”
With 22 million subscribers and a second movie in the works, Padilla and Hecox have come a long way since their webcam days. Their first feature, “Smosh: The Movie,” was released in 2015 by 20th Century Fox and Lionsgate to mixed reviews. Their second feature will be based on a sitcom that YouTube produced, “Part-Timers,” and will run on YouTube Red, the company’s subscription service. Padilla and Hecox saw the live show as a new challenge.
“For us, it’s important to try new things and keep expanding what we do,” said Padilla. “We’ve had to stay relevant for the past (almost) eleven years, and we’ve done that by not pigeon-holing ourselves.”
While scripted sketches are Smosh’s bread and butter, the live element presented new hurdles to the team. “The biggest difference was changing costumes and having to change characters so quickly between shots,” Padilla said. Added Hecox: “The funny thing is, neither Anthony nor myself have any theater background, so this was completely new for us.”
The duo said the live show required a different set of writing skills, and hired extra writers who were more familiar with live comedy. “We had to keep in mind that we couldn’t cut to different angles, or show close-ups, or time-jumps,” Anthony conceded. “It just completely turned everything we knew about script-writing on its head.”
Though it may look as if Smosh is trying to cross over into traditional media projects, the duo is proud of their YouTube star status, and insist they will stay with the platform that brought them success. “We don’t see what we do as a way to break into TV or movies. We did the live show just because we wanted to do it,” said Hecox.
Padilla’s advice to aspiring young creators is make work that excites them, rather than chasing a viral trend: “People who have found lasting success online got that success because they were genuinely interested in the content they were making.”