Published in the Los Angeles Times
Every week, Dane Boedigheimer drives to the Ralphs near his home in Riverside on a specific mission. One time he bought 10 kinds of apples. Another time he bought avocados and walnuts. He recently bought a cheese plate.
Other shoppers probably don't realize that Boedigheimer is conducting a casting session for "The Annoying Orange,"the YouTube channel he started a year ago. He voices the title character, an orange who badgers his guest star with insults like "you look fruity," until a knife slices the guest in two. These videos consistently get at least 3 million views.
"There's something to the knife moment," he says. "There's almost become an expectation to it. If I don't have it in those videos, people get upset, because 'What happened to the knife? Why didn't the character get killed?'"
YouTube is a chaotic heap of video content, and Boedigheimer is one of a core group of comedy stars who have clawed their way to the top, leading a burgeoning and bizarre form of American entertainment. These digital auteurs aren't interested in flash-in-the-pan viral hits or polished Web series with narratives — they create videos in their apartments on pocket-change budgets, post consistently, and turn their YouTube channels into fan magnets.
"YouTubers," as they call themselves, serve as director, producer, star, editor and marketing director and can earn six-figure salaries through their share of the ad revenue. As they've become celebrities in the 25-and-younger demographic, they increasingly face the quandary of whether to give in to the lures of Hollywood and risk giving up their scrappy authenticity.
The videos are some combination of sketch comedy, reality show, video blog, song parody, animation and 3 a.m. activity at an over-caffeinated slumber party. Their comic sensibility is irreverent, surreal, self-deprecating and fixated on lampooning cultural touchstones like Lady Gaga or Miley Cyrus. "It's the sort of the comedy that you would get on television if there wasn't an infrastructure for filtering it, vetting it," says Tim Hwang, a founder of the Boston-based research group the Web Ecology Project and an organizer of ROFLCon, a conference on Internet comedy. Some think these videos are hilarious. Others find them mundane, sophomoric or crude, and wonder: Why would anyone want to watch this stuff?