YouTube is arguably the most significant media phenomenon of the last decade. While the website went live thirteen years ago, it wasn’t until the 2010s that it became the powerhouse that it is today. There have dramatic changes to the interface and (much the chagrin of creators) the fair use and copyright policies. People have made fortunes as YouTube creators but will tell you success on the platform takes an incredibly nuanced hand. Here are the YouTubers that have been entertaining me for the last decade.
This absurdist comedy channel is the creation of Noah Munck, who to people a couple of years younger than I, is best known as “Gibby” from the Nickelodeon series iCarly. Inspired by the work of anti-comedy artists Tim & Eric, Munck creates skits without any real plot, mainly focused around characters who quickly devolve into spasming balls of chaos. The videos are vulgar and full of foul language, but also deeply critical of a material-obsessed American culture. His characters are loud, unappealing men who swing their privilege around to the point of becoming dehumanized.
In the same vein as Tim & Eric, Vic Berger was a promoted early on by Tim Heidecker. Berger is a video artist specializing in critiques of political figures. He’s recently become embroiled in harassment from Gavin McInnes and his pathetic fascist group The Proud Boys to the point where one of the members showed up at Berger’s front door. Despite these confrontations, Berger’s work remains focused on the comedy. He’s made beautiful cuts of Trump, went to both political conventions in 2016, and has produced some great videos showcasing the insanity of televangelist Jim Baker’s ongoing mission to scam frightened people out of their money. However, his masterpiece is his continuing series of videos highlighting the complete misery of Steve Harvey.
There aren’t many geniuses in the world and, while there are a lot of creative types on YouTube, not many that qualify for that title either. However, Neil Cicirega is the real deal, a pure musical genius who has made three full albums of remixes mainly focused on Smashmouth’s All Star. That sounds like a ludicrous joke, but there are songs on these collections that genuinely some of the best music I’ve heard in the last ten years. However, if I have to say which of his works is my favorite I unquestioningly choose the strange, hypnotic experience that is Brodyquest.
He’s not flashy, but Norman Caruso is an excellent host who makes thoroughly researched mini-documentaries on video games, both software, and hardware. If you wanted to know the origins of peripherals like the Power Glove, the Game Genie, or ROB the Nintendo robot, Caruso has you covered. He goes in-depth on the development, rise, and fall of consoles (The Virtual Boy, Dreamcast) but also consoles that never made it to stores (the N64DD, Sega Nomad). He deep dives into Super Mario Bros 2, the Mega Men franchise, StarTropics, Punch-Out, and Wolfenstein. If you are a video game, there are hundreds of hours of content waiting for at the Game Historian channel.
YouTube gave birth to the let’s play genre over the last decade, a type of video where the image is a video feed of a game being played while the player/host engages in the audience in commentary about the game or chats about a variety of topics. The one channel I believe has turned let’s plays into a streamlined brand is the Game Grumps. Currently, the duo consists of Arin Hansen and Dan Avidan (though others have come and gone). Every day the channel releases 3-4 videos ranging in 10-12 minutes in length, typically parts of ongoing playthroughs of games. There are also spin-offs including a live-action series called 10 Minute Power Hour as well as a YouTube Red sitcom about competitive gaming. They have even had some pretty big celebrity guests (Finn Wolfhard, Weird Al Yankovic, the cast of Silicon Valley)Game Grumps is at its best when it’s just Arin and Dan, off the cuff having fun.
Wubby is primarily a Twitch streamer, someone who does live let’s plays and goofs off on camera. However, his best work is his edited videos on YouTube. He came to prominence six months ago with a video on the creepiness of the popular music app Musical.ly. Part of the popularity of the video came from his frank and comedic take on how young kids are encouraged to behave sexually on the app and from the ensuing strikes he got from YouTube. His more recent video on some horrible ASMR videos has become one of my favorite vids of all-time on YouTube.This video has made me laugh to the point I had to pause it, so I didn’t urinate on myself.
I don’t know what dunkey does…they aren’t let’s plays but they are about video games, and they are hilarious.
Rooster Teeth was one of the big early successes of the video game channel subgenre on YouTube, and over time they have grown to be a collective of many different channels, my favorite of which is FunHaus. I was lured to FunHaus after the demise of Game Trailers when Elyse Willems ended up there. FunHaus is comedic video game channel, based around the personalities and sense of humor of the staff. They have regular series like Demo Disk (involving playing badly aged 1990s PC game demos), WheelHaus (wherein they play random games from Steam) and now have non-video game related series like Google Trends (a game show using the search engine) and a weekly board game show. They will also occasionally do a drunk playthrough of party games like Mario Party and many Switch titles.
Ryan Letourneau is a Canadian let’s player who doesn’t go for the “more popular” first-person shooter but opts for lots of survival and roguelike games. His most-watched series, the one that got me into this game, is The Binding of Isaac. There is a larger collective of YouTubers that cross over into each other’s work including Ryan’s, like Dan Gheesling, BaerTaff, TheLastGrayWolf, and Malf. The dynamic between these people and Ryan’s sardonic sense of humor is what makes watching these videos so enjoyable for me.
Patrick (H) Willems
Patrick has an extreme enthusiasm for films and media, often things I don’t find much to like about. However, his joy for these things is infectious and makes you want to re-evaluate the work even if you end up still not liking it. Willems has an ongoing series where the conceit is he returns to his childhood, wakes his parents up, and spends the length of the video giving a lengthy defense of a movie that has been maligned. His parents play along acting completely confused as to why their son is doing this and what he is talking about.
Now You See It
The video essay format is another newly born genre on the YouTube platform, and Now You See It has done some of the best work in the field. A lot of similar channels have come about because of this one, like This Guy Edits and Lessons From the Screenplay, but nothing beats the original.
Todd in the Shadows
Todd Nathanson loves music of all kinds but also despises lazy poorly written songs. Through his Todd in the Shadows persona, he picks a song, or a patron pays to pick one, and he gives us his analysis of the work. Todd is at his best when he’s tackling some of the most popular yet mediocre artists, his ire for Maroon 5 is profound. What gets under his skin the most is when someone talented gives up and starts phoning in their work, delivering a product that is below our expectations. He did a fantastic marathon of Madonna’s films, that strange crossover of cinema and music, that is comprehensive and dead-on accurate about her oftentimes terrible acting.
Harry Brewis is an Englishman that loves video games and evidence-based debate. Most importantly he enjoys humor and mocking anti-feminists on YouTube. His early videos can get you in deep in the weeds of back and forths between personalities and aren’t the most accessible. However, with his newer content, Harry is creating more long-form broadly appealing analyses of ideas. His most recent video is a 45-minute toe dip in the water of flat-earthers. But he’s also done videos on things as diverse as video game Speedrunning, the problematic nature of H.P. Lovecraft’s racial beliefs, and (my favorite) a profound breakdown of the oft memed CTR+ALT+DEL comic Loss.
Natalie Wynn is a transgender YouTuber that isn’t afraid of her gender, sexuality, or intelligence. She has proved to be very controversial not just with the conservative community but possibly even more with her transgender community. I find her videos very enlightening and help me to understand the complexity of issues going on in identity politics. She’ll speak very candidly about her pre-transition life as well as provide in-depth academic breakdowns of the schools of thought on a variety of issues. She also has a personal aesthetic that screams giallo, like Suspiria if it was a video essay on gender politics. Her best video, in my opinion, is her very reasoned rebuttal of the ideas being spread by Jordan Peterson.
Red Letter Media
They first came to the attention of viewers around six years ago with a feature-length analysis of The Phantom Menace and a much more reasoned point of view about the flaws of George Lucas than many fans can articulate. However, I came to love them via their series Half in the Bag, a program which has Mike & Jay, two VCR repairmen, continually stringing along the old and senile Mr. Plinkett while the duo discusses movies that are playing in theaters. I am much more in the Jay camp of film sensibilities, he too is a lover of David Lynch’s work, but I enjoy the exhausted cynicism of Mike. Additionally, they have The Best of the Worst, where through random conceits they are forced to watch three terrible movies and judge which is the worst one. The very best thing they have ever made is their series about the Nerd Crew, a parody of gushing fanboy podcasts where they mock the grotesque commercialism of the film franchise industry.
Ralph Sepe Jr. is a film school student with strong opinions about movies and decided to make a YouTube channel about it. He has a take on many movies that immediately clicked with me. The Zack Snyder DC films are a particular point of irritation, and Ralph can cogently breakdown why those movies are so extraordinarily bad. He also has made videos about bad television and his video on Mystery Diners is a constant source of laughter for me.
Your Movie Sucks
Adam Johnston is a Canadian film critic who reviews films across the spectrum of mass commercial to high art. He prefers the artier movies but doesn’t always love things that are presented in that manner. He’s found a deep love of “low” art like the bizarre films of Neil Breen and a children’s edutainment series called Cool Cat. What I love about his channel is the depth with which he analyzes both what he likes and hates. Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York is one of his favorite movies, and he has been releasing a full-length documentary about the themes and ideas present in the film for a few years now. As of this writing, he is up to five parts totaling over 100 minutes of content on this picture alone.