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YouTube star Brandon Rogers shares inside story of his rise, Facebook, and Fullscreen



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  • Brandon Rogers is a YouTube star with 4.5
    million subscribers
     who was nominated for a Streamy
    Award for Comedy on Tuesday, but his road to success has not
    been easy.
  • Rogers toiled on YouTube in relative obscurity for
    years before going viral on the now-defunct video service
  • Rogers’ career has included many twists that are
    emblematic of the changes (and struggles) of digital media,
    including having a show on a subscription service that shut
    down, dealing with having his videos demonetized on YouTube,
    and getting one of the first premium Facebook Watch
  • Rogers gave Business Insider a behind-the-scenes look
    at his rise, from making depressing videos for a personal
    injury law firm to the time Facebook told him to tone down the
    blood and feces on his show.

It was 2 a.m. by the time Brandon Rogers had packed up everything
he could fit in his car, ready to run away from his hometown of
Livermore, California — a small, sleepy city on the outskirts of
the San Francisco Bay Area — and to Los Angeles.

It was his “rock bottom point,” Rogers told Business Insider. He
was in his mid-20s and had been making YouTube videos for about
seven years, with only a few thousand subscribers and nothing
tangible to show for it. He had watched his other actor friends
make their way through college and graduate.

“I was scared,” he said. “I was going to be left in this town
without my friends because they all got their s— together and
got out.”

Little did Rogers know the YouTube channel that seemed so futile
then would — a few years later, and a decade after he started it
in 2006 — begin to blow up, eventually reaching its current
height of over 4.5 million subscribers. That subscriber count
puts Rogers in the upper echelon of YouTube creators, and he was
nominated for a Streamy Award on Tuesday in the Comedy category.

But it hasn’t been a straight path. In many ways, his long strive
for stardom is representative of the numerous fits and starts the
fledgling web video medium, and its top platforms, have
experienced over the past decade. Rogers, right alongside
Facebook, Google, Twitter, and a few other titans, has been
trying to figure out what native web video content is, what fans
want, and what business model makes sense.

On his way to the top, Rogers experienced every twist of the
changing ecosystem, from going viral on video-sharing network
Vine (RIP), to landing a show on Fullscreen’s now-defunct
subscription service, to creating one of the first shows on
Facebook’s Watch platform.

“It really does feel like I’m on the cusp of history,” Rogers
said. “I’m not making it, but I’m a part of it.”

Indeed, Rogers’ comedy feels like it could only exist in the Wild
West of the internet. It is frenetic, bawdy, offensive, and
utterly unhinged — in a way that millions have found
hilarious. He has developed a roster of dozens of surreal
characters who interact with each other, often at a dizzying

His characters include an ornery grandpa who refuses to provide
candy, a mom who always seems to be on the verge of a highly
caffeinated breakdown, a blind German fashion designer, and a
strict hall monitor.

If you aren’t familiar, here is a video that mashes up a lot of
his characters:

But while Rogers said he’s always enjoyed playing various
characters, he didn’t develop his signature style until he took a
depressing job at a law firm — following that late-night move to
LA — and found his cameraman and collaborator Gabriel Gonzalez.

In tracing Rogers’ story, you can see what a strange ride the
digital media business has been for creators over the last few
years, and how little Hollywood (and even tech giants like
Facebook and Google) understand about this new world of internet

Developing his style while making brutal videos for a law firm

The first job Rogers found in LA was making videos for a personal
injury law firm. Rogers would go into the house of the plaintiff
of the suit, the injured person, and do a documentary on a “day
in their life” with their new, horrible circumstances.

“It’s so sad, you’d cut to their confessionals, ‘What do you miss
most about your previous relationship with your wife,’ and they
would start crying,” he said. “Almost all the videos won the
cases. It was a dark job. I had to take someone who was f—– up
and make them look even more f—– up [to] pull the heartstrings
of a jury.”

Rogers did the job for three years with Gonzalez, who was the
cameraman. Gonzalez was brilliant behind the camera and would get
beautiful shots for these videos, Rogers said. And the idea
started brewing in Rogers’ head that these “day in the life”
videos were compelling and could travel beyond the courtroom

“Let’s make a funny version of these,” Rogers proposed to
Gonzalez one day.

Rogers had been making every type of YouTube video imaginable for
nearly a decade, but these “day in the life” videos of wacky
characters were the ones that caught on.

But there was a big problem.

Rogers’ videos didn’t go viral when he uploaded them to his
YouTube page. They actually started to get picked up when someone
Rogers didn’t know uploaded 6-second clips of them to the
video-snippet-sharing platform Vine. (After buying Vine in 2012,
Twitter shut it down in 2016.)

The first clip that blew up on Vine was a clip of Rogers playing
his grandpa character at a supermarket.

“They didn’t think I was an actor,” Rogers said of the people
watching the clip on Vine. And worse, he wasn’t credited. Then
another clip, and another, began to circulate on Vine. He wasn’t
credited in any of them.

“No one knew it was the same person,” Rogers said, because he
looked so different dressed as each character. He said he even
started seeing quotes from the clips on tee shirts in restaurants
and felt “maddeningly” like Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent.

“No one knew it was me,” he said. It was agony.

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“The most gratifying moment of my career”

But then in August of 2015, Rogers had what he called the “most
gratifying moment of my career.” The Fine Brothers, one of
YouTube’s original superstars, made a video connecting the dots
that Rogers was the creator behind these Vine clips, and the
memes that resulted.

“That immediately stopped any negativity about people taking my
work,” Rogers said. He gained 27,000 followers overnight, he
said. It changed his life.

“Those 10 years, not only did my family think it was a waste of
time, but I did too,” Rogers said. “I’d go home at night crying
for no other reason than, ‘This is my life now, and it’s not
going to get any better than this.’”

After the Fine Brothers video, Rogers ascended quickly in the
ranks of the YouTube famous, though it didn’t begin to
financially sustain him until he reached around one million
followers, he said.

“I had 10 years of catalogued footage” for fans to work through,
he said when explaining one reason his fan base exploded so

“No one really knows that they are doing”

Soon, Rogers was given the opportunity to expand his reach beyond

In 2016, less than a year after his fame started to rise, Rogers
got a call saying digital studio Super Deluxe, owned by Turner,
wanted to meet with him. Rogers had been taking a lot of meetings
around LA and didn’t really know what this one was going to be

It turns out, Super Deluxe wanted to offer him a show.

“I walked into that office and they said, ‘We’d like to give you
a show,’” Rogers said. “It was the CEO himself … They were
looking for a brand of comedy that hadn’t quite been done, that
really pushed the limit.”

Rogers said the meeting lasted 15 to 20 minutes. And just like
that, Rogers was a showrunner with nearly total autonomy. Super
Deluxe confirmed to Business Insider that the show was greenlit
after one meeting between Rogers and the CEO.

The show was called “Magic Funhouse” and portrayed “the
dysfunctional production team for a children’s show.” Super
Deluxe made it to run on Fullscreen’s short-lived subscription
service, a Netflix competitor that cost $6 a month which aimed to
create premium shows with YouTube talent. (Fullscreen, which has
been fully controlled by AT&T since August, announced in
November 2017 that it was shutting down the subscription service
and laying off 25 people.)

Fullscreen (and Super Deluxe) gave “Magic Funhouse” a generous
budget for a streaming show from a first-time creator. It was a
time when upstart subscription services like Verizon’s Go90 and
YouTube Red were spending relatively large amounts on shows
anchored by digital talent. Rogers said the show had a total of
around 150 people working on it, a number that was confirmed by
Super Deluxe (including “cast, extras, crew, and

“They brought me into this extra-large conference room for our
first production meeting and it was a sea of people — all that
was very scary,” he said. “The show was run by rules and
regulations of a TV show … but you kind of come to a realization
that no one really knows what they are doing. They know how to
produce a show, but to produce it for a digital network? I
started to get frustrated because I felt like nothing was going
my way.”

He said he kept getting notes to “dial it down, dial it down,”
for being too outlandish, though Super Deluxe disputed that
characterization, saying some things were simply “cut back for
production reasons.” Rogers felt a lot of money was going toward
the production when it really should have been going toward the
writing, he said.

And even though he was paid well, ultimately Rogers felt like he
wasn’t reaching an audience. Rogers said Fullscreen didn’t give
him any viewership data, though he was told it was the service’s
top-performing show. Fullscreen confirmed to Business Insider
that “Magic Funhouse” was its subscription service’s most-watched
original show.

But being the top show on Fullscreen wasn’t satisfying for

“I’ll tell you what I’d never do again is another digital
platform like Seeso or Fullscreen,” he said, both of which folded
their subscription services in 2017. “It’s almost a demotion
compared to YouTube.”

But despite some of his frustrations with “Magic Funhouse,”
Rogers got another crack at a streaming-only “premium” show the
next year, this time with Facebook footing the bill.

magic funhouse
“Magic Funhouse”

“Tone down the blood and feces”

When Facebook came knocking on Rogers’ door in 2017, he was
having trouble making money on YouTube because his videos kept
getting flagged as inappropriate and demonetized. In YouTube’s
quest to keep advertisers away from hate videos, many creators
saw some of their videos cut off from ads. This was colloquially
called the “adpocalypse” by many YouTubers. It was especially
painful at the time because YouTube had been one of the only
platforms to provide a steady source of income for digital
talent, letting creators keep 55% of ad revenue generated by
their videos.

YouTube declined to comment for this story.

“Facebook comes out from the shadows: ‘Hello Brandon, we
understand YouTube is f—— you over,'” Rogers said. “They
brought me into the office. We had a YouTube sh–talking contest.
They offered me a 20-episode webseries: ‘We understand you’re a
risky kind of a guy with your humor.'”

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.

Rogers worked on that series for about six months, putting aside
most of his work on his YouTube channel. He had complete creative
control and got a flat budget. He worked with just two other
people on it and had little overhead.

“We made a good chunk of change from it,” he said.

He’s proud of how the show, called “Stuff & Sam,” turned out.
“The series was really, really awesome,” he said. But he doesn’t
know how Facebook felt.


“Every time I would talk to them, they’d say, ‘Oh it’s funny’
— but they have to say that … I don’t know whether they
liked it or not.”

He said he only got one real note.

“They did call me once, once to specifically tone down the blood
and feces,” he laughed. “Not eradicated. But just toned down.
That was really the only thing.”

Facebook didn’t really market or promote “Stuff & Sam,” which
launched in October 2017 as one of its early Watch shows, he
said, but it gave him a budget and freedom. And Facebook only
demanded exclusivity on it for two weeks, after which he put the
episodes on YouTube. The show ended up getting much more
viewership on YouTube. For instance, the first episode currently
sits at 127,000 views on Facebook and 2.5 million on YouTube.

“I couldn’t be mad,” he said. Rogers said he thought Facebook
helped him reach a different audience, and that he noticed more
men coming to his live shows following the release, whereas
before it was mainly women.

And there was another benefit: YouTube started to listen to him.

“I mentioned [to YouTube] how much I loved Facebook,” he said.
“Suddenly YouTube, they remonetized my videos, every video I put
up, untouched. Facebook helped me get my YouTube mojo back.”

stuff and sam brandon rogers
“Stuff &


“They don’t understand but they try to…”

The main thing Rogers has learned maneuvering the convergence of
digital and linear TV, and the birth of new forms of
entertainment, is that no one has quite figured it out.

Everyone is “testing” — “testing is a great way to make money”
for a creative, he said.

“These old rich white f—ers in ties don’t know what they are
doing,” he said, but neither do many of the young execs. “No one
knows what they are doing … You have to stand out among the rest
and a lot of these companies are afraid to.”

Rogers recalled one meeting with an exec of a big-name cable TV

“Your stuff, it’s very out there, we love it,” Rogers said,
imitating the exec. “But you should really, you know, if you
bring it down a bit like … Amy Schumer … She’s funny, she’s out
there, but she does keep it grounded.”

“They don’t understand but they try to,” Rogers said of
entertainment execs, exasperated.

Rogers said despite the strides made by creators who came up
through social media, there is still a negative stigma around
YouTubers in Hollywood. But he has the opposite view.

“No, we are actually better than you,” Rogers said in regards to
more traditional movie or TV stars. “You got chosen. You got
lucky. We have to promote ourselves. We have to go out there and
do everything on our own.”

brandon rogers 3Todd

Rogers is currently touring with his live show:

10/7 – Seattle, WA – The Showbox

11/4 – Englewood, CO – Gothic Theatre

11/17 – Austin, TX – Stateside at the Paramount

11/25 – Fort Lauderdale, FL – Amaturo Theater

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