MGU 129 | Content Creators Crises

 

There are times when content creators are criticized because people don’t know the amount of work that goes on in the background. Writer and Comedian Jason Horton joins Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen on the podcast to shed some light on the identity and existential crises content creators go through in their careers. He explains the grind that needs to be successful in a very competitive field. Jason also shares some tips and practices when it comes to distributing your content and why it’s effective to focus on one social media platform at a time. He believes that making money out of what you do becomes easy once you figure out how to get your work in front of people. They discuss those who make it big as content creators and what separates them from the rest of the tribe. He also touches on the effects these troubled times has on the entertainment industry and how it leveled the playing field for both amateurs and celebrities.

Listen to the podcast here:

Behind The Scenes: Identity and the Existential Crises Of Content Creators with Jason Horton

I don’t think that we would be doing this episode justice if we didn’t start off by talking about how we met our guest, Jason Horton, which was through stalking. I followed you into a parking lot of a grocery store. Do you remember your reaction when that happened, Jason Horton?

I was like, “Not again. Not another stalker wanting to get close to me.”

I’m having some déjà vu. We’ve talked about this before, but I feel that we talked about it in some public setting. Was it in a video? It must have been discussed on the podcast that I was on for your Friends Without Benefits show. Is that show still going?

It’s unofficially on hiatus.

That was a good show and I was honored to be a guest on that show. That was a lot of fun. You had a lot of interesting guests on that show. Thank you for clarifying that it was without benefits because we wouldn’t want people to think that you and I were friends with benefits.

There was barely any friendship, never mind the benefits. I try to get the friendship at a minimum.

Either you’re an introvert or that I should take that personally as an offense that you don’t want to be friends with me. For our audience’s context, Jason Horton and I met because I followed his car into the parking lot of a grocery store where he was trying to go about his day and do some grocery shopping and some strange girl pulled up next to him. That is because we had the same car and we were part of something called the Ford Fiesta Movement back in 2013. We quite literally had the same car because it wasn’t just the model or the year, the paint jobs that were on it. We both had green, but did yours have camo on it too as mine did?

No camo but it was a stick, which I did not want.

Jason Wrobel happened to be in the car with me because we were driving to Jason Wrobel’s home. You guys didn’t live that far away from each other. You were in the same neighborhood.

In Glendale.

I’m in Beverly Hills now.

A lot has changed in years.

Jason Wrobel now lives in Boyle Heights and that was something else I wanted to bring up because Jason Horton posted on his TikTok for his podcast. I didn’t tell Jason Wrobel about this yet. This is a complete surprise. You did a little TikTok. Was it a whole episode of your show or a part of your episode about that Sears building?

It originated because it is in my book, some photos of that Sears building. I took some video and then retrofitted it for TikTok as an experiment for the Ghost Town Pod TikTok. Initially, it was just photos for the book.

What did you discover exactly about the Sears building? I have to say, the TikTok made me wonder were you just speculating or do you know. Are there ghost stories or is it a historical thing? Is it supposed to make people feel creepy? I want to know more because I’m super curious about abandoned buildings and that’s why I love all the work that you do around this. What did you learn about that building?

For me, it’s the history of anywhere and the architecture and understanding businesses like Sears, which was a huge and an icon. Now, it’s pretty much on its last leg. It’s a combination of the abandon, the historic and its LA-based architecture. The Sears there is a very small part of this huge building. It is still open for business but for how long, I don’t know. It’s 95% vacant or abandoned.

It instantaneously makes it creepy.

To say, “Check out this 95% abandoned building,” doesn’t that have the same ring? People nitpick but I’m like, “Stop taking the fun out of it.” It’s so iconic that Sears and the people in that TikTok are regaling, “I used to work there. I went there as a kid. I remember walking by it every day.” Somebody said that they got kidnapped from there on the TikTok.

On your TikTok, someone admitted that they were kidnapped at that exact Sears. Jason Wrobel, do you realize that we’re talking about the Sears building down the street from you?

It’s a five-minute drive from my house in Boyle Heights. Maybe that’s going to invite some stalkers over my home because now I’ve given people the context of where I live. I’ve never gone into that Sears, Jason Horton. I’ve always been curious to do so because I don’t believe I’ve physically gone into a Sears since I was a child growing up in Detroit. We also had an old Sears with that old cursive font. The Sears in Detroit we used to go to was a very old school. I don’t think I’ve been inside of a Sears, Roebuck and Co. since the ‘90s. I was, however, in a JCPenney in 2011 and picked up some fancy kitchen towels. Sears haven’t been in since the ‘90s. When you were doing that segment, Jason, did you physically go into the store?

No, the store was closed and I assume that it maybe had been closed even though there was some kind of current after the fact signage up. The majority of the building, as you could see in that little video, there are windows broken out and old school Sears door handles. It’s pretty locked up pretty tight, but it’s vacant or abandoned except for the Sears because people wanted to let me know. They’re like, “No. It’s not abandoned. It’s open.” It’s a huge building and at one point, I think it was the most expensive Sears to run. I’ve been in a Sears and JCPenney and they’re holding on. The fact that you haven’t been there, you’re part of the problem is what I want to say.

The idea of the mall and the American mall is I would say it’s the core of what kind of got me interested in a lot of the things that I talk about now or I try to put out now being mall-obsessed. I grew up with the mall and the culture of the mall and watching television shows and movies. You take out the mall, movies and TV shows and where you met and where you would meet people depending on how cool and popular you were or are, it’s such a huge part of American culture.

Your book should be Abandoned and Historic Malls, not Abandoned and Historic Los Angeles.

If you foot the bill and take me to all the malls across the United States, I’m happy to do that for you.

Everyone's a fan of somebody, and everyone is an audience for somebody. Click To Tweet

Maybe it’s your second book once this one becomes a huge success. I feel like the next one should just specifically be about malls because I would read that. I’m not going to read your current book, but I definitely would read the one about malls.

It’s the sequel to the Bible. If you are not interested in that, then that’s on you, but it’s pretty compelling stuff.

I love this because you’re right, I hadn’t thought about that. Speaking of historic Los Angeles, I felt a little sad when the mall in Santa Monica was turned into whatever it’s called now. Remember that old mall in Santa Monica that they took down and replaced. Had you spent any time in there?

I’m not a huge Westside guy when it comes to that stuff, but I definitely remember. I didn’t take it in the way that I should have.

It’s like you always thought it was going to be there and I agree because I probably went to that mall twice ever. I don’t even remember why I was there. It wasn’t a mall that I felt excited to go into, but now that it’s gone, I feel nostalgia because that mall felt very much like the malls that each of us grew up with during our childhoods. I think about how rundown they were but in a nice way. It also makes me think about the third season of Stranger Things that was based around the mall.

A show like Stranger Things checks off about a gazillion boxes like nostalgia, horror, comedy, and ‘80s movies. Something like the mall could hit a bunch of demographics. When people watch it, they’re like, “I used to love going to the mall and hanging out with my friends.” People can identify with it and relate super quickly and that’s what’s great about a show like that.

When I saw the ads for that season, I was like, “I am in,” because they did such a good job of highlighting the fact that it was in this ‘80s mall. For any of us that grew up with that, we remember so many good times. It feels like an innocent time period of our lives in so many ways.

You would be happy to know that I give a little mall in the book that you’re looking for.

Which mall in particular since it’s about Los Angeles?

The Hawthorne Plaza Mall in Hawthorne, California and that has been used for filming like Gone Girl, The Fast and The Furious and Westworld. A movie called The Thinning: New World Order starring me, a YouTube Original. That’s why we were there. I was not the star by the way.

What’s his name?

The star was Logan Paul.

Who is that?

He is a YouTube person.

Not to be confused with his brother. Often, people do confuse the two of them. It’s an interesting character. What’s going on?

I got a call sheet. I’m Hollywood-ing this whole thing.

This ties into the theme of your book. It’s a historic Los Angeles story.

Not to brag, but I was number 203 on the call sheet. I was pretty popular. Number one is good, but the number 203 is great. I was like, “Is this the Hawthorne Plaza Mall?” Because we went in through a bay door. You’re not supposed to be in there. There’s security and stuff like that because it’s super dangerous. It’s a very abandoned mall. There are escalators that stopped because the floor has been ripped out. It’s a truly abandoned mall. When I was there, it was such a surprise because getting access to that is tough when it comes to urban exploring, getting access, how dangerous it is and how illegal it is because it’s trespassing.

The fact that I was there, no one else could understand my excitement. That was what put things in motion for me. That mall was the first episode of Ghost Town. It rang some bells and kicked things off for me for something I was already interested in. I think being there in a sense that I didn’t realize where I was, it’s such an iconic place as far as I’m concerned because it’s one of those malls that people use. They try to get in there. It was super special and it had such a huge impact on me that I almost in a way built a whole podcast and book around it.

That’s a defining moment of your career, it sounds like.

The movie was a huge hit. It was great. Those YouTube Originals made a big splash. I’m thankful to do anything and I still get residuals. I don’t care if they’re $0.06.

It sounds like almost as compelling of time as when we got to be in that segment for Jimmy Kimmel. I forgot that you were there too. Speaking of old photos, I also have a picture of us in the green room at Jimmy Kimmel when they gathered us all there for that tiny little segment that they did, which I don’t even know if they played.

I think they did, the running of the bulls thing.

They played it on air, but I don’t think they played it for the audience. We were all sitting in the green room not knowing why we were there. We were feeling we are cool, but they wouldn’t even let us like sit in the audience. They had that little concert at the end too. We went to one of those chain restaurants across the street as a group. Do you remember that part? It was the California Pizza Kitchen. You were there, Jason?

MGU 129 | Content Creators Crises

Content Creators Crises: For those in the creative field, if you have a budget for something, ask for that budget.

Right that night, I went to New York Comic-Con.

Maybe you ditched us when we went to CPK.

Yeah. Do you remember when we had to make a commercial for a superhero car?

Yes, for the Ford Fiesta Movement.

I made this is terrible thing. It’s less work than I put in the majority of my YouTube videos and I did it at the YouTube parking lot. I made my car the Hulk because it was green again. I don’t know what I did, but it was something dumb. I was like, “I’m going to do it because I was like, ‘Why not lean into it?’” but I wasn’t going to spend a lot of money or put a lot of work into it. They bought it from me as a SAG commercial. I don’t know what they did with it. I got a check for a few thousand dollars. I almost threw it out because I was like, “It’s got to be the bill.”

Myself and a couple of other people from those little commercials, we won some things so that night we flew to New York. We had zero sleep and sunburned from that running of the bulls thing for Jimmy Kimmel. It was like a fever dream. We were there for 36 hours. I remember going with some Ford executives to a bar-restaurant. My history was that I was a straight edge most of my life and I still pretty much am now. That period, there are peer roles dating before that so being social, but I got so drunk at this thing and I was asking Ford executives. I was like, “How did you pick some of these people? They’re terrible. They’re not funny. They’re not interesting. They are awful.”

I’m not proud of my behavior in that sense. It’s something I might say, but not in a loud, aggressive way, but the guys from Ford were cool. I think they knew what I was talking about because sometimes I’m that person. They’re like, “Why is this guy who clearly has no skill in this there?” Sometimes I’m the guy and sometimes I’m the guy calling out the guy, let’s say. Everyone’s a fan of somebody and everyone is an audience for somebody and I always remember that and then maybe falling face-first into a plate of spaghetti or something like that.

That’s a good piece of life advice though.

I never forgot that and I thought that was important because I would say at that time when I think back on the glory days of when they came to YouTube and stuff like that, I say 2013 to 2015 was the apex.

We had it good back then. The Ford Fiesta Movement was one of the highlights of my YouTube experiences. Would you say the same too? Was it great? When I look back, Jason Wrobel was part of it too. He wasn’t officially in the Fiesta Movement, but were we dating at that time?

Yes. The only adventure I wasn’t a part of was when you went on a road trip to Bonnaroo.

It was also one of the best experiences I had.

I was tagging along as the copilot for most of the adventures, but Bonnaroo was when I was in Atlanta shooting the first season of How to Live to 100, so I didn’t go to Bonnaroo.

He’s dropping in his own bragging rights there for his television show. Bonnaroo was my version of your Comic-Con thing, Jason Horton.

It was much better and I didn’t realize how far we could push them. It’s not even humble, but I’m just so used to not getting anything or getting things offered or handed to me. I don’t know if it’s imposter syndrome or whatever people call it now, but I always had this idea of like, “A free bottled water in a meeting? Wow.” I’m always afraid to push. I was like, “I don’t want to bother anybody,” although I’ve been extremely aggressive when it comes to making things happen. I’m already driving around this car but when somebody else tells me like, “No, if you have a budget for something, ask for that budget.” After that point, I started asking for lights and equipment. I need to go here. I need money to do this. I went to San Francisco and I realized about 3/4s of the way in that I wasn’t pushing very hard.

Yeah, because they never told us that much about what budgets we had. For our readers, the context is not only do they give us free cars. There were 100 of us in this program as YouTubers and it was a big advertisement for Ford. I was in that same place but at a certain point, I started to see how far I could push the boundaries. I started figuring out how could I integrate these advertisements? For context, every month we had to make at least one video featuring the car. It also could be very subtle. The car barely had to have anything to do with our videos. All of us had credit cards so basically as long as you got permission, you would have a spending limit. Every month, you’ve got a certain budget to do whatever you needed to do for your videos. At one point when I figured it out, I decided to see if I could go skydiving and get that paid for. I turned my skydiving adventure into a video. What was the best thing that you did with your budget?

Nothing. I didn’t do anything cool with it. Also, the thing is the things that I wanted to do, I wasn’t super ambitious with it. Although one thing I did is I had a party at Dave & Buster’s. Who wouldn’t want to go to that? It was something easy and close. I think I had a thing with Dave & Buster’s too so I was double-dipping.

Do you mean they were giving you free tickets or something?

I was doing some kind of integration with Dave & Buster’s and Ford so I made both those things happen. I made money on top of one another. The thing is you’d think, “That’s great,” but I could not find people to come because the only time I could do it was like 11:30 AM on a Tuesday and they would be like, “I don’t want to go to Dave & Buster’s.”

I would have gone to that. Thanks for the invite.

I’m pretty sure I asked every single person, especially people with the Ford thing.

Maybe I turned you down.

I was like, “It is a strange time to do it.” I remember doing that, but they funded a lot of my YouTube videos essentially. I won the best comedy video.

I forgot. We got prizes at the end.

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Ford knows comedy if anything. I made a video and looking back, was it a great take? A lot of my videos were not a great take, although the joke I believe was always pointed at myself. It’s also satire, but it was something like 25 Worst Ways to Talk to a Woman or something like that.

You used to shoot those at YouTube Space, that one room. Was that part of that series? Do you remember they had a restaurant set?

I did this at the shooter and editors and the co-producers’ house, but we took the money and considered it as the budget. Because we had a large cast and we had extra shooters and editors, but also we paid ourselves to do it. I would double dip in that so I wasn’t thinking ambitiously like going to Bonnaroo as I should have. I was thinking like, “How do I have it benefit my YouTube channel and also benefit me financially so in the future I can make more YouTube videos?” On that video, you see a car in it for a second in the beginning when the car pulls up.

That was the one I submitted to them but when I upload the actual video, it did not have the car at all and nobody said anything because it didn’t make any sense. I got paid essentially to make that video and it was content and it fulfilled my thing with Ford. Again, they were not very clear with what we’re supposed to do so we are all winging it. I’m sure they were winging it, but those glory days, people talk about their football days back in high school. In 2013, 2015-ish we’re pretty apex because I also went to YouTube London and worked there, which was an amazing experience. It was a ton of cool things happening.

It was like the heyday for all three of us, Jason Wrobel too.

I feel like you talked about it being an apex. Certainly for me from 2017 onward, there was a slow downturn in the amount of content I was doing on YouTube, the algorithm changes and to be blunt, I think I got burnt out. I started my channel in ‘09 and by 2017, I started to decrease the number of videos and the number of things I was putting out. I don’t want to say I’ve abandoned YouTube, but I don’t put nearly or even close to the amount of content I put out like you’re talking about that heyday and vice versa. We’re talking about brand integrations now. It’s rare for me now to even get a request for a YouTube brand integration. It seemed like Instagram went berserker from 2015 onward and now TikTok. It’s rare these days that I’ll work with a brand and they’d ask me to do a YouTube video. It almost never happens anymore.

I have abandoned YouTube in one way, but I’ve also leaned back in another way but I will get those requests. I’m like, “I haven’t put up a video in a while.” The engagement’s not going to be there. I literally ignore all those emails because I was like, “I’m not going to make a bad YouTube video to promote some terrible product.” That’s not going to be worth my time and effort to put it on a channel just so people will be like, “I remember this dude. This dude fell off.” I’d rather leave it suspended where it is and if there’s some reason or way or the means I’ll do it, but I started another channel for the podcast. Surprisingly that does well in a sense with very little work. I’ve switched gears on that when it comes to YouTube.

Looking back on all our careers, Whitney and Jay Ho, I’m curious more about how you handled these situations doing such a variety of brand integrations and working with small, medium and super large businesses. What kind of navigations did you do creatively or emotionally when you are working with a “difficult” client or someone that you felt super creatively restricted? They were trying to squelch your creative ideas, but you are already committed to a project. How did you guys handle that if that came up over the years or maybe it was just an easy, breezy CoverGirl the whole time?

For me, the bigger they are, the more pushback and the pushback would start off like, “I’m wearing jeans. We’re cool. Do what you want.” When it came time to do it, it was like a totally different scenario. I’m relatively agreeable, but I don’t like it when it starts off with one thing and ends up in another. I don’t like to be challenged because I didn’t seek you out. Sony was one that I did and I remember pitching something. I didn’t have anything. We pulled up a video on a teleprompter or whatever it was. I pointed to the number at the bottom of the video. I sat down and I was like, “That’s why I know what we’re doing.” I’d play a little hardball because I didn’t like to be challenged. They’re also probably justifying their reason for being there. If they’re not saying, “I think you need to do this,” they’re probably like, “What am I even doing here? Are people going to realize that I’m useless and get fired?” The thing with Sony and with Foot Locker, which was dodgeball. It was a big interactive video I was doing with Maker and a bunch of other people that I was writing. They’re like, “The only thing is you can’t have anybody getting hit with a dodgeball or seeming like they got hit with a dodgeball.”

What’s the point then?

I was like, “It’s called dodgeball. There’s no ball and there’s nothing to dodge. That’s not a game. It’s dodgeball.” It was difficult and as you’re doing it, it’s like it doesn’t make much sense.

I did a campaign with an alcohol company and you couldn’t put a beverage to your lips in your content, especially if you were by yourself. I think the only way that you could show alcohol being consumed is if somebody else was there and I thought, “They don’t want anyone to be advertised for drinking alone?”

It indicates maybe alcoholism or having an addiction to alcohol. I remember I did one for Bud Light and it was a lot of cheers in the glasses with somebody else. I was like, “I don’t know what else was to do with these.” Ford didn’t like that either. They didn’t want you drinking alcohol while you’re sitting behind the wheel of their car, which I thought was very uptight.

This is interesting too for you, Jason Horton, and I guess for us too, because here we are with the show. It’s interesting how all three of us were focused on YouTube back in those heydays. At least for Jason Wrobel and me, it’s on the back burner for us. It sounds like it is for you too, Jason Horton. To me, podcasting is so fulfilling and it feels like YouTube used to feel for us. Would you say the same?

A lot of the rules are the same and a lot of the rules are different, which is great. It’s all content and distribution, I remember somebody telling me years ago. That’s what it all boils down to. I know people will be like connection and whatever you value and all that stuff. What it comes down to our content and distribution and that’s all this is. In that way, it’s the same, but in a different way, it’s in a very upcoming thing. Whereas with YouTube, it was still upcoming, but you didn’t need to be sold on YouTube.

Podcasting is in that same way where it’s getting popular but compared to the amount of YouTube channels and podcasts, there are way more YouTube channels. Also, people generally know how to find a YouTube video, but do they know how to find a podcast? I’m sure you’ve maybe had a thing where you want to get your podcast in front of people, but it’s like, “Check it out on an Apple.” “I have Android or I don’t know how to use a podcast.” There are different pitfalls because it’s still new-ish, but it’s also the same old thing. It’s like, “How do you get what you do in front of the most number of ears and eyes if there’s a video portion of it as possible?”

How has that changed for you? How many podcasts have you had? You’ve had Friends Without Benefits. You now have Ghost Town. Do you have another one?

I had one before that was produced by Maker Studios.

What was that called?

That was called Two White Guys. Looking back at the name, it was corny and bad. You’re trying to be ironic and it was dumb.

Who was the other white guy?

I did it with Josh Mattingly who was in the YouTube world. I worked with him at Defy and he was a producer over at the Fine Brothers. I knew him through comedy. We would interview people, but a lot of who we’d interview were adult stars, which was very interesting.

Do you mean adult film stars?

Yeah, porno people. Clear that up for our readers. Just actors that were over the age of 21. It wasn’t all that, but it was some YouTube people and such.

MGU 129 | Content Creators Crises

Content Creators Crises: The bigger the clients are, the more pushback you’ll get.

 

Was Trisha interviewed? Do you consider her an adult star? Now, she kind of is. She’s doing OnlyFans.

We all will be an OnlyFan by the year 2021.

Do you genuinely believe that or is that a joke? It feels like it gets going in that direction with OnlyFans. Many YouTubers and content creators are getting on there right now.

I just deleted the Ghost Town Pod OnlyFans. I started one.

Is it just me or is OnlyFans mainly pornography, or is it other things other than porn?

It’s mainly I would say in some way sex work or erotic content, but podcasts have started to use it.

Is it like a Patreon-type of alternative?

Yeah, even in the free sense because I think it’s a niche way to connect with people, even if it’s free because you got to keep them engaged, “This is free, but when I have new merchandise, I mention it here.” In a way, it’s free advertising.

Why did you delete it?

Because I would send them my ID and they’re like, “We need IDs from your co-host.” It became a very complicated thing that I didn’t feel like was worth it. I’m expanding Ghost Town in a big way right now. That way for me, I wasn’t excited about doing it and the irony of it wasn’t important enough to invest a lot of time and energy in, especially right now. I’d rather cut it out and focus more on a couple of other things that I have going on right now that revolve around the book and Ghost Town.

Tell us more. What do you mean by expanding?

This is super risky but I’ve been leaning in lately to a site called Facebook.com  You’re thinking, “Boomer, what are you doing?” I’d be very accurate. What I’ve realized and I find myself defending TikTok, Facebook and any site. Anyone who put a poo-poo or something, I’m like “Who are you? If you don’t vibe with it, that’s fine.” There’s plenty of that. You’ve seen the conversations online about TikTok when it comes to podcasts. People are making it seem like, “I’m not using it. I would be very successful in it, but I’m deciding not to use it.” I was like, “You don’t understand it. You can’t find a way to make it work for you. You haven’t given it a shot.” You’d rather say, “China is going to come and steal my identity,” which is very coveted, apparently.

They’re doing it on a site that has data breaches that are stealing your data. I find that whole thing for you to pooh-pooh something because you don’t get it is extremely narrow-minded. If you got a problem with it, that’s totally great. Let me tell you something. If somebody told you, “TikTok will make your audience increase by 10,000%,” I guarantee they would use it. I guarantee they’d be like, “Try to take away my data. I don’t care. I want that audience.” I’m sure there is a percentage that are sincere but for the most part, it’s a lot of posturing. If you don’t have anything nice to say, I’ll find something to say. I get that you get very passionate online.

Facebook is something that I was seeing people using it and then I’d be like, “I’ll focus on other things.” I see people using in a way that, “You got me. You caught my attention.” When I’m on the other end of it, I know that I want to now be the person on the other side giving you the content for you to get caught up in. It’s like when somebody on a podcast gets me to buy a product, I think that’s the best way to know how to sell a product. It is you knowing how it got you and reverse engineering that in whatever way that is. I know it’s not apples to apples or anything like that, but I feel that’s the best way to know how to get somebody is by you being got. Being a criminal in whatever thing is probably the best way to know how to stop a criminal.

I remember there was a Ted Bundy video I saw or something, and you’d probably know this more than me. I watched a lot of True Crime too. One of the things I was watching, they’re talking about how there was a literal guide to being a criminal that police officers were using, or was it the other way around where a criminal came across this guide that police officers had? I think it was a Ted Bundy thing.

You must have been on Ted Bundy’s TikTok.

All of this is so interesting and I’m continuously intrigued. I love it when I stumble into a True Crime TikTok or abandoned TikTok. This is a thing on TikTok is people start to use this term, “I’m on Urban Mysteries TikTok.” It is interesting how there are all these categories. Even though there isn’t a literal categorization of TikTok, you’ll find all of these types of content. If you engage with it, you’ll start to see it more and more often. Some of my favorites that I stumble across every now and then are people exploring abandoned amusement parks. Are you into that too?

I’ve tried, trust me. Part of the reason I went to Berlin, Germany was to go to this place Spreepark that was abandoned and I could not for the life of me get in there. Normally, they had these little tours and they stopped them. It has gotten too dangerous and then you’d have to sneak in. I was like, “I don’t feel like getting caught in another country trespassing.” There are tons of other great things for me to see and do there, but amusement parks are my kink, I guess.

Specifically amusement parks, not just like any abandoned space.

Amusement parks, even at its shiniest are creepy in a way or are weird. They’re very ornate and intense. Disney is the center of that. It’s a very intense experience and then when you strip away all the color and you fade out the smiles and everything like that, any of these places could become a haunted house very easily. If they go out of business for about six months and there’s no upkeep, the sun burns it out and people vandalize, it will become that haunted house. With TikTok, you have people running around saying, “TikTok, that’s just people lip-synching songs.” It’s a very ignorant uninformed thing.

There are tons of garbage on there, but there are tons of garbage on everything and sometimes you are the garbage. Sometimes you are traffic. If you’re stuck in traffic, you’re traffic. What are you complaining about? Because you are also a problem. That’s the same with garbage. Sometimes you are the garbage and people don’t realize a lot of great stuff on there. Even me finding that, I was surprised at how late in the game that I found it. I think I also was conditioned, “It’s just comedy.” They’ve expanded from lip-syncing to humor. I didn’t go far past it until we started talking on Facebook about doing True Crime. I literally started it up right then and there.

You were already doing great, not Funny Dad, but I love your theme right now of “Hey, bud.” Jason Wrobel, have you ever seen it? Jason Horton, would you say that’s 100% of the content you do on that channel, everything is the “Hey, bud?”

For a while, it wasn’t that. It was hit or miss. For me, I couldn’t find a way to really make it and to do what I want to do without somebody else. I wasn’t inspired nor was I had the ambition to do it, but I stumbled on doing a voiceover as the parent so it has to be a specific kind of video. It’s me voicing over content that usually had no audio and I always start off with, “Hey, bud,” and it picked up.

Can you do an example? Because I don’t think Jason Wrobel has seen this yet and our readers might not know.

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It’s kids that are being stupid. It’s like kid fails, but it’s me as a parent videoing them and commenting on their failure. It’s like, “Hey, bud. You don’t want to do it. You did it.”

The classic one I think of is it seems like maybe I keep seeing the same video over and over again, but I suspect you have a ton of clips of the kids, the obstacle course. It’s not Chuck E Cheese. It’s like a trampoline park and it’s the spinning obstacle course and the kids have to duck. You must have a ton of different videos of that or do I just keep seeing the same?

I wish I had more. For some reason, it’s a compelling thing to watch kids being wiped out.

It’s like America’s Funniest Home Video. It never went away. It just moved to TikTok.

It’s very much like that. I hosted a show for them that was the YouTube adjacent to America’s Funniest Home Videos. I was working with them for a bit. It was short-lived, but it was interesting. It’s the same concept. It’s pretty tame for the most part.

It’s relatable because even if you don’t have kids, we all know that whether it was our parents or our friends who are parents, they’re filming their kids and accidentally see them. Maybe they care less. That’s what I wonder. In this, “Hey, bud,” are you one dad, the same dad in all these different scenarios when you’re saying these lines, or do you envision that you’re a different dad each time?

The same guy who fathered all these children because there is a different, diverse crew of children too. That’s part of the joke, but some people don’t get that. They’re like, “What kind of parent are you? You shouldn’t be there videoing.” They’re not realizing but that’s what you want.

Do people get offended and accuse you of being a bad dad without realizing that this is all a joke?

For the volume of video views, a small amount but enough. There are hundred-plus millions of these views or whatever but I would say a good 5% are and that’s a lot of people. It’s very real to them and that’s what makes it shareable. That’s why it’s like a prank because it seems real. The pranks that had been on YouTube and stuff. The ones that you believe are real and the ones that you know that are staged don’t hit as hard. It depends on who the audience member is.

I’m continuously amazed by how people react differently to different types of content online. TikTok is a fascinating case study of how people take in the content and what they take seriously. It’s also a great place to go and experiment because it’s the Wild West in a way that other platforms aren’t. There’s so much freedom there. I wonder if that’s part of the reason it feels threatening to people like Donald Trump who take it as such a serious thing. Every once in a while, I wonder about the privacy concerns like, “Are we as users of this platform being studied like test subjects without fully recognizing it?”

I feel like you are running into that with any of these sites. The terms in privacy, they could do what they want when they want it.

It’s more like the manipulation of it. How much are we being manipulated without being fully aware? You could say the same thing with Facebook and it’s all one big experiment that us being part of it for so long, especially the three of us at that age range of having access to Facebook so early. All the things that were unknown about these platforms that are constantly being tweaked to see how can they make money from us and how could they manipulate things like the elections. It’s fascinating, but I’m also of the mindset as you, Jason, where I don’t take it that seriously.

The big picture in the list of things to worry about. If that was the top of the list, we’d be in a good place. The worst thing in our lives isn’t, “Is TikTok seeing what kind of movies we like?” For me, it is not as important as a lot of the other things that are going on. In the same way, there’s room for everybody on TikTok. For the people that say, “It’s just this,” it’s because you don’t understand. Anyone who doesn’t understand what’s happening, you try to shun it. That goes for anything. People that are holding on to old values and the way things used to be, it’s the same thing. You’re not willing to open your mind up a little bit. You don’t even know what you don’t like because you don’t know what they are for you not to like. That’s my thing with TikTok. Even with TikTok, I was like, “Let me try these like little abandon-y things,” and they’ve done well. It’s something I didn’t think to do and now I’ve changed it. It’s upticked quite a bit, at least for a small podcast TikTok.

I feel like in terms of privacy, data harvesting and all these issues, I have nothing to hide. My whole philosophy is I understand that if we extend this logical argument to the nth degree in terms of, are devices eavesdropping on us to only filling ads in our face, but ultimately perhaps certain government agencies are trying to figure out if we’re doing anything potentially nefarious. On the one hand, I’m going to cop to my beliefs, to my political views. Whoever that’s eavesdropping is not going to be like, “We got something dirty on Jason Wrobel.” I’m an open book in that regard.

Interestingly though, a good friend of mine got a visit from the FBI because she had been posting some content about defunding the police and Black Lives Matter every single day, multiple posts a day. She got a visitation from the FBI looking to investigate whether or not she was engaged in “domestic terrorism.” On the one hand, I have this fearlessness. I’m open about my beliefs, my political views, and my stance on things. This is an extremely close friend. I didn’t tell you about this Whitney. I won’t name who it is, but she was posting like, “Holy shit, I got a visit from the FBI. They were questioning me about this, that and the other.” It is interesting to think about who’s watching what we’re doing and how they’re interpreting what we’re posting and the context of our posts.

As long as the FBI subscribes and buys some merch, I’m cool with it.

Jason Wrobel, what has stopped you from harnessing the power of TikTok because I’ve been trying to encourage you to get on that platform for months? Every single day, I send you a TikTok video to watch but you are not into it.

I’m fucking lazy. Do you know what it feels like to me? Perhaps this is a misplaced expectation or fear or hesitation. It’s interesting we’re bringing up the heyday of YouTube because I get people like, “Did you see so and so blew up on TikTok and they weren’t even known before?” There are all this frivolity and happenstance, dog and pony show stuff where like, “This person got signed by WGA and CAA and so on.” I’m like, “Another platform?” There’s hesitation because I feel like there’s a burnout that I’ve gotten into, especially during COVID. Slowing down over COVID, we’ve been mashing the throttle on the show.

We put up three episodes a week and we’re getting some good momentum. There’s a part of me that I think about putting any substantive, consistent effort toward TikTok and my body is like, “Another fucking platform.” I feel like there’s a part of burnout with me and there’s a part of I feel creatively uninspired. I know there’s massive organic growth and I know it’s like get in before the ads take place and then it’s paid to play like every other platform. The idea of it feels exhausting to me, I’ll be honest.

The things that are even successful, it’s probably an existential crisis. The idea of trying to live up to the 2013, 2015 feeling is hard to do and very unfair to do to yourself. I’m sure everyone from the smallest to the biggest whatever feels that in some way within context. I am always trying to find that balance. When things are going well, I get very excited. Even when things are good and there’s no reason to complain, sometimes I’m like, “What does it matter?” I think that’s healthy in a sense because you’re not narrowly focused. Maybe your body is telling you and your mind is telling you that it’s okay not to do something.

There’s a distinct separation between financial motivation and creating for creativity’s sake. With the three of us, Whitney, I want to honor that you had a comment, but I don’t want to lose this point of there’s a new platform where maybe it’s not necessarily an avenue for monetization yet. People start jumping on it, “It’s the new hot platform, but we haven’t figured out a way to monetize it per se.” I’m curious what the line is, Jason and Whitney of, “I’m going to create, because I’m passionate about creating and this platform is giving me an avenue to share this creativity,” versus, “I need to make money and pay the bills and put food on the table and have my cocaine habit,” or whatever. That line between, “I’m going to do this thing because I know it’s going to make me the money,” versus, “I just want to funnel my creativity in this new avenue.” There’s not an expectation of monetizing it. The over-arching question is sure-fire monetization, “Maybe I don’t want to do this thing,” versus, “I want to be creative and not give a fuck about making money at it.”

I’m somewhere in the middle of that because I get very turned on by metrics and analytics and success. Money is important. You can argue depending on who or what, but the money goes back into the thing to keep the thing going whatever that is, whether it’s advertising or upgrading equipment or whatever. I get turned on way more by success in what I’m doing. It’s always been for me getting the most amount of people to experience or listen to what I have to offer than it is like, “How much money did I make this month?” Making money in a sense is easy. Getting a lot of people to take their time when they have so many other options to listen or to view whatever you have is intoxicating to me, I have to admit. That’s why I love analytics, why things work and don’t work.

That’s why social media is so exciting to me because that backend is fascinating because you can see people’s experiences and who provided the most accurate of why are they experiencing this? When are they experiencing it? Who has experienced it and why this and not this? Why did this video that took me ten minutes to make get four million views and this one I spent three days over at YouTube Space get over 11,000? It’s so fascinating, but I feel like the money comes when you have the other thing too. It’s like chicken or the egg or whatever. Success, and not money, but success in what I’m doing. I’d rather be the number one podcast and be the number 25th paid podcaster because, for me, there’s so much more fulfillment in that than having more money in the bank. Nobody can see what’s in your bank account, but everyone can see you are number one. That is a real stretch but that’s loosely how I think.

That makes complete sense. I think that’s part of the draw of TikTok for better or for worse. It’s such a different platform where it feels in a lot of ways easier to become successful there. Maybe we’re still in the heyday because YouTube felt like that at a period of time for me. Instagram, every once in a while. With Facebook, I went through stages where Facebook felt so easy. I remember it was effortless almost and I could predict what posts were going to do well. I put something out there and I get all these likes and comments and shares. I felt so enriched by that. There’s a sense of power that comes with these platforms too. The worst side of the better or worse equation is that you see a lot of people on TikTok get so in their ego or power-hungry.

MGU 129 | Content Creators Crises

Content Creators Crises: Whatever platform you use, the rules are the same. It all boils down to content and distribution.

 

I was thinking about how cliché it is, Jason, where you go on these and see somebody go “viral” on TikTok, which can mean a huge range of numbers and their very next post is this cliché, “So many people found you. Welcome to my channel.” They do this little intro and that video gets very little views or, “I’m so grateful for 15,000 followers. Thank you.” They’re doing this celebratory post and that is rampant on TikTok because one simple video can get a million views fairly easy, unlike any other platform. People get this taste of what that feels like and now they’re obsessed with getting that number again. Some people never experience it again. It’s like a one-hit-wonder type of scenario.

What’s great about TikTok in a sense because people always ask, “How do I make TikTok more successful?” They’ve created something. I don’t know what’s going on in their backend. I’ve taken meetings there and I’ve been there and I’ve discussed this with them, but it is an algorithm thing where the For You page is everything. Your followers, do they matter? Yeah, but no. You can have zero followers and get a million views on a TikTok.

What is great is you can have a consistent amount of views. You can have that million view one and the next one could theoretically be six views. This is now the new normal and it’s not the new normal. You can have a million views your first one and get theoretically zero for the rest of your career or your life. The reason probably it went viral is because you weren’t planning it to be viral. When you make a video going, “Thank you for 50,000 followers,” number one, that’s not content. If you say, “It’s been 50,000 days since I’ve had my last drink,” that’s different. You’re celebrating something that is not the reason why people are there. It’s this idea of like having to do that or way back, people are posting like, “What kind of content do you want to see from me?” Honestly, none is the answer.

Does Leonardo DiCaprio go, “What kind of movies do you want to see from me? Do you want to see some action? Do you want some science fiction or some old timey stuff?” Anyone who’s truly successful, they do what they do. Behind the scenes, there might be all this, “Our cooking videos lean into that a little bit,” but you don’t ask people. You give them what you want to give them. There’s always some behind the scenes stuff, but essentially you’re giving them what you’re giving them and it’s for them to take it or leave it. People ask unless it’s between two things, “Do you like it when I cook breakfast or dinner more?” When you’re like, “What do you want to see for me?” it’s never somebody that’s like, “You want to give your audience what they want.”

It’s somebody who does not have the audience in the first place. They don’t know what to post and they feel compelled to post something. They feel empty without posting. I’ve been that person. I try not to be that person and I will stop myself from being that person. Sometimes it’s difficult. It’s like people on any platform. They’re like, “I need to take a break. If you don’t hear from me, just DM me on these twelve different platforms, but I’m going to be off Facebook for a while.”

The opposite when they come back, they’re like, “I know it’s been a long time and I’m sorry for not creating a video in a while.”

You feel lonely, disconnected and you want to connect and seem interesting. Like my Facebook, I pick a personal page. I’ll not post for a couple of months and then I’ll do something. At this point, even though the book has just come out, I haven’t promoted it as much. Because one, the climate. I feel a little guilty about talking about myself even though I want to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not humble in that sense but I feel like sometimes there’s been bad taste. That’s why up until the point the book came out, I didn’t talk about it that much. Also because people are like, “Who cares?” They’d be like, “I know I haven’t been posting much.”

I was like, “Seven times a day I think is a lot but to you, it’s a little bit.” That’s the scary part. You posted more in two days than I have in six months, but you’re like, “I know I’ve been pretty quiet on here,” or it’s like, “What did I miss?” or they’ll take one day off and be like, “I’m back. It was a good break.” I was like, “You didn’t take a break. You were probably on it the whole time and you just didn’t post one day.” Seeing that kind of thing, I think people don’t see how transparent they’re being. I’m not above that. I am also that person.

Me too, I’ve done this. We have to use restraint.

I’m using all the restraint in the world not to seem vulnerable right now because I don’t want to bother people. I have this thing like, “I don’t want to bother you.” It’s like, “Ford, I don’t want to bother you to ask you for more money to go to Bonnaroo.” I had this thing where I feel like I’m bothering people or sometimes I know I’m bothering them, but it’s intentional. I know I’m bothering them. For the other times, I try to balance it out. I’m not going to not put any more digital carbon footprint out there of my annoying self. I go through those things where it’s like, “It’s existential. Who cares?” I haven’t put an Instagram Story up in a while. Nobody cares and nobody needs it. It’s not important.

They’re not sitting around like, “Where is Jason’s story?”

If somebody is that close to you, hopefully they have your phone number and can text or call you. The thing is, none of those people have that. Why would I need to get ahold of you? If I did, I would get a hold of you, but you’re making it seem so dramatic. It’s maybe because I’m connected to a lot of actors or entertainment types, but people are just like that in general. The different platforms are dramatic in their own different ways.

It was interesting for me too when Trump started to threaten banning TikTok. You could see the vulnerability in all these TikTokers because all over TikTok, there were those videos of, “If TikTok goes down, follow me on Instagram.” I thought that was so ironic. It was everywhere. Everybody was doing it. They were panicking clearly. They were trying to set up their backup plan but what I found so ironic about that is these very people have been bashing Instagram and saying like, “Instagram’s the worst. That’s why we’re on TikTok.” Now that they feel secure and TikTok, they’re back to bashing Instagram again. Now that Instagram has Reels, which is like their copy version of TikTok, myself included, I’m incredibly turned off by Instagram Reels at the beginning. There is still a lot to be determined, but it’s been funny how you got to see the truth of the experience.

Going back to what you were saying, Jason Horton, about bashing something. The very same thing you bash if something’s taken away from you and that thing that you’ve been bashing is all you have left. You’re back to that. You get to see the reality of you were never bashing something. It’s not that you didn’t like it. It’s just that you had an alternative to it. You chose not to depend on something, but if the thing that you’ve chosen has been taken away, you’re going to go to the alternative because that’s all you have left.

You’ve got to imagine being one of the people that are extremely popular at whatever level on something like TikTok, and you take that away, then what are they or at least how they’re thinking and it’s understandable. I get that, but I love going, “Make sure you follow me on Instagram.” The crossover from anything to anything is never that great. My TikTok Live notifications, it was like, “It’s N days and N times here. Make sure you follow me on Instagram for more stuff.” It was very panicky and I understand it, but it probably didn’t do that much because the reason they’re there is because of a perfect storm of TikTok and them and the content there happening within the feed of the other people they were following and It’s not the same experience on Instagram.

You may say, “It’s the same video.” It’s all about the user experience and that’s why these different things work in different ways. People don’t realize that. They might be like, “I don’t want to watch those videos on Instagram. On Instagram, I like to see sketches or whatever I like to see on there.” It’s interesting. It’s understandable. You’re vulnerable and you feel like you’ve worked so hard on something and it can be. That’s their right to do that and it’s a very precarious place to invest everything in.

This is endemic of the whole digital media culture though is that these corporations, these billion-dollar, who knows if it’s going to get to trillion-dollar valued companies are the gatekeepers. They’re the overlords in the sense that as you’re detailing, Jason and Whitney, that depending on how this thing goes with Trump and is TikTok going to get bought by Microsoft or some American company. As cliche as it is to bring this up and I know they still exist but it’s not like it was many years ago. With Myspace, everyone was putting all their chips in their basket of Myspace years ago, myself included. I was putting my music out there when I was doing all that. I remember seeing people before anybody knew who he was. Macklemore who’s this white rapper dude from Seattle. They can pull the plug literally at any moment. I think what it comes down to for me mentally and spiritually like my sense of self-worth, my sense of identity is that if we look at social media as a way to chase attention, approval and significance and we tie our identity and our ego in our sense of attention, approval and significance, when those things get taken away, what does that do to our inner state?

For people that have millions of followers on TikTok, and let’s say it does crash and burn in the next month or 45 days, whatever it is, what’s that going to do to a person mentally? What’s that going to do to their emotional state? To me, the ongoing challenge or opportunity is, how can I continue to put out content, but not be attached to the outcome and to how I perceive myself based on my success or lack of success? Because if we don’t do that in our work, for me at least, then I’m on a constant fucking hamster wheel and rollercoaster of, “They love me. I must be worth something because look at my numbers.” It’s such a constant feeding of our ego and our sense of self. Also, on some level hijacking our brain chemistry with all this stuff.

It used to be how much money you made, which is still obviously a thing. It’s still a Litmus test, but a lot of the people that are on TikTok and they get millions and millions of views and traffic, they’re theoretically making no money. That’s okay for them because the value is the ego and you could see it in real-world and show people. You maybe can’t run around and go, “Look at my bank statement.” You can buy things with that money and that shows that you have a nice car. I feel like a different wheel. You’re working for free on TikTok. It doesn’t matter how famous you are. There is no way to make money on TikTok with just playing video. Everyone has been asking about that and people are fine with that. Myself, one of them. I think that’s a different kind of currency or something. It’s a different rollercoaster or a different hamster wheel.

It’s feeding you in a different way. One thing I wanted to chat with both of you because we’ve all been through this process is the book writing side of things. It’s interesting when you talk about monetization, how as content creators, there is this constant thought process of, “How do I monetize this? Do I monetize it through ads? Do I monetize it through sponsors or affiliates or merchandise?” We’ve all kind of experimented with different elements of that. Book writing is one of those avenues you could take. Did your book come out of a passion project or was it frankly a monetization avenue for you? How did that whole process get developed? How long did you work on the book before it came out? The title is Abandoned and Historic Los Angeles. Tell us the story of how this book came to be and why did you decide to write it?

How it came to be is because of Ghost Town, the podcast, which found a lot of success very quickly and got a lot of attention very early on, very quickly. It spoiled me. Full disclosure, we have not been able to live up to it since then. We had got a really big agent from it, like a top-three agent, which I guess we technically still have in theory. We’ve got a TV development deal based on the podcast and had all the things that happen that don’t happen. The idea of people carrying that much was very exciting. From the world of YouTube, people put out books. There’s something about books that is old school. When I saw people had a book, I was like, “That’s impressive.” All those pages with those words and pictures and a printing press made them. In school, we had books. What books are you reading? Are you reading your books? The Book of the Month club.

In an old school way, I was like, “I want to check off a bucket list. I want to have a book published and that was it. I wanted it to happen. In one of those meetings with the agents, I said, “I wanted to make a book.” They were like, “That’s great. It’ll be easier for you to get a TV show than the book.” I found that so strange. I was like, “What? How is that possible?” In my mind, I was like, “I’m getting the book published and that’s it.” I don’t know how I’m going to do it. I don’t know how it happens. I don’t know how it works. I don’t know how to read so I’m like, “I don’t know what’s going on,” but I just wanted to have a book published. Do you remember seeing, and they still do, influencers and YouTubers writing books? Those were always hit or miss.

Like Shane Dawson or Grace Helbig, I immediately think of them.

Sometimes it’s cookbooks or their makeup guides. Some of them are like, “I’m 22. I’m about to give you some life lessons, even though pretty much most of my experience has been making YouTube videos. Let me give you some advice.” You can be fifteen years old and live a thousand lifetimes. You can live to be 700 years old and never lived one. I get that. It’s not a matter of an age thing, but sometimes it is. I was like, “I don’t want dating advice from somebody who’s only dated the person they met in high school.” For example, Mark Maron, I gravitate to him but I was apprehensive because of the comedy scene and the vibe I got from him from the comedy scene. I was like, “Ah.”

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The fact that he was older than me and had a second start in his mid-40s, that’s when he started his podcast. The fact that he felt that he was at the bottom and that he resucceeded in this thing. Using the word inspired is limited for me, but I was so inspired by him because it was somebody that was around my age going through the same thing I was going through. 2017 was rough for me or whatever and at that time it was like the perfect time for me to take that in. That’s somebody that I got very invested in.

The people he was talking to is great, but I was invested in him. Most people are like, “Skip your personal stuff.” I was like, “No, I want to hear the personal stuff because I want somebody talking about being 45 years old and talking about the feeling of starting again because I’m that age.” At that time, it was that age. I bought his book and that was one of those things. I was like, “That’s how you get someone to buy a book. That’s how you get someone to buy merchandise.” When I mentioned that previously, that was the example. I don’t want a rich person to tell me how to not be poor and you’ve never been poor. it’s like inspiration porn, people call it, or the tragedy porn.

I don’t know much about him. He seems like a great guy. People love him. I’m sure he’s great. Somebody like Gary Vee and it’s a lot of this circular talk. Even though he’s saying probably a ton of things and he’s successful in his own right. People love Tony Robbins, which is great. I feel that those things wear off. Live your potential and do three things a day for yourself. You get high from that from a couple of days and I’m really into a cultish culture. There were findings of people that go to the seminars to get this information. It’s great for that day and the day after but by day three, they start to wind down and they lose it again.

It’s totally off the subject, but it’s those kinds of things that I always found in books and stuff like that. I never got much out of them, but to be fair, I didn’t read a lot of them. I want it to be one of those people that put out a book. I didn’t know what. I started doing personal essays about my life. I was like, “I’m in my mid-40s,” but then the fact that people were interested in the podcast. A publisher reached out based on the podcast and was like, “Do you want to do a Ghost Town book?”

I talked to my co-host Rebecca and we didn’t feel like it was going to be the best place for us to do this. I was like, “I’m particularly very interested in a very specific thing. I can do a book on that.” They have these different publishers and categories or whatever. They’re like, “This fits this thing.” I wrote a treatment, which I was like, “I don’t know what that is.” I’m always been pretty good at selling myself and knowing what I’m enthusiastic about, which I think is key. People ask why our podcast is successful. I believe it’s the information, enthusiasm, chemistry and all that. You guys have that but would you maybe had that if you met yesterday?

It’s the investment you made over the years working together. The same with the Ghost Town. People like, “How is that your chemistry so good?” It’s like, “We’ve been working, writing and performing together for like many years.” You can’t manufacture that in a day or a week or a month. Those are those things that are happening behind the scenes that make things successful. With the book, I was very interested in this. I’m going to be interested in this, whether I have a book or not and that’s what makes it less like work, but it becomes like work.

I love Los Angeles and the history of it. People are like, “LA doesn’t have any culture,” and it drives me up the wall, the elitist attitude about it. For me, it was like, I wanted to take all the things as much as I could that was historic, abandoned and gritty and vintage, which I love. I love neon and then I was like, “I can write about LA. I don’t want to hear from myself for all the pages or the words I need.” I reached out to people. It was supposed to be just musicians, but I reached out to celebrity types. I was like, “I think you’re great. I’ve reached out to a lot of people and some don’t reply. Some say no, some say yes and there’s no follow up,” but it’s understanding because they’re probably like, “What do you want?”

I’m like, “Just know what I want and give it to me,” which is part of my problem when I work on stuff. I have their essays and my essays. It’s all in a celebration of Los Angeles and people like coffee table books. They like photo books. They like travel and they like hearing stories. I was like, “If I put that all together in a nice little book, I feel like it’ll be interesting enough for me to suggest somebody to pick it up or purchase it or read it,” or whatever the case may be. Over the few years with no experience with it, I made happen, but that’s only from the generosity of other people who had no idea what it was going to be. There’s no end result. In my mind, I knew the end result. The book was finished in my head and I worked backwards and it changed a little bit but that’s what I did.

I was like, “Just know what’s in my head.” I found a lot of great photographers, which is easy to find online. People that are already enthusiastic and putting this stuff out for free. Reaching out to some people that maybe I had on the podcast previous or different people or people that I’m like, “I should reach out to this person and see what they say,” and get their anecdotes and what they love about Los Angeles. It was very easy to talk about how shitty Los Angeles can be, especially now in a sense. I was like, “I wanted to just celebrate.” When the book started, it was not in the climate we’re in right now and I’m still sticking by LA, even though I’ve been a little disappointed in it lately. I have faith in the people and the communities and stuff like that. People ask like, “What’s the last book you read?” You can say this one because it’ll be very easy. There’s not a lot of words so you can seem smart.

Is it a picture book?

Yeah, a lot of photos and essays. It’s 96 pages. That’s the format they had for it. I couldn’t fit everything I wanted, but there wasn’t that much more to fit. I could do a part two very easily.

Part two on malls.

Part two was already been proposed and is already happening.

Part three better be the malls.

It can be part nineteen because I’m doing fan fiction.

You are serious about being a published author and it’s funny you bring up your feelings about Los Angeles because I feel like Jason Wrobel can chime in on this part.

How do I even begin? LA has been good to me. I’ve been here almost fourteen years and I spent a lot of time here as a kid because my dad was acting and doing some drug deals and things like that. He was very successful. This year in particular has turned me in a direction of like, “I think I’m ready to leave LA.” That might sound weird because I have so many wonderful friends here and so many great connections and it has been good to me over the last several years. I think by virtue of not blaming LA because that feels shitty and reductive and not fair. I’ve been a big city guy my whole life and I feel like I’ve just spent so much time indoors in 2020 for obvious reasons that I’m craving a lot more nature. I don’t know if that means I’m going to like to move to Big Bear or Ojai or find a ranch. I don’t know what the hell is going to happen, but it’s not like I hate LA. It’s more like, I think I’m done with city life. After many years of the city to city to city, Detroit, Chicago, LA, New York, London, I’m burnt on the city and it so happens that I’m in LA, which is a city.

The fact that you’ve been here for many years is a huge success because a lot of people don’t hack it that long. If they do, they don’t find a lot of experience in enrichment. Also, it’s interesting because what we’re doing right now, we don’t need to be in LA to do it at all. We could do it anywhere and that’s what’s great about technology and what we do. Any city is a tough city to be in. It’s super competitive and it’s got a lot of problems. I’m also with nature and stuff like that. I was born in New Jersey. I grew up in New York and San Diego and here. What do I know about nature? We’re around the same age. We’re maybe at a point where you get a little bit older. It’s like, “I want to go to the woods or go camping.” I think that’s just being like a human being that knows that there’s a world out there. We’re not too successful or too consumed with anything that we can’t see the bigger picture, which I think is a great place to be. Somebody else might be like, “I’m on a roll. I’ve got time for a family later. I’ve got time for friends later. I’ve got time for balance later.”

For better or for worse where those people end up, maybe with nothing, maybe with everything, maybe they find that balance. For us that have the luxury, you can stay here if you want to and then you’ll also have the luxury to do something else where some people feel, “I got to be here. If I’m not here, I’m not making it.” That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself too especially when you grow up and start to know things. My in-laws live here too. The rest of my family is in New York, in New Jersey but I also have a family here, I guess you can call it.

They for the most part grew up in the Valley. I feel that I’m kind of reinforced by that, which solidifies that for me. There’s nowhere else I’d rather go. London would be great. I love Europe. I think it’s when people are like, “This place sucks anyway.” It wasn’t like, “I didn’t give it my all and it didn’t give me anything back,” but also it’s like, “I’m only leaving because it sucks. I’m going to go wherever.” I think that’s different like TikTok. It’s like, “I don’t get it. It’s not going to do anything for me so it’s bad. Anyone who uses it is bad.” I think it’s a different story but maybe the book will help. I prescribe twenty copies of the book and some Ghost Town merchandise. I think it might be what is the perfect synergy for you right now.

I didn’t realize you were a doctor too, Jason Horton.

I’m a doctor of rock and roll. You didn’t know that?

Dr. Feel Good.

Also, a doctor of love.

MGU 129 | Content Creators CrisesA city that you live in or a town or wherever the readers or any of us, it’s a relationship like any other. With LA, I feel like there’s a characterization of almost like, “We’ve been together for many years and it’s been good. I feel like we both benefited a lot from this, but I feel like we’re reaching the tail-end of something.” There’s been a part of me that’s like, “No, I need to rekindle the flame. I need to find new parts of LA.” One thing that I’ve been doing during the whole COVID situation is I would take my motorcycle out, especially on a Sunday where there’s very little traffic and I can weave around the city in this weird dystopian. No one is on the street. It’s just me and my motorcycle.

It’s been like, “I’m falling in love with LA maybe, but maybe not because it’s a little bit of a dystopian weirdness here.” I guess my whole point is I’ve tried to rekindle my love for LA almost like a relationship that might be nearing its end. I don’t know that I’ve been able to do it successfully. It still feels to me like, “I think we might be at the tail-end of this thing, LA. I love you. It’s not for lack of love. I feel like we’re on the tail-end of it and I don’t know that it’s going to be rekindled.” I think I’m okay with that. I think it might be time for me to go somewhere new and explore.

Maybe being away from it, you might appreciate it even more, being out of it. I can only imagine it. Plus, I feel like you can still do LA business in other places. That’s a true thing. Are you going to Denver?

It’s funny. Speaking of road trips going back to the Fiesta Movement reference at the beginning, but Whitney and I did a killer road trip last fall.

It was last August of 2019.

Colorado is gorgeous. Utah is gorgeous and parts of Nevada, but what I fell in love with was I did a speaking appearance last November 2019 in Washington and Oregon. I got to say that there was something about the Pacific Northwest. I like the climate, the mountains, the air quality. Oregon and Washington grabbed my attention. I was like, “I’m going to investigate this.” I want to go back and get the lay of the land with real estate and get a deeper sense of it. It could be that I go and I regret it and go, “I miss LA.” The Pacific Northwest, there’s something cool about that part of the country that I like.

I don’t think that’s bad. I think that’s a great place. I’m very interested in checking it out myself. I get a little bummed out when people go, and I can tell they don’t want to leave and they have to go back to their hometown, which has nothing wrong with our hometown. Their hometown might be great. It is like a huge bummer, but I see that. I get sad because I’ve always thought, “How far away am I from like being homeless?” Those are my own negative thoughts, but sometimes when times are tough, you don’t know what to do. I don’t mention it online because the last thing I want to do is show how vulnerable I am. Let’s go there so I can maybe do a book on there and capitalize on the Pacific Northwest.

I was thinking the same thing. I was also hoping though all this talk about Los Angeles and your book and all this talk about TikTok, maybe you’ll convince Jason to stay in Los Angeles and join TikTok and join our side of this content creator LA life.

Imagine TikTok is your motorcycle and your helmet is Studio City. Think of it that way and shake things up a little bit. I don’t know.

It’s a weird time for me and I feel like I’m probably entering my Mark Maron mid-40s. I don’t even want to characterize it as a midlife crisis because that’s too pedantic and negative. I can feel like I’m in my early to mid-40s now and there’s a lot changing. Rather than looking at it as a negative thing of like, “You’re changing your priorities. Your values are changing,” but they are. What I find important and compelling and where I want to spend my time is changing. Rather than lament the past or hope for days gone by, we have been talking about the peak of our YouTube days. I don’t know that I miss it necessarily, but I’m curious to see where things are going to shift for me because I do feel as I get older that things, priorities and values are changing for me. It’s not a bad thing necessarily.

People feel beholden to like, “I got to be here. I got to keep trying to audition. I got to keep trying to make my podcast big or my YouTube channel big or try to be my writing career.” People are hard on themselves. Even people that are successful in any way are hard on themselves. It’s not fair but I guess if everyone that moved to LA stayed in LA, it would be a lot more crowded. I guess it’s a way to keep things harmonious, I guess.

The same thing is true with social media. If everybody stayed on YouTube, there would be no one on TikTok perhaps. It’s constantly shifting because we are on the level of the old school TikTokers. A lot of the people that each of us knew and did collaborations with were OGs and now there’s a whole new reign of different YouTubers on there. The culture is constantly changing. The same thing will happen with TikTok. It’s happened with Facebook and Instagram. It’s like where you live. It’s a fluid process of evolution. It’s so interesting to check in with people like you, Jason Horton specifically, because we all have similar nostalgia on that sense of how things have shifted online, how life changes living in Los Angeles and all the different experiences that each of us has had. We’re so grateful to have you be a part of this dialogue about all of those things. I know you’ve tried your hardest not to be vulnerable, but I think that you have a little bit. I don’t want to call you out on it and make you uncomfortable, but then we wouldn’t be fulfilling the title of the show, which is all about getting uncomfortable. If you did get uncomfortable, I am kind of glad to know that.

Normally, I save my vulnerability and comfortability behind a paywall so I can make cash off of it.

That’s a good tactic. We gave people like a little peek into it. Which paywall do you like to use for your vulnerability? OnlyFans?

I go old school. I do Pornhub. That’s where all my other stuff is that I’m trying out, my experimentation. If I could sell my book, I’m open and I’m happy to do it. You go where the people are. True Crime and history and things that could be a little bit older, Facebook is a great place for that. There is a very vibrant culture there. Right now, I’m working on building up the fan page for Ghost Town. It’s gone up 72,000% or something on Facebook, but there was not much going on. Anything is good, but when I want to promote a book, that’ll be a great place to do it. If you want to see my belly dancing tutorials, TikTok might be a better place for that.

You’re following Gary Vee’s advice, which is to be everywhere, or at least that was his old school advice. You’re doing a good job at diversifying your content and spreading it across the internet and that’s wonderful if it nourishes you. It doesn’t nourish Jason Wrobel to be on all these different platforms as it does for you and me, Jason. I’m into Pinterest these days. Speaking of looking at metrics, that’s been very satisfying to experiment there. Do you use Pinterest much?

I go through phases, but at one point I had 2.5 million impressions a month on Pinterest.

That’s legit. I’m hoping for that day.

I haven’t kept up on it. It’s not there now, but I do get a decent amount of traffic, but the thing is I go through phases. It’s like I have a bunch of different relationships. It’s like, “This week, I’m all about you, Pinterest. Facebook, do you remember when we used to hook up?” It is a flavor of the week for me that gets me excited. Again, Pinterest does generate a lot of traffic, but I don’t feel like doing anything right now. I will a little bit if you feel like you have to or you have to do a little bit of something. You try to be everywhere, but you can’t be 100% everywhere even if you have a team of people helping because it’s not you.

If you are like, “Post these things. Pick one of these things and write up something.” Even though it’s your account, it’s not you. I heard this thing from this Krishna person that I was listening to. I’m not religious or whatever, but he said something interesting. You are food people. You probably appreciate this better than me who eats things out of a microwave or garbage cans sometimes. When I’m like, “I’ll throw this out. I’m not going to eat it.” It’s on the top of the garbage can. I’m going to eat it anyway because I’m disgusting.

For you, food people, who care, when they talk about food that’s made with love, you eat that food that is made with love. It fills you with something other than things that are made like fast food or in a microwave in a bag. You shove it in the microwave and you press the button and you yank it open and just shove it in your mouth because you’re in a rush. It’s different than food that is made with love and you eating that food that is made with love. It nourishes you with love and health and vibrancy. These are things that you already know. When I heard that, I was like, “That is so interesting.” Home-cooked meal, it’s made with love or things that I thought were like to sell you on something. I didn’t realize that if you boil it down, that’s a really kind of interesting thing.

I feel like with your social media accounts, when I’m uploading it myself, I’m in some way doing it with love. If you are using an automated thing, which is fine, because it’s hard to do all this work, it’s not made with love. There’s a synergy between a different piece of content or customized. The same content but customized for each different account and you’re uploading it yourself. That hands-on thing is the way I’ve always done things. I feel like I had that connection and for me, I feel like sometimes that’s why it works.

I think Jason Wrobel has the same philosophy, but he’s just been so burnt out.

I can't define who i am right now because i don't know what the landscape is going to be. Click To Tweet

I think what you hit on Jason is right on for me because I feel like if I can’t put, I don’t want to say my all. That’s a little cliche, but love is great. You hit it on the head. If I’m not invested emotionally and I’m not putting love into a video, I’d rather not do a video at all. Because I know that it will come across on camera that I kinda don’t give a shit or my heart is not in it. If my heart is not in it, I would rather do nothing at all.

I’m the same way because people would ask me like, “Why aren’t you doing this or that?” I think I also was very conditioned to say yes to everything because I felt like either I was missing out or nobody was asking me to do things, especially very early on pre-YouTube. I was conditioned to feel that if I didn’t ask somebody to do something, no one would want to do it with me. I got to a point where people did ask me and I was compelled to say yes to everything because I didn’t want to miss out. I wanted to scratch every lottery ticket or whatever the case may be.

I then got to a point where it was like, “No, I don’t want to do it.” There are things that have been decent where I was like, “I don’t feel like doing it. I don’t care how much it pays.” I do care how much it pays, but it was a thing were maybe five years ago I would’ve said yes, but I’m like, “I’m too tired.” I get more joy out of doing something else and what does it all mean for an extra $500, $200 when I could be doing something else? I keep my balance and sanity and I can continue to work and produce and put things out on a more evenly keeled basis.

It reminds me of the conversation we had, Whitney, in a previous episode about this very thing of boundaries and saying yes and no to things. Yes, beyond money, which grants us freedom and access and food and the essentials to live in our societal structure. It becomes clear to me that if I’m not excited about something or can’t find joy in it or it doesn’t light me up in a certain way, if I do say yes to it, Jason, I know that I won’t be proud of the end result. Even if I get paid for it, there’s a level of integrity beyond it. I think as a creator and artist that it’s like, “I got paid X amount of money for this thing.” If I look at that piece of content and I’m like, “I phoned it in. I faked it. I did it for the camera,” I feel awful about what I’ve put out because I knew that I wasn’t able to put my heart and my true spirit into it. The money in a way, it’s not that it’s irrelevant, but I’ll never feel good about that piece of content knowing that I phoned it in.

Even though other people can’t see it, you can look into your own eyes and be like, “I’m checked out emotionally.” You could fake it. I think people are pretty good at seeing those things, but it might be something little where you can look at it and be like, “Even though it did the job, it’s fine.” People aren’t looking at it the same way I’m looking at it, but you look at it and you can look into that. Also, I don’t want to blame it on getting older, but I get tired. I don’t know if my brain is too old and not supple enough to absorb any more technology or information or what I need to do. Sometimes I think, “I just want to go look at some trees, redwoods or something. I want to chop some wood. I like sanding and painting chairs,” like a midlife crisis stuff.

I’ve been doing a lot of that and Zen-ing out with that. Whereas maybe in 2013, 2015, I was like, “I’m not going to sand some stupid chairs. I’ll go buy one at IKEA.” I was like, “I can’t go to Bonnaroo,” but now I feel like I’m old and tired. Sometimes I have a ton of energy and sometimes I don’t have any. Sometimes the things that I love doing, I love it, but I don’t feel like doing it right now. Maybe I’m going to give myself a break and in that, I’m hoping I’m finding the balance and sanity to be able to continuously do this for longer instead of being like, “I’m out of here. I’m going to live in a cabin.” I think that might be what happens to some people. I don’t know.

It’s interesting because I’ve been looking at cabins on Zillow all weekend. This also brings up a little bit of an offshoot of the introvert/extrovert conversation. We had a previous podcast with a friend of ours, Monica Schrock. I’m curious Jason for you and Whitney you can chime in. I already know your perspective, but maybe Jason doesn’t know the aspects of you. The introversion/extroversion conversation. Where do you find yourself on the spectrum, Jason, in terms of being an artist, a creator, but also Zen-ning out, refurbishing these chairs? What’s your energetic balance by putting yourself out as maybe some people would perceive you as an extrovert, but are you?

No, especially the last couple of years and I think that was just for the lack of balance I’ve had and the lack of a lot of different things, but I became very much like a hermit. I’d go to work but I wouldn’t hang out with anybody. I wouldn’t make anything I wouldn’t do anything and then I got very easily caught in that rut. What we’re going through right now is what I was doing very voluntarily. For me, where it was easy for me to say yes, it was easy for me to say no. It was very easy not to leave the house or to not do something. Whereas before it was so hard for me to say no. I want to say yes and it changed.

Whatever I was lacking caught up to me, but I think I’ve become a little bit of where I don’t necessarily need to be. If I’m not there, I’m missing out on something. I’ve tried to learn to let that go, but also allow myself to not take the easy road. I was doing standup up until a couple of months ago. One of the things I mentioned was how do you make guy friends to hang out with? I don’t know how you do that. Literally, anybody in the audience can be one of my five closest friends easily because I didn’t have any. It was like that idea of like, “I don’t know how to do that as you get older and a lot of those things. If I have to be, I’ll talk forever about anything to anyone, but then there are some times where I was like, “I don’t want to be bothered.” Fortunately, I’m not successful or in-demand enough where I need to be forced out too much is one of the benefits or I’m not getting dragged online. I would say I’m more of an introvert physically, but I’m an open book extrovert information-wise.

That sounds a lot like me as well. I can relate to that. I identify as an introvert and I think sometimes it gives mean out or a way to explain when I feel low energy. Similar to what you were saying, I also have been observing my energy and that’s something we talk a lot about on the show of what drains me and what gives me energy and what helps me motivate. Do I need to take a break and finding all that balance? It is a continuous search and who knows, maybe it is a process of getting older, but we’re also living in such odd circumstances that there’s a lot to deal with mentally that we’re not used to. With all of us being content creators, I think coming back to this existential crisis or the search for identity and trying not to be too in our ego and figuring out why we’re doing something and what our motivations are. It’s an ongoing search where we’re trying to understand what makes us feel good and what’s important to us.

To put a tiny positive spin, which is hard to do about what’s going on right now. There’s not much positive about it, but I found that it has inadvertently leveled the playing field for everybody, whether you’re the biggest movie star on earth or whether you’re me. Everyone’s forced to be within themselves. I don’t think it’s worth it for all the other negative things that are happening out there in the struggles and situations. Right now, how we feel is probably how a huge celebrity feels because who are they without making their multimillion-dollar movie? That’s where they make their dumb videos and think it’s helpful like a singing Imagine or some dumb thing, because they’re probably like, “Who am I if I’m not a celebrity.” It’s a human thing. They are not bad people and I have nothing against them. They are good, fine people but it’s this thing where for them, it’s like, “If I’m not making a movie or promoting a movie or being interviewed for a movie, an album or whatever.” Plus, there are financial struggles.

It’s an interesting thing that you’re in the same place I’m in which very probably rarely happens. I feel good about not feeling like I had to do things. I was always like, “I got to do stand-up comedy at least once or twice a week or I’m not doing comedy.” These things have been for me a little bit helpful at times, but also I have all the time in the world to do things. Sometimes I’m so fatigued and emotionally drained of what the world outside is like that it’s hard for me to like, “Who cares about the stupid thing you’re going to do?” The world’s crumbling around you. People are suffering and you are like, “Why?” Sometimes I’m high on what I’m doing.

I’m like, “I love this.” There are a lot of real highs and lows. I’m trying to even out and I think they are evening out, but when everything’s so uncertain, I can’t even define what I’m doing or who I am right now. I can’t define it because I don’t know what the landscape’s going to be in one month, two months, six months, a year, two years or five years. It’s a weird and interesting place that I both found comfort in, but also on the flip side lose a lot of comfort.

It’s almost like all this externality and titles, awards, and accolades. all this external labeling, it’s stripping away this false sense of identity for us which it does seem like for a lot of people the playing field is pretty even right now. It’s almost like the question of without the titles, the labels, the awards, the money, the adulation, the celebrity, who are you without all that stuff? For some people, they’ve never been able to answer that question. People come from somewhat humble beginnings and they get all this massive, crazy success and they forgot what those humble beginnings were like. I feel like this whole thing is an interesting opportunity for us to strip away the layers of all that and get to the core of maybe what matters. Acknowledging that it changes and that evolves and that shifts as we go on. There is nothing wrong with it. On that note, as we hurdle towards the end, it’s been great to reconnect. I know it had been a few years since you and I had chopped it up. Thanks for going deep with us and sharing your brand-new book.

That reminded me of the last time I saw you in person, Jason. It’s funny because we’ve run into each other in so many random content creator experiences, like at YouTube Space. The last time I think I saw you in person was when we went to the Friends pop-up at Coffee Bean. It was the summer or fall of 2019. We got invited to go and do some photos at the Friends pop-up. We did that time-lapse and we were talking about TikTok back then. That was right before I started using TikTok.

I was pushing it back. I was seeing how many cookies I can shove in my mouth. A photo that I posted, Coffee Bean used that photo from my Instagram on their social media.

You made it big.

They got it for free. Consider it a donation, but that’s an example where somebody might look at that and be like, “This guy must be pretty important for this company to use this. Maybe we want to work with him,” and it’s bullshit to know what’s going on behind it. I wasn’t even invited to that thing. I went as a guest.

Neither was I.

These are examples of how manufactured things are and it’s okay. It’s the idea or the perception of who you are and what you are. Even when I look at people, I’m like, “They have to be happy. Their movie comes out tomorrow. There’s no way that they’re not happy because I know I would be very happy.” Somebody might be looking at me or us driving around our Fords and like, “They have to be happy,” and I was.

That was the best time of our lives.

The gas was free. I was happy.

They might look at you with your published book and say, “That guy’s a published author. He must be happy.”

I will say, “As an author,” and deliver my information so they will know it.

MGU 129 | Content Creators Crises

 

There are many little nooks and crannies of this world that we can continue to explore, but for now, we will wrap here and we are grateful to discuss all the different elements of what it means to be a content creator and published authors most importantly in this world.

Thank you for giving me an opportunity to promote myself. You gave me the opportunity to open up to promote all my links. I’m glad to talk to people, have a conversation about people. I’ve been thinking about getting my motorcycle license for years and Jason talked about riding a motorcycle. Now, I’m thinking again, “I got to get my motorcycle license.” Having conversations with humans outside of whatever has probably been good for me.

I’m sure it goes both ways. You both being comedians and all that. I was thinking you should hang out. This is me trying to make some friends.

Bromance and also, I need a riding buddy, Jason. I’m going to keep inching you towards that motorcycle license so I have a new friend to ride with.

I’ll be hitting you up to find out the ins and outs of getting the course and stuff like that.

For sure, I’d be happy to!

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