Caspar Lee: ‘You Can’t Please Everyone When You’re Doing Comedy’
The social media sensation on offending people, dealing with Internet hate and what it means to be a viral YouTuber
After years of watching Caspar Lee’s rise to viral fame via YouTube, it’s a slightly surreal experience to shake his hand and sit down for a conversation on his recent stop in Mumbai. Lee, whose channel currently boasts more than seven million subscribers, doesn’t disappoint. He is every bit the funny, adventurous and friendly goofball he appears to be in his videos, but he carries himself with a certain shyness that isn’t apparent online. “It’s very inspiring to hear people have been impacted by the Internet and the platform it’s given,” he says when asked about the thousands of fans who credit him for brightening their days with his comedy. “I’m just very lucky to be on it.”
Lee started his eponymous YouTube channel in 2011 and began to gain popularity through collaborations, pranks and self-deprecating comedy. His videos with fellow YouTuber and roommate Joe Sugg led to an explosion of viral fame from 2014 onward. The two even started a production company and released their own travel diary-esque film Joe & Caspar Hit the Road. However, Lee remains most famous for his refreshing and hilarious collaborations; his powerful online presence has gained him guest-stars like British actress Cara Delevingne, American actor/comedian Kevin Hart and most recently, English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran. “That was crazy,” Lee says about having the “Shape of You” hit-maker over for a session of ‘Brain Freeze’ (a popular and highly ridiculous game Lee created). “He came to my apartment and he was sitting on my toilet playing ‘Brain Freeze’ with me and [YouTuber] Josh [Pieters]. It was really fun.”
Lee finally made his India debut in Mumbai for the country’s fourth annual YouTube Fan Fest last month. After taking in the local sights and planning collaborations with Indian YouTubers, he caught up with Rolling Stone India on the phone right before going onstage. In the exclusive interview that followed, Lee talks about what lies behind being a YouTuber, facing a new audience for the first time (“The more we’re talking about it the more I’m getting nervous”) and feeling a sense of responsibility as an entertainer.
A lot of your success comes from collaborations–are there any Indian comedians or stars you want to work with?
I collab-ed with Mumbiker Nikhil and there’s BB Ki Vines [led by New Delhi comedian Bhuvan Bam] who is really popular at the moment. His videos are really funny. I don’t understand what he’s saying, but he’s got charisma!
How do you translate comedy from a video to an onstage performance for a live audience?
That’s a good question! I just think of a good video that could work live, so ‘Brain Freeze’ is something that I do onstage. I also collaborate with a lot of people, local creators and just do a concept that works for everyone.
With so many creators coming in every minute of every day, how do you draw in new audiences and keep your old audience entertained? What is the balance you need to have?
It’s really difficult because honestly, I started when I was 16 and I’ve grown up; everyone changes as they grow up, even your audience. I feel like I juggle a lot. One week I’ll do something that I know my normal fan base will really like and then another week I’ll experiment with something that I think a new audience might enjoy. I try not to do similar videos so I’m either going outside or doing something like a travel-type video or celebrity interviews and then I’d do some sort of skit… It depends. A lot of YouTubers do very well just by sticking to what they’re really good at but I just want to keep trying new things and find out if I can figure out new formats that people might enjoy more.
What’s something that people don’t know about being a YouTuber?
I think they see the videos and stuff, but there are a lot of other things we try to do. I’ve got a production company with Joe Sugg [Raucous Productions] and there’s tons of work that’s going into that now. We haven’t released anything since Hit The Road… so we’re working on a couple of projects. So yeah, there’s a lot of stuff we do outside videos which take up a lot of time. It looks like I’m just making a five-minute video per week but I’m spending six to seven days a week working on other stuff– which I really enjoy. I don’t think people realize how much goes into it.
Does being a YouTuber ever take away from your personal life?
Sometimes, people just create things that aren’t there. Nothing like that has ever come out publicly, but I hear things every now and then from friends and I’m like, “No, that’s not true.” That’s the only thing I don’t like, but my viewers are pretty cool. Also, sometimes, you’ll see stuff you don’t like in the comments and sometimes, people won’t get what you’re trying to do and they get the wrong idea, but you can’t really respond to it.
I was about to ask about that–how do you deal with hate online? How does it compare to when you first started versus now?
It’s a lot easier for people to dislike stuff when you have a bigger audience. When I was starting out, it would only be my subscribers who would watch, so there was a lot of positivity. But when you have such big views in a video, a lot more strangers might come in contact with it and they might not agree with you or like what they’re seeing. So there is a bit more negativity. But at the end of the day, I’m very happy. I’m a positive person and I kind of laugh at the negative comments.
You have a platform of eight million plus on YouTube and over 10 million on social media–do you ever feel like you have a sense of responsibility as an entertainer to send out the right message?
Yeah, I do. I do try not to offend people and I try to spread positive messages and get people to know every now and then about things that are happening in the world. But I think my main goal is to make people laugh and so I try my best to be funny. I kind of usually offend myself when I’m making jokes, not others, or maybe make a joke about a friend. But every now and then, you can’t please everyone when you’re doing comedy.
Watch Caspar Lee’s ‘Brain Freeze’ with Ed Sheeran below: