YouTuber Brandon Rogers
By Denny Patterson
You may not know Brandon Rogers by name, but you will surely recognize his YouTube videos. Known for sketches, vlogs, and web series that are often considered to be crass and offensive, the dark humor is what draws in audiences. Brandon’s YouTube channel has over 4.2 million subscribers and 600 million views. His videos have been shared via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, anywhere you can think of. Some of his most notable characters include a cantankerous and slightly dimwitted Grandpa, a detention teacher known as Hall Monitor Helen, a dysfunctional mother of three children, a blind fashion designer named Jurgen Klausvonschwitz, a CEO named Bryce Tankthrust and a feminine straight man named Sam who lives with his blunt roommate, Donna. Brandon’s characters have gained him fame, and he is bringing some of these beloved people to Fort Lauderdale, FL. I had the pleasure of chatting more with Brandon about his upcoming performance and his videos.
Welcome to Fort Lauderdale! What can audiences expect from your live performance?
It’s kind of a variety show of comedy. It’s partly stand up, it’s partly character work. We show various elements of what it takes to put together one of our videos and we structure it like a seminar. Here is what it’s like to be a YouTuber. The show gets sidetracked a lot, like most of our videos. We usually spiral into something disgusting and blood covered.
What first got you into making videos and posting on YouTube?
When I was in high school, before the age of YouTube, I use to make videos on a VHS camera and show them to my friends every week in a classroom at lunchtime. We did it every week. We would shoot these horrible and very inappropriate comedy sketches and we would screen them for each other and for ourselves. When YouTube came out in 2005, I was about a senior in high school at the time, and I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh, this is a place where we can archive all our stuff.” So, we started making videos for YouTube and I just got hooked on it. I was doing it for ten years before the channel blew up. YouTube has always been a platform for me to be able to put these sick ideas into reality and spread them across the planet. So, yeah, that’s what got me started making skits.
Who are some of your comedic influences?
John Waters is a big one. I feel like a lot of children today, and when I say children I mean people in their early 20s and younger, they do not know who John Waters is. He is such an iconic staple of a very specific type of comedy. Trash comedy. It can be so horrible and repulsive. I feel that younger generations do not have comedy influences like that. Everyone is so beautiful and eloquent and appropriate. Not a lot of people are doing trash comedy and it is fun to kind of live in that corner and be an ambassador for the weird side of YouTube.
You play a wide variety of characters. Which one would you say has been your favorite and why?
Any of the characters who aren’t getting their own way. They are very successful and happy. When I play a character who is happy in their own skin, I am happier. I play a lot of characters who are cynical and upset and those are not as much fun to play. I really like playing the CEO, Bryce Tankthrust. She is a power mogul who oversees any corporate entity that exists in my video world. She is just a confident soul in so many ways. It is fun to live in the shoes of other people, so I like to try and design characters who I would vicariously like to live as.
Have you ever portrayed a character and absolutely hated it in the end?
Sometimes. I have created characters that I hate playing and characters that have backfired. It is harder to draw content and decide what they may do when I am not enjoying it. It’s not like the characters where I can just easily write up anything for. Some characters are easier and nicer to play than others. You kind of learn which ones work. I think the audience enjoys characters that I enjoy as well. It shows through. If I feel good playing a character, usually audiences respond to that character as well.
Do you have any new characters in the works?
I always have a handful of characters, about 5-6, in the works at any given time. I really want to work on a character who is very appropriate, very clean, and happy. Everything I am usually not known for. I also want to work on some characters and make sketches of people in different time periods. Like a character living in the 80s. That would be fun, but they are all still at the beginning stages.
Where do you draw inspiration for your characters?
A lot of them are based off people I know or see. I am a big people watcher, especially when I go to places like airports or theme parks. I am always looking at people. I feel there are certain types of people and personalities we can relate to. Like, we know this type of person. I usually go for the burdening type of personalities like the disgruntled store clerk or school administrator. People who are [mean] and audiences can relate, “I know someone just like this.” It’s very basic satire. Like Helen the hall monitor, you don’t need to know what kind of food she likes, you just need to know what kind of person she is and we all hate her.
Why do you think so many people are drawn to your videos?
There are not a lot of YouTube communities that are doing what we like to do. I don’t know if there are a lot of people who want to do what we do, and it is sometimes even hard to find people to collaborate with because they don’t want to associate themselves with us. For the last 100 years, maybe even more, Americans have always had an itch for the weird and the macabre. The twisted kind of entertainment. Something you wouldn’t watch every day and not something you would show a respectable colleague. There has always been a need to see what inspires freak shows, another weird and twisted form of late-night entertainment. YouTube is a platform that reflects almost every type of entertainment or content. It reflects educational content, family friendly content, it has content for every type of person and I feel it should also reflect the weird and twisted things like the The Rocky Horror Picture Show or carnivals would entertain. On YouTube, we sort of exist in an area where we are the late-night jollies of laughter. Something you would be embarrassed to laugh at with certain people. That’s the beauty of YouTube. You can absorb the entertainment at your own discretion. You can watch it alone, you can watch it at a party with a bunch of friends, or you can show it on a date. I want to be the weirdo that someone saw on a date. Like, the date was okay, but what was that video he showed me in the car? I have hung out with friends who have shown me very strange stuff and it left such an imprint that I go home and look it up. I know the impact that a weird video can give. I think that is what draws people to our channel. It’s the weird kind of [stuff] you can’t really find anywhere else on YouTube. At least the way we’re doing it.
All the people who are involved with your videos, like Paulette who plays Donna, for example, how do you get them to participate? Do you know them personally?
Yes. I am very proud of the team that I work with. Going back to John Waters, he was a director who reused his cast for different roles, same with Quentin Tarantino and Tim Burton. I like the idea of having someone play a role, but the next time I work with them, they will be playing a different character. The actors I work with are all very willing and trusting. They have worked with me for years and we are comfortable with each other on and off camera. We are like a family, and I found them all from different places. I never reached out to find any of them. They all kind of came into my life through separate junctions and separate situations. When Paulette came into my life, I used to work in local television commercials. Paulette auditioned for a sweet old lady role, and the role was called sweet old lady, but she didn’t get the part. I said you are perfect for a YouTube video I’m working on, and she looked up my channel and we met for coffee the next morning and that was that. All the people who are in my videos are fearless and they don’t mind doing crazy [things] in public and they trust me. I won’t even show them a full script of the video. I’ll show them their scene initially and when they show up they’ll see the script for the first time. I’ll say, “This is what’s happening,” and they have no idea the context or why they are doing this ridiculous garbage, but they do it and with full force. They do it fearlessly. In the end, it all makes sense as we all have a good time and watch the videos together. I am basically doing what I did in high school, but just 16-17 years later. So, yeah, I am very lucky to have the people that I work with.
Did you ever think your videos would get you to where you are today?
No. I am very fortunate. You always make videos with the hope that they will go viral. I was telling my cameraman, Gabriel, who started working with me right before the big blast happened three years ago and has been with me at my side shooting everything since the day the channel took off, this has been really crazy. We witnessed this happening together and it almost feels too surreal. We met each other when we worked at this law firm, and we both kind of saw our lives going in a certain direction, and that was nowhere. To this day, we reflect on how far everything has come, and it just feels so weird. Like right now, I am at the airport in Seattle on a tour for a live show and this all came from the success of a YouTube channel. It happened so fast, and it’s so surreal. I can’t describe it any other way.
Which video or character do you think really boosted your career?
Probably the Grandpa character who is inspired off my actual grandfather. My grandfather was always a master of wit. He always had an opinion on something, and I know everyone says that about their own grandfather. Oh, he was a loud mouth and he was this and that, but really, my grandfather was one of the most loveable, yet bittersweet and angry people you would ever meet. He was a big inspiration to my comedy. He would always make me laugh. I feel like I know good comedy when I see it, especially when it’s undiscovered. My grandfather, I remember his comedy being so offensive, but it was clever, so I wasn’t offended. I remember my whole life thinking, this is packageable. You can sell this. There is a formula here because it’s not hateful. As a child, I was familiar with the concept of what was racist and inappropriate, but this was organic and eloquently expressed. My character is everything I wanted to sell with him. He is still one of my oldest characters, literally. He is my longest running character and every time I do him at the live show, I will come out on stage as him and people freak out. It’s just so crazy that I knew from a very young age that I was going to somehow package this humor that he had and make it loveable by as many people as possible. So, I am very happy. He passed away literally a month before the channel blew up, so it’s kind of cool to see him live on in a weird, twisted kind of way. Every time I play him, I immediately have an organic catalyst to draw from.
You recently had a Facebook series. How did that go?
Yes. Facebook did a 20-episode series, and I don’t think they realized the mistake they made until the first episode aired. It’s a show about a closeted Republican named Sam and his misadventures with his 80-year-old roommate Donna. They go on all kinds of crazy adventures and the whole thing is a mess, but it has been one of my favorite projects. It came together very well. It was a very feel-good kind of series, but after the first episode aired, Facebook sent my reps an email, a very official email, stating that we would essentially be a breach of contract if we continue using specifically [certain objects] in the way that we have been using it. We were told by Facebook officially that the [usage] should be lowered or they wouldn’t continue doing the rest of the show. It was kind of a rite of passage, but it was a fun series.
Are you going to try for another Facebook series?
I think right now, we are going to focus more on YouTube. I’m not opposed to it, but I think for the time being we will stay with YouTube. I am trying to light a few different fires, including a podcast, so we are juggling a couple different projects. YouTube is also where our biggest audience lives, and we have a pretty big fan base I try to stay loyal to.
What would you like to tell your South Florida fans?
I am very excited to see you all. Every time we come to Florida, it’s a great time and I feel the love. I am very much looking forward to coming to perform. I haven’t been to Fort Lauderdale in about ten years, so I am excited to come back. The show is a lot of fun and I think you all will really enjoy it. Hopefully, it’s a nice little follow up from your Thanksgiving. I want you all well fed, feeling good, and in need of a few laughs!