During the madness of Just For Laughs we got the chance to sit down with the founder of My Damn Channel, Rob Barnett. Barnett and My Damn Channel are about to celebrate its 5th year in business. We sat down to talk with Barnett to get advice on the changing state of the industry and building an audience.
Happy birthday, first of all!
(laughs) Thank you! Yeah, where’s my cake?
Five years later after you started My Damn Channel and now with My Damn Channel Live this is a big anniversary you have here.
Yeah, well, we started that [My Damn Channel Live] back at the end of March and building an audience there is part of a new, fun way to work with YouTube when they write you a nice check.
A lot of viewers then.
They’re publishing a list of the ranking channels, there are about 100 channels and we’re actually number 14, so we’re doing things. But it’s like every single thing and every single person here, you gotta just stand up and build it.
Adam Carolla’s one of the first people I talked to when I started the My Damn Channel idea, and Adam said, “well that’s not the short money bet, but that is the long money bet,” and he’s doing the same thing with his podcast. It’s just you put one show after the next every day and you find your audience. We can do now what none of us could do when show business started when there were only three or four places to go. Now, you can go anywhere you want. You just have to do great shit and work hard and just have that never say die attitude.
Patton Oswalt performed the keynote here yesterday and it was fuckin’ awesome. If you haven’t heard it you should go find it. We run another site, The Comic’s Comic which is run by a guy Sean McCarthy. He just gave me the transcript of it and I’m just going to start sending it to everyone I know because Patton really talked about the past, the present, and the future in a way that I haven’t heard many comics do quite as well as he did yesterday. He had some big shoes to fill because Marc Maron keynoted the shit out of this thing last year. So, this is a great place to be where you not only see late at night the greatest people on stage but you’ve got some of the best minds here trying to figure out how guys like you and guys like us can pay the rent.
I think that’s the best mission with My Damn Channel. You’re encouraging all these folks and you’re just a super wing, as I consider it, to help put the money on wing and help take them above and help show them as a mentor.
You think we’re comedy’s wing man (laughs)?
THE wing in many ways, and I think it continues to grow with the strength and popularity, especially with a lot of younger comedians and others that see that and follow your leads, I think it’s priceless.
It’s seriously built for talent. There’s two or three ways you can look at the name of our company. The main way we look at it is the great talent in the old model got noted to death by executives anywhere you went with a project. In this particular case, we thought that the most important thing to do was to pick the best talent, and if you did, then you had to give that talent the opportunity to do the show they want to do. Again, I’m going back to Patton Oswalt, because he said it better than I could. You succeed or fail on your own merits as opposed to on the notes of some assistant senior vice president of digital comedic genious-ity.
Yeah, we see a lot of that, too, like Daily Grace. She just brings that approach that people obviously want.
Grace was here yesterday on a panel where they introduced four panelists, and said “these people have four billion views on YouTube.” We hired Grace in 2008, and again same thing, every single day, Monday through Friday, I’m not sure if she’s missed more than one or two days. It doesn’t happen overnight. But here we are four years and a three months later and Grace gets more than a million views every week and she’s earned it on her own merits. She’s an incredibly talented, hard working person…and now I’m forced to say Youtube.com/dailygrace (laughs).
Rightfully so, too. She’s one of those leaders I see so many ideas with and try to follow those models. Even at the conference here, we know what they’re doing but taking a step outside the doors and seeing the pavement being paved I think that’s just an inspiration.
It’s hard for everybody, but sometimes I play a game when I wake up in the morning and I say, “I’m gonna make believe its two years from today,” and at that moment, the three of us sitting at this table are gonna have it twice as easy. It still might not be a cake walk, but everybody knows where it’s going. There is no doubt that we’ve technically got ourselves on a level-playing field, and www.whatever.com can get the views that an NBC or an ABC of old. You just gotta figure out how to bring the best noise. And honestly, the opportunity is there and that world only started four or five years ago, so, it’s not that long ago. We’re still new and we’re still all new at this.
I took my lead from CBS, as well. I was a producer there for some time. Do you think that traditional media will survive throughout the transition?
Yeah, I’m not one of those people who walk around thinking My Damn Channel is the death of television. Television isn’t going to die anytime soon, but there’s room for what you’re doing and what I’m doing on the playing field. That’s the difference, that the people have decided for some reason that sleep, exercise, maybe sex are less important than you just need be online at all times (laughs). And people have just made more room. The television numbers are not significantly down to pronounce it dead, but the online numbers are so significantly up that advertisers, smart people with lots of money, can’t really sit there and deny it anymore.
You see that traditional news and a lot of the younger generations are looking toward online, and The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, The Onion, where it’s joking yet at the same time loaded with facts.
There’s something unusual, probably even in Jon Stewart’s mind, that he’s become the Walter Conkrite of his generation, but it’s true.
Any words of wisdom for the younger group or the next generation that’s set to come?
Words of wisdom…give me a topic, give me a zone.
Our site is mostly focused on stand-up, so maybe something for the comedians that might read it. Or fans of comedy. From your point of view.
I spent a tremendous amount of my career in the music side, in rock at MTV and VH1. I saw thousands of bands come and go…I was in a shitty band, okay we were an average band, but when I started working in comedy, and I started going to see stand-up, I felt like I was amongst the bravest form of show business. I just couldn’t fathom myself in any version of that, but I look at the people that do it night after night and think that the greatest challenge is not to go to crazy.
Again, back to Adam’s point about short money/long money, it’s about a build. It’s about teaching yourself, whether it’s Adam or Grace, or any of the things we talked about, it’s about never stopping and always refining, and you can get notes from a thousand critics in any version of a career, but the ultimate note comes in the mirror. When you know whether you think your craft has moved a step up or not, and if you listen to too many voices, you come off of what it is that’s been inside you screaming to get out. It just takes time.
The hardest thing is to realize in the early stages of any venture into the land of show business how little money there is, in the early stages. But, it’s about building a career and it’s about getting to a point where the work is so good that the money has to come and knowing that and then just work in to that day.
That’s some very good advice. What’s the name of the band that you were in?
I’m so old that when we started for the first Star Wars, we were “The Force,” for a few minutes, and that was so embarrassing that we then switched to “Opus,” O-P-U-S, that was equally bad. But we had fun.
What did you play?
I’m an average drummer.
Nice. We’re involved heavily with music too, comedy is just one element, I’m wondering if we have any common industry connections.
Yeah, we can play Jewish geography after this interview (laughs)!