With ‘Daily Grace’ videos, comedian builds fan base
Never heard of Grace Helbig? Fine with her. By YouTube’s count, more than 1 million people subscribe to her “Daily Grace” videos on My Damn Channel, and she and fellow Internet comedians Mamrie Hart and Hannah Hart sold out their two “#NoFilter” shows Friday night at the Brighton Music Hall by promoting them through social media.
Helbig, who has appeared on shows including VH1’s “Best Week Ever,” built her fan base by recording a “Daily Grace” video every weekday beginning in 2008, talking about her life, making observations. Similarly, her two cohorts found Internet fame through Web shows — Mamrie with “You Deserve a Drink” and Hannah with “My Drunk Kitchen.” For the “#NoFilter” tour, they have joined forces and traded the camera for what Helbig calls an “Internet variety show,” a mix of solo, sketch, and improv, which they encourage their audience to tape and share on the Web with the hashtag #NoFilterShow. We caught up with Helbig by phone from Los Angeles.
Q. Does the Internet work overlap with what you do with the live show?
A. Yeah. We’re doing some audience work and some crowd games that incorporate Internet comments and Twitter mentions and things like that. So we encourage full documentation of the show. People should be using their phones the whole time. And so far, the two shows we’ve done in Los Angeles, it’s worked out really, really well. Because that serves as its own promotion for future shows.
Q. How big a part of your career is performing live?
A. That’s kind of the shift that’s been happening in my life. I started out doing improv comedy at the Peoples Improv Theater [in New York]. And I realized I can reach 100 people in a theater by doing a lot of publicity, but now I can reach 100,000 people online by doing a lot of social media publicity. And it’s really great, but at the same time, I love performing live for an audience.
Q. Is anyone considered the headliner of this tour?
A. No, not at all. That’s the wonderful thing about it. We’re all really positive and polite about making sure that each of us has time individually and collectively onstage and is comfortable doing what they feel strongest doing. We each have different bits that we’re doing, and they’re definitely very, very different, but they’re all really fun. And we have things like fan fiction, where we do a live reenactment of fan fiction that’s been written about us online, and it seems to go over really well.
Q. The fan fiction is real? I saw a couple of clips of that.
A. Yeah, we had read fan fiction a few months ago and were so bewildered by it that we thought, we have to make this part of the show. And then as soon as kids in that audience had recorded it and uploaded it, it went crazy, and now there are literally hundreds of fanfics written about us. Some are really, um, crossing lines. So we’re now hoping to do a different fan fiction read at every show. I don’t know if it’s good that we’re supporting it or if it’s bad, but it’s a good time.
Q. Is it a challenge to come up with a new video every day for “Daily Grace”?
A. Definitely a mental exercise. The way that people who enjoy physical activity work out every day, I’ve now conditioned myself to kind of work my brain out every day by creating a video. And it’s really, really satisfying. At the end of a run, you feel really good that you’ve gotten something accomplished. I always feel very pleased with myself when I’ve gotten a “Daily Grace” accomplished. But the greatest part about running out of ideas in my own brain is crowd-sourcing and being able to reach out to kids on Tumblr and Twitter and Facebook and ask them, what do they want to see?
Q. Do you know how many subscribers you currently have?
A. I currently have 1.2 million subscribers, which is a number that sounds crazy. I was driving in a taxi the other day and talking to the taxi driver about what I do for a living. And I mentioned that I made Web videos, and he was like, oh, very cool, is that your full-time job? And I said yeah, and he said, how many followers do you have? And I said 1 million, and he laughed. And I said, that’s not a joke. I know it sounds crazy, like, “a million.” It just sounds so unrealistic, and then you see it on a computer screen. It doesn’t make sense to me still.
Q. It’s an odd career path. You can have 1.2 million people who know who you are and watch your everyday life, and the rest of the country has no idea who you are.
A. Oh yeah, I walk around every day and I don’t get recognized. It happens, maybe, once a month or once every two months. And it’s usually when I go to a Forever 21. Teenage girls, they are my demo. But it hardly happens, and that’s a really cool thing about it. You look at celebrity, and it’s a weird thing that they’ve given up privacy to pursue something. And I like still having privacy.