Michael Buckley's WhatTheBuck is the most popular entertainment show on YouTube, with more than 240,000 subscribers and 70 million views. Michael occasionally covers sports and politics and can also be seen often on the Fox News shows RedEye and Lips & Ears. In real life, he has a day job, enjoys playing with his four dogs, loves going to Broadway shows, and likes whitening his teeth. As a result of his popularity on YouTube, he has signed a development deal with HBO.
Here Alan Lastufka, author of YouTube: An Insider's Guide to Climbing the Charts, talks to this YouTube rock star and learns more about how Michael does things.
Alan Lastufka: When and why did you start making videos for YouTube?
Michael Buckley: I didn't even know what YouTube was when my first video was posted. I was doing a show at my local public access station, and my cousin took one of the clips and posted it on YouTube. This continued for several months before I started posting on my own channel. For the first few months, I really didn't grasp what YouTube was or all that would come of it for me.
Alan: How did you come to have your YouTube celebrity?
Michael: I slept with LisaNova! [laughs]
It was a lot of very hard work cranking out new videos on a regular basis. Throw in some good luck and networking with other users along the way, and I got to the level I now enjoy on the site.
Alan: If you had one sentence to describe your channel on YouTube, what would you say?
Michael: Um, one sentence? Me? Impossible. The WhatTheBuckShow channel is a four-eyed gay dude with a green-screen background making fun of celebrities. My channel is the anti−Entertainment Tonight; it's a show designed to take the piss out of celebrities.
Alan: How has your success on YouTube helped your career outside of YouTube?
Michael: My success on YouTube has launched a career for me that I otherwise would not have had. I didn't want to throw myself into the deep-yet-shallow pool of television commentators who were told what to say and how to say it. I wanted to create my own show with my own voice talking about the silly things that I wanted to talk about. I am lucky and grateful that doing this has unexpectedly become revenue generating and life changing. In terms of outside opportunities, I am a frequent guest on TV/radio shows, but I believe the Internet is where I will have my future and greatest successes.
Alan: Who is your target audience? And who is your actual audience?
Michael: To be honest, I try to appeal to everyone. I'm a people pleaser. I take pride in the fact that many people write to me and claim they never liked gay people or cared for celebrity gossip but they rather enjoy my show. My goal is to present material with humor, warmth, and joy so that even people who would not typically enjoy it find something about it to enjoy.
My actual audience is largely kids 13 to 18, which is funny because the show was not originally written for kids. But then I also have a lot of viewers who are 35 to 45. Being aware that young people are watching, I try to do at least one show a week about Hannah Montana, the Jonas Brothers, or something youth-oriented. They are the viewers who rate/comment/favorite your videos the most.
Alan: In what ways do you interact with your audience?
Michael: I make great efforts to reply to comments on my current video. I am very active on my website in the discussion forums, and I also do weekly live shows.
Alan: Has your circle of friends from YouTube transferred to your circle of friends in real life?
Michael: Yes, I am very close with people who I know from YouTube. Some I have met in real life; others I have not. Some of my closest friends I met on YouTube, and I view many as colleagues and friends. It is a strange new world that we are all figuring out as we go along!
Alan: Has interacting with people on YouTube made you more confident while interacting with people face-to-face on a daily basis?
Michael: I don't think so. I was always confident interacting with people. In some ways it has made me a bit shyer I think. Because my persona is so "out there" and loud on YouTube, I tend to be a bit more reserved in real life now.
Alan: How much of your day is spent on YouTube?
Michael: I am on all day. I may go a few minutes here and there without checking it, but if I'm off for more than an hour, it's only because I'm sleeping.
Alan: What advice do you have for up-and-coming YouTubers?
Michael: It is important to make videos you enjoy making. If you make videos trying to copy other people or have illusions of online fame, you will get discouraged and stop. Just like anything in life, make videos that you love, and others will see that and appreciate your efforts. In terms of practical advice, be visible on the site. Make sure you are rating/commenting/favoriting other people's videos to make it a more interactive experience. By doing this, you will build a larger audience for your own videos. Be nice and respectful of other users; you may think you're being funny, but mean comments will not get you respect or more viewers. Don't post one video and be upset no one sees it. You could post the best video in the history of YouTube and it gets 10 views; and that's just you checking to see whether anyone is watching. A lot of factors come into play when getting lots of views/subscribers on the site, so be patient! Keep making different videos, and one will catch on, or your diverse body of work will attract some attention. I also advise people to pull and repost videos that they are very proud of. If you posted a great video a year ago and it has a low view count, the chances are it's "dead" and will not catch on. If you are at a place where you now have maybe 1,000 or 10,000 subscribers and you posted a video you really love, repost it for your new larger audience to see.
Alan: Do you feel you could repeat your success on YouTube if you started over today? Why or why not?
Michael: I do believe I could repeat my success if I started over today. I always believed in myself and the videos I was putting out there. I worked hard to create and promote them, so I know I could do it again. I work even harder now to keep the quality up; knowing each day brings a whole new audience, I have to make a good first impression while maintaining the appeal to longtime viewers.
Alan: You host a live Q&A show an average of three times a week. Why do you feel this is important?
Michael: I think the most important thing I have done on YouTube is stay present. Many people just post videos and do not interact with the community. Many of them fade away. Some are lucky enough that their audience doesn't care. The moment I started vlogging and seeming more like a real person and not just some bitchy gay guy who made fun of celebrities is when I became more popular on the site. People like seeing the real person behind the videos. Doing the live shows/chats was just the next step in me being available and present to the people who enjoy my videos. I love doing the live shows; it's a rush and a pleasure to have the instant feedback and connection.
Alan: You write, edit, and perform all your videos alone, with numerous episodes produced each week without fail. How do you do all this while working full-time and balancing a home life?
Michael: It can be a challenge to make it all work. I've been doing it all for two years now, so I'm used to the heavy workload. And while writing/filming/editing the videos is a lot of work, it's also my passion, so I look forward to every one. If I feel overwhelmed, I take a week off or do fewer videos for a week, but I find when I am off, I miss it. It really nurtures my creative spirit.
My day job has been very supportive, and I have great benefits, weeks of paid vacation, and a 401(k), so it has been hard to leave! My husband has been very supportive and actually was the one who told me to have an opening credit with "Please Subscribe" and "Rate It If You Hate it," which has been very successful for me. And other 'Tubers use similar credits now too! He also gives me some jokes, but don't tell him I admitted that!
To learn more about making a splash on YouTube and to read interviews with more YouTube luminaries, check out YouTube: An Insider's Guide to Climbing the Charts. Got a great tip for getting noticed on YouTube? Post it here!