Lucas Cruikshank tries to translate YouTube superstardom translate to TV as Fred Figglehorn
Tuesday, September 14, 2010; 11:39 PM
Lucas Cruikshank, the potential future of adolescent comedy, steamrolls onto the screen, a mixture of flounce and tightly coiled energy, doing Fred Figglehorn.
"OH MY GOD IT'S FRIIIIDAAAAY!" he shrieks to the camera. His voice (digitally altered) sounds like he's been sucking helium. "Hey! Say that fast and it sounds like Fred Day! Friday, Fred Day, Friday, Fred Day, Friday, Fred Day . . . Oh my God, did they decide this week to make the week the weekend and the weekend the week? . . . I think they might do that!"
This is a movie. This is a movie based on a YouTube character. This is a movie based on one of the most successful YouTube characters of all time. Cruikshank's videos regularly score millions of hits; "Fred Goes Swimming," the most-watched installment of the franchise, currently has 45 million views. For comparison, last season's most popular sitcom, "Two and a Half Men," averaged 15 million viewers per episode. He is possibly the most famous thing that you are not watching, and on Saturday night, Fred is coming to a bigger screen. "Fred: the Movie," debuts on Nickelodeon.
His hair is a Justin Bieber swoop, perhaps an homage to the best-known boy ever pulled from YouTube into mass fame - Cruikshank, at 17, is about the same age.
Reached by telephone, a few days before he and his parents are scheduled to fly from their home in Nebraska to Los Angeles, Cruikshank is asked how he thinks Fred got so big.
"I thought I would make, like, 50 people laugh," he says, bubbily and humbly.
In short, he has no idea.
But here Fred stands, at an intersection of screens, wondering if Fred is the next Bieber or just the next Pauly Shore - and whether YouTube belongs on television.
The bellwethers of YouTube are its Most Subscribed Channels - the individuals whose viewers tune in again and again as they would for a sitcom. One-hit viral videos - "David After Dentist" or "JK Wedding Entrance" - may get more media attention, but the Most Subscribed people are the workhorses who shape what people want online. Each one of the top five, TubeMogul.com estimates, makes a six-figure salary from ads and product placement.
For a while now, the kings at the top - young, male, sophomoric - have held steady.
There is Ryan Higa, 20, now a film student in Las Vegas who specializes in rants and pop-culture how-to's ("How to be Emo").
There is Shane Dawson, 22, who video blogs as himself and his female alter ego, Shanaynay.