Viral YouTube sensations – now available in real life!
Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photography: Nick Gordon
The internet is the biggest disruptor we’ve seen since the industrial revolution, and while it’s made information free, traditional industries like music and print have suffered. Because when anyone with a data plan and a cellphone can become either a journalist or a porn star, you’d better believe paradigms will shift.
Likewise, the face of comedy has changed. If you’d rather not be forced to sit through the likes of Shuster pick at the low-hanging fruits of racial stereotyping, you can now scroll through terabytes of YouTube videos instead, where eventually you’ll discover homegrown heroes Derick Watts & The Sunday Blues.
Using their YouTube channel, Derick Watts & T.S.B are able to connect with like-minded individuals; creating content for a world stage and racking up views, lols and cash. The joke's on them though, because their success means that their business is no longer just about being funny, and they’re now required to know about things like marketing, copyright law, video production, editing, social media and they even had to learn how to play a bunch of different instruments, too.
Ukulele’s have just two less strings than a regular guitar, but are ten times more likely to be used in a song that makes you laugh, especially when in the hands of Nic Smal and Gareth Allison, who have been making web videos as Derick Watts & T.S.B since September 2011, to the tune of 30 million views.
The viral video kings can appreciate when something breaks the internet, and are scrolling through pictures of Harambe the Gorilla when we arrive at their home. After wiping their tears away, they immediately commandeer The Way of Us' dictaphone to introduce themselves…
“Hello this is Gareth,” says Gareth. “This is my voice, it’s the deep, manly voice.”
“Hello,” says Nick. “This is the sexy voice. I’m Nick’s voice.”
G: “It’s not that sexy.”
N: “It’s far sexier than yours.”
G: “I think that the people who read this will decide that. Can you use a bolder font for my parts, please?”
N: “Can you use an italic font for me?”
G: “You’re more of a wingdings kind of voice…”
This initial banter sets the pace for an interview that’s dominated by Nic and Gareth’s verbal jousting, where they riff on everything from the deceased gorilla to camping to bridal magazines. The exact same thing happened in the meeting we’d set up earlier in the week, where TWoU had tried to convince Derick Watts & T.S.B to collaborate on a video. However, having created such an intimate relationship with their audience, Derick Watts & T.S.B felt that they had a responsibility to consistently deliver content of only the highest quality, and with Gareth heading off to Canada, time just wasn’t on our side. So we stuck a pin in our video idea and photographed and interviewed the duo at home instead, but not before they gave us a preview of their latest work first.
“That’s President Ballbag,” says Nic. “It’s a sketch where Gumby plays advisor to the American president, who is a ballbag. Whose ballbag we used isn’t important. Let’s just say there are many ballbag actors to be found. Our local film industry has grown so much that we’re now able to call on stunt ballbags.”
The satirical video works on several levels. Firstly because the writing is funny and then because, well, it’s a ballbag, which is always funny, and lastly there’s a message here, that this guy Trump is a real ballbag, and so the video serves as a warning of sorts.
The idea of shooting a video of a ballbag was birthed a few months prior. It then marinated in their minds, and it was while driving that Nic thought, “Hang on?” and called Darren and Gumby and said, “What if the ballbag was Trump?” It made perfectly good sense. Their video "Do You Wanna Build a Wall?" was growing quite rapidly (5 million views and counting), and the US Elections would still hold relevance for a while still.
In case you’re wondering, Gumby is the name Nic always refers to Gareth by, and Darren (Wertheim) is the third member of Derick Watts & T.S.B, a producer and DoP.
“Darren gets so angry when I call him a cameraman,” says Gareth. “I don’t know why because he is a cameraman.”
Derick Watts & T.S.B also work a lot with Dave from The Kiffness, who’ll polish their tracks until their production value has grown immensely. Otherwise, everything else they do themselves, while holding down day jobs.
Nic is a married father of two who works as an illustrator and animator, while Gareth is a Wordpress designer who's dating a fashion designer. Both boast skill sets that contribute towards the Derick Watts & T.S.B offering, however, it’s ultimately Gareth and Nic’s child-like enthusiasm for what they do, and their undeniable chemistry, which has made them such a success.
“Usually an idea will get thrown out and then we’ll both build on that,” says Nic. “That’s largely due to how we’ve known each other for such a long time and share a similar sense of humour. You do something for long enough and you just get better at it.”
According to Derick Watts & T.S.B, kittens and boobs are the secret to going viral, and then timing obviously plays a large part, too. The rest? Well, maybe there’s some dumb luck there...
“If you take something like Stop The Knot,” explains Nic. “I believe that there was no way that that could’ve been ignored. Just because of the dramatic content. It was like a plague. In a space of two weeks I was like, ‘What is happening? Have guys been discussing this haircut behind the scenes?’”
G: “Like a secret meeting. Weird.”
N: “And we knew we’d have half the people saying, ‘You can’t do this! That’s assault! I love this hairstyle!’ And the other half going, ‘This hairstyle is stupid! Good!’”
G: “So it works on both sides, where the people who are outraged want to show that they’re outraged and the rest are saying, ‘Yes, well done, I support this.’ And when you get both sides of the spectrum wanting to share your video for their own reasons, that’s when the true viral tidal wave hits.”
Instead of cashing in on their notoriety and creating more videos where they play vigilante barbers altering disagreeable hairstyles, Derick Watts & T.S.B offer a much more diversified portfolio, from trolling tween Beliebers to animated shorts to original songs to Yankovic-esque songs to the commercial stuff (like being locked inside a hotel room and having to do whatever people tweeted at them).
“We were actually chatting about this with the Suzelle DIY team,” says Gareth. “And they were saying that what they love about us is how we’re free to do anything we want. And we were saying how we loved how their format draws people in, and that their audience knows exactly what to expect.”
“To elaborate on that,” adds Nic. “We enjoy the freedom in what we do, but that might work against us sometimes, like when someone watches, say, Hippo & Croc, and likes that, so they subscribe, and the next video is President Ballbag...”
107 000 subscribers is its own motivation, and proof that there’s an audience hungrily waiting for whatever Derick Watts & T.S.B decide to do next, which for now is a live show that will be staged at the Lemon Tree Theatre at Superbalist is Rocking the Daisies. Longtime fans of stand-up comedy, they’ve spent plenty of time figuring out how they’d incorporate the different parts that make up Derick Watts & T.S.B into something that could live on stage, and the result was a sold out show at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival.
“We wrote most of that show the week before,” says Nic. “A lot of late nights, thinking ‘What if nobody laughs?’ but it went well and one of the reviews was that ‘It feels like watching YouTube live.’”
“We think that was a compliment,” says Gareth. “I hope that was a compliment…”
While it’s one thing having sold out shows at an arts festival, both Nic and Gareth agree that Daisies is going to be an entirely different beast.
“We’re writing some new bits specifically for a festival crowd,” says Gareth. “It’s 11 in the morning, people have been partying the night before, it’s a completely different atmosphere to a sold out show in Grahamstown where people are specifically coming to see you, and they’re excited, and the lights are dimmed... So it will probably be a very confused crowd of people, shouting: ‘Play Wonderwall’ or ‘Bring Schalk Bezuidenhout on!’”
N: “Or people who think they’re waiting in a line for a breakfast burger.”
G: “We could set up a stage that looks like a food stall? 'Pulled Pork and Craft Beer'.”
N: “You’ll be 'Pulled Pork', obviously.”
N: “Well look at me. I’m better suited to 'Craft Beer', as a nickname.”
G: “Because you have a moustache?”
N: You are quite chunky…
In comedy, you have to be willing to be vulnerable, and like all good comedians, Derick Watts & the Sunday Blues continue to put themselves, along with everything else, on the line for our enjoyment. And it doesn't even matter whether that happens on the internet or IRL, the clincher is their undeniable chemistry and way of looking at the world, which is always good for a laugh.