Josh Taylor is 24 years old. He’s married. He works with his dad creating patent drawings. He lives in Hermitage, Tennessee, a Nashville suburb where was raised and homeschooled with his brother, Jordan.
Then, a few years ago, things got weird.
I’m past the point where I’m stressed about it; I’m just kind of enjoying watching it play out.
In 2005, Josh and Jordan started making silly comic videos with a handycam. Before the videos could be posted online, Google Video demanded an account name; BlimeyCow appeared, as if by magic.
“Brain fart is a great way of putting it,” Josh concedes.
BlimeyCow videos skewer the idiosyncrasies of conservative evangelical culture, church, family…but unlike other comedy on these subjects, the laughs come from people who have remained inside that culture, rather than shucked it off for something more sophisticated. This makes their comedy not only sharply observant, but also endearing.
Things fizzled a little bit after Josh got married and Jordan started college. But two years ago, they committed to putting out a new video every week, and Messy Mondays was born. There was, Josh says, a “nicer camera” in play, and YouTube was the platform of choice. Subjects like “3 Types of Churches,” “10 Ways to Get a Girl to Like You” and “The Truth About Youth Group” brought in 3000 views per video, per week.
That was cool. That was a lot more than we were used to. It was cool to know there were people we didn’t know that were watching our stuff.
Then I had the idea. ‘We were homeschooled–let’s do one that’s about misconceptions about homeschoolers.’
I think we got a million views that month.
Previously, in response to the fans that kept asking “Why aren’t you guys famous yet?”, Josh had written on BlimeyCow’s blog that their humor would be popular only with a certain kind of audience–conservative evangelical lifers who appreciated the chance to laugh at themselves. That audience, he speculated, wasn’t likely to be very big.
“Two weeks later, we do that homeschool video and it blows up, based on that one group I said wasn’t there.
“So I had to sit back and assess. If this is a group of people that is looking for content on the internet, then we’re going to be a thing. I know this crowd; I can speak to this crowd.”
To Josh, homeschooling is a form of intellectual anarchy. At least, it can be. The problems (and the stereotypes) arise when homeschooling parents become just as doctrinarian as the public school system.
Of course, those rigid conservative stereotypes are exactly what make the homeschooling paradigm funny, even to the people inside it. But like most people who are used to being laughed at, homeschoolers need to know they’re being laughed with, in order to laugh themselves.
“I’d be remiss not to admit that a lot of those Christian cliches are justified. When we make jokes in our videos about homeschoolers it’s like ‘Haha, we’re not like that.’ Then get quiet and say ‘Well, we kind of are.’”
Comedy, he says, is another form of intellectual anarchy. More insidious than argument, more friendly than journalism, comedy provokes critical thinking by making things not heinous, but hilarious.
“You can get away with saying things sarcastically that you couldn’t any other way. There’s this hiphop artist named Propaganda–he said that the only time people are being honest is when they’re being sarcastic.”
In order to produce quality laughs that he’s included in, Josh says, it’s easy to fall into another stereotype–the hopelessly depressed stand-up comic. clown. “I understand that now,” he admits. “To write comedy, you have to be painfully self-aware. You look at the world around you, and you see every flaw.
“A lot of times, I’ll be struggling with something, and I’ll think ‘Why does this bother me?’ I’ll write it out–this root emotion, this thing I deal with–then I can make fun of myself.”
Josh talks to me in a room that appears to be a DIY control room for some kind of off-the-grid science experiment…or else simply the library of an active churchgoing family. Swiveling back and forth in his desk chair, looking to various corners of the room in search of words and phrases, he talks a mile a minute, leading me to wonder if I’m wasting his time. But he emails me later to say he enjoyed our chat, leading me to believe that maybe he just really thinks that fast.
It’s probably essential, since he parcels out his week between his day job and writing scripts, in between family, church, blogging, and brainstorming ideas for the show with youth group kids. Over the weekend, the BlimeyCow crew–Jordan, Josh, Josh’s wife Kelli, and whatever extra friends or celebrities they might rope in–spends five to seven hours shooting, and another twelve hours editing, in order to have the video ready to post on Monday.
It might sound like his schedule doesn’t leave much time for self-doubt, but he’s quick to say, “I definitely make time for that.” People often write in to suggest that they cover various kinds of topics, or incorporate different kinds of technology. “I would love to,” he says, “but I don’t have time to learn how to do that stuff.” For that reason, the show remains rudimentary–a black background, a few fright wigs, a lot of quick cuts. It’s like watching a play in a black-box theatre–the audience has to imagine everything.
The reason I get discouraged is the very thing I get encouragement from: our show isn’t very cool, but people are watching it.
There isn’t much to our show, other than the writing and that Jordan is a funny personality…according to what people have said. I don’t buy that he’s funny, but people come back.
The homeschool video catapulted BlimeyCow to a level of popularity that neither Josh nor Jordan expected. Recently, they’ve been approached by a number of managers who want to help them become the next big thing. It can be anxiety-inducing, Josh says.
“A few months ago, I had a meeting with a fella downtown, who does management marketing kind of stuff. He spoke one of my worst fears out loud: ‘You have this thing that’s very popular right now, and it’s going to disappear if you don’t capitalize on it soon.’
“For them, the bottom line is to make money. Our bottom line is that we enjoy making videos. If people enjoy this, it would be nice to just do this, and not have to worry about making time for the things”–full-time jobs, that is–”that make it so we can do this.”
Still, these conversations can make him afraid that he’s wasting an opportunity. But as more offers of this nature materialize, and more people write in to say how much they love the show, he’s realized that letting the thing evolve naturally is fine.
“It’s mostly just getting over that fear–a fear I have in my life, in general–that I’m not doing enough, that I should be doing more.” At this point, he acknowledges that he feels stretched a little thin. “But I’ve stretched myself thin in a way that I’m comfortable doing. God’s taken care of everything so far, I haven’t screwed everything up too much. He’s going to keep taking care of us, and work everything out.”
Chelsea Batten is an itinerant journalist currently making camp in rural Illinois. She loves old cars and John Steinbeck, and can't fall asleep without the This American Life podcast.Follow her here or drop her a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week we our good friends from MADE set us up with a few hours of chat & photo shoot time with Joseph Vincent. For those of you who are not familiar with this name, Joseph Vincent is a young self starter who has gained a following as an artist by uploading his photos onto YouTube. Vincent started with covers — putting his own unique spin on popular songs. Soon after he appeared on Ellen, and the rest is history. Now he’s writing his own songs and is part of a growing group of artists who actively use youtube and social media to reach their fans.
Upon meeting Joseph, our team was immediately struck by how down to earth he was. What you see on YouTube is exactly what he acts like in person. We chatted about his family and he told us that his Dad is the original hipster, stating that he predicted the coolness of various items before they were trendy. We also discussed faith (JV is a practicing Catholic) and how he lives out his faith while working in the entertainment industry. After the interview at the hotel, we made our way down to a coffee shop for some light hearted questions that included topics such as his current relationship status, the meaning of all his tattoos, his favourite foods and more.
Check out a few behind the scenes photos of our time with JV below. And don’t forget to pick up the September issue of Converge where you can read a full length feature on this youtube sensation.
In the beginning of February, I AM MADE Entertainment brought to Vancouver the L.A. local online singing/songwriting sensation Jason Chen for INSPIRE 2012. After long moments of swooning over his smooth vocals in covers of musicians like Bruno Mars or Jason Mraz, and a few of his originals, we got the opportunity to sit down with him and chat. Though an article will appear at a later date, we have here a few of our Valentine-like questions for the squealing fan girls out there.
What would you do for a first date?
Dunno, it just depends on what she likes. I would have to take it case by case, there’s no, like, playbook I go with.
Friend-zoning: Have you been friend-zoned? Or have you done the friend-zoning?
No… no, I haven’t. Not really. I’m good at [avoiding] that particularly because I can kind of tell if I’m going to be friend-zoned and then I just don’t go that way. I never really let anyone get a chance to become the friend-zone in my, from my point of view. Because I dont like drama, I avoid all that.
Way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. What would be a perfect dinner for you? Say a girl who wants to get to know you better invites you to dinner. What would melt your heart?
Hm. The perfect dinner she would make me… it would be more based on consistancy, really. Because I’m like, “one meal?” I don’t really mind. It can be something really simple, something really gourmet but it would be just one meal so it wouldn’t really stick to my mind. If it had to be that one meal, I would say, like… either.. japanese food or italian food. Because if it was that one meal it would be more based on effort, like she spent a lot of time it…. But like as I was saying before, I treasure more, like, consistancy and loyalty. I’d rather her make me something simple every night than like, go all out on that one meal. It’s more about that for me, more the principle. If you spent a bunch of time I’d be like ‘woah cool,’ but I’d still eat it [regardless].
The ultimate trick-no-win girl question: “Does this dress make me look fat?”
If the dress actually makes her look fat where the other dresses don’t, I would tell her “you should probably wear a different dress.” If she’s just kinda been gaining weight, and no other dress is going ot make her look [better], I would say no.
Are you seeing anyone?
Three things no one else knows about you that you would like them to know.
My first dream was to be a truck driver, because they had really big cars on the freeway and I thought that was really cool. [My] second dream was to be president of the United States. And then my third dream was to be an NBA basketball player… and this is all before middle school. All before 6th grade, all before I was 10. I had three dreams before I was 10.
Carmen Bright can be described by a number of words. 'Suave' is not one of them.
It’s not at all hard to see how the Australian-Korean musical twin sister duo captured the hearts of their 200,000 subscribers on YouTube. You could say it’s their on-screen charm, their dazzling smiles, their angelic voices or their silly sisterly banter. But what really charmed us about the these sisters were their down to earth personalities and infectious positive outlook on life.
IT STARTS WITH A SPARK
It’s a golden leaf and blue-sky kind of day in the city and sitting across from me in this sun-lit Carmana Plaza hotel suite are the twins. Despite their double-digit hour flight, Janice and Sonia Lee are still as cheery and friendly as they are in their videos. They look outside their window and admire Vancouver’s fluffy white clouds and mountainous backdrop, saying they never ever see this in Australia. I hardly hear what they say though. My mind is crippled by the fear of accidentally switching them up. But they’ve already eased my worries by setting themselves up in their usual placement: Sonia on the left, Janice on the right.
“We’re really into burgers,” Sonia says, gesturing invisible hamburgers with their hands. “We LOVE food.”
It has only been an afternoon and I’m already starting to love them. They’re just as bubbly and energetic in person as they are on camera. Their genuine happiness is infectious.
THEN A FLAME STARTS
It’s a cold night for the hundreds of people waiting in a line that snaked its way around the venue’s parking lot. As they file their way into their seats they are greeted by a stage warmly lit with yellow paper lanterns and Victorian street lamps. The stage designers outdid themselves creating that perfect romantic atmosphere for the “Fall In Love” concert.
“We love you Vancouver!” say Janice and Sonia in perfect unison.
Jayesslee steps out on stage, and you can feel the love through the cheers and rumbling floors. Their manager Andy stands between them recording the cheering audience as a keepsake to share with their YouTube subscribers later. They like to stay connected to their fans and that means keeping them updated on their activities in every city they hit.
They’re standing in front of me and a thousand others singing now at the “Fall in Love” concert put on by I AM MADE Entertainment. Their voices are angelic.
Back at the hotel I get to know them a bit more. Janice and Sonia have come a long way since they started recording music videos in their pajamas with a handycam. “We’ve always been singing [even] at a very young age,” says Janice, thinking back to their childhood days when their parents eagerly signed them up for church talent competitions.
Many years later Janice and Sonia organized their own church talent quest, which unexpectedly ignited their musical career.
“There weren’t enough participants [in the talent quest] and we decided ‘we should do this’ so we participated and won the contest as organizers,” says Janice, having a laugh at the irony of this. “People started coming to us after the event saying ‘your singing brought me to tears.’” The two then knew that singing was their calling and began sharing their talent online. The two uploaded their first video as Jayesslee in 2008.
What started out as a casual hobby quickly became an Internet sensation. Their popularity skyrocketed after the twins covered the highly requested “Officially Missing You,” which now sits with over 9 million views.
“We woke up one morning and it had gone viral!” Sonia said. “Now we’re traveling [and] doing music full time.”
Three years and 30 video uploads later, Jayesslee has fine tuned their look, sound and presentation. When I ask how they prepare for each video, they sigh.
“It gets more difficult as we do it ‘cause now we get more picky. In the beginning we really didn’t really care how we looked in our pajamas with drool coming out,” laughs Janice. But since their online fame became apparent, they upped their quality to reward their subscribers for being so faithful in watching their videos.
“So we dressed out of our pajamas, shampooed, brushed our hair, and showered!”
GETTING TO KNOW THAT SOMEONE
On stage and on video you can see them brimming with love for each other and for those who surround them. But how do the twins relate to each other in their day-to-day lives when the camera stops rolling and when no one is looking?
“We hate each other,” says Janice.
They both laugh but quickly assume a dead serious look. Contrary to popular belief, Janice and Sonia are not loving with each other 24 hours of the day.
“I think it’s so funny that people think we’re so close and we love each other all the time. I think that’s hilarious,” adds Sonia. “We’re very individual, very independent. We have 25 years of just living together. We have the same likes, we like the same food, we like the same clothes, same shoes, [so] we’re bound to fight, but at the same time I know I can’t live without her. I know she can’t live without me.”
Janice turns to face Sonia, arms stretched out. “Big hug!” Sonia responds with a grimace and crossed arms.
One can see how their sisterly dynamic carries through from their everyday lives into their videos. Their honesty is very apparent and perhaps the reason for their success. People all around the world have fallen in love with Janice and Sonia because of their on-camera authenticity. YouTube has been the perfect outlet to showcase this.
When it comes to being open about faith they’re not concerned about losing subscribers. While some aspiring artists conceal faith for fear that it could deter people from becoming fans, Janice and Sonia put it right out in the open. You could even say that they flaunt it. “That’s who we are. We can’t really put our faith on and off.”
There are those that speak up against their faith, saying that their talent is going to waste for the glory of God. Others have expressed displeasure towards Jayesslee’s cover of The Script’s “Break Even” where they changed the line “I’m praying to a God I don’t believe in” to “I’m praying to a God I believe in.”
“We don’t let it affect us too much,” says Sonia. “It’s inevitable. You know in the end it’s what we believe in and we’re confident about it.”
As they say, “haters gonna hate.”
WHEN THE FLAME STARTS TO BURN OUT
Their concert up until now has been a calming acoustic experience. The two have been sweetly entertaining the crowds with their music and witty quips in between numbers. But now things seem to be going in a more somber and serious direction. They indicate they will now be telling us something serious. “
The concert hall becomes quiet. The two of them, moments earlier laughing, singing, and joking, now share a very tender and intimate moment with their fans.
Janice and Sonia were only seven when the news of their mother diagnosed with breast cancer hit their family. Being so young they didn’t fully understand the physical and mental consequences of cancer but as time went on the cancer began to spread further into their mother’s body.
They questioned God. Asking questions like, “Why? How? Why them?” They had always been told in church that God was good all the time. But it was hard to believe that while watching their mother slowly wither away.
Suddenly at 15 Janice and Sonia found themselves having to come to terms with the fact that their mother only had two weeks to live.
“Sonia and I decided to be strong,” Janice tells us. She says the two of them made a choice and promised each other that, instead of breaking their parents’ hearts by being sad, they would cry one last time and pray for their mother. It was then when a certain peace washed over them. They finally understood that God had a plan for everyone and that they should make the most of their time with their mother while she was still with them.
Shortly after their mother died in hospital, but not without a memorable moment.
Just when it seemed like all her strength had left her, their mother raised her arms and sang a Korean worship song.
Everyone in the concert hall is now stifling sniffles. Janice and Sonia tell us they want to share the song. First they say in English, “Lord here I am, My heart, my body, I give it to you. Use me as I am, hallelujah.” Now they start singing in their usual two-part harmony, this time in Korean.
FLAMES NEVER DIE OUT
In the concert hall the show has long been over, but Janice and Sonia are lingering by the stage to talk with those still remaining. Fans squeeze past the crowd and eagerly come back to ask for photos. They pose, they smile, and they part with a hug. They repeat this process with virtually everyone who asks.
“At the end of the day it’s really not by your own efforts,” said Sonia, “it’s God who gives opportunities to open the doors so just [by] being faithful and knowing him daily, walking with him, He will get you to where you need to go.”
They say that God shines through his children and this could not be more true for these sisters. Their love for Him is truly the most beautiful part about them.
Janice and Sonia have turned a hobby into a full-time job they love. Most of their YouTube videos have well over a million hits. It has been a great tool for them. When I ask if they would still make singing a career if YouTube didn’t exist, their answer is clear.
“God would provide some other way. I’m pretty sure this is what we’re called to do. I mean, we’re not very good at anything else so I’m pretty sure God would have opened other doors. It just happened to be YouTube for us,” says one of them, I’m not too sure which, but it doesn’t really matter; I’m positive the other would wholeheartedly agree.
Taken from the November-December issue of Converge. Photos by Agnon Wong and Grace Lau.
Carmen Bright can be described by a number of words. 'Suave' is not one of them.
Check out college student Raychel Manko’s version of the popular Nicki Minaj song ‘Super Bass’. Pretty hilarious and complete opposite message from the original. Would love to hear what you think! Video is in the jump. Read More
Shara Lee is the founding Editor of Converge Magazine. Find her on twitter @shara_lee to keep up with her up to the minute thoughts and be inundated with pictures of her dog.