From professional cricket to YouTube fame, then moving across the globe to follow his dreams, he’s already had quite the journey. TenEighty chats to Josh Pieters about originality on YouTube, being an entertainer, and making a name for himself.
Before YouTube, Josh Pieters’s life was on a very different path. He was 19 and had just signed his first professional cricket contract. “I played out the summer in South Africa for a team in Cape Town, which was great, and then I signed my first professional cricket contract to play in Stoke-on-Trent,” he says. “I’d been to England like once when I was 11, but I was 19 and excited to be doing what I love in another country.”
England, however, turned out to be a little different to how Josh had imagined. “Have you ever been to Stoke-on-Trent?” he asks warily. “I got there and I was like, ‘Oh my god’, because it’s literally the opposite of where I came from in South Africa… Knysna is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and I guess when you grow up there you don’t think about that much.”
But in Stoke, he adds, “it was hailing. It was on the verge of snowing. It was cold. I was so homesick.” Despite the cold and homesickness, Josh ended up loving England, and spent two years going between South Africa and London playing cricket during the English summer. Until something went wrong.
“The third season that I spent playing here, I got glandular fever a month into the cricket season so I wasn’t allowed to do any sport for five months after that. So I was in London with nothing to do.”
“I finally had this new thing that excited me and was working for me. It slowly just became my thing.”
YouTube had already been a big part of Josh’s life thanks to his childhood best friend, Caspar Lee. “I grew up with Caspar in South Africa,” Josh says. “We were 16 and he started making videos. We were best friends at school so we’d kind of mess around and make stupid things with absolutely no intention of even uploading them, and then he started uploading videos to YouTube.
“I was doing bits and bobs for the other guys but it wasn’t going to keep me that busy. I had this audience somehow, just from being in the other guys’ videos, like on Twitter, saying, ‘Start a YouTube channel!’”
So he did. In November 2015, Josh uploaded MY BIG MISTAKE and he hasn’t looked back since. “We did it and filmed it and it did really well, and I had another idea for a video and that one did really well,” he says, adding that he hasn’t missed a week since.
“I was 21 and this thing just excited me so much! I’d been playing [cricket] since I was about 13… nearly every day of my life until I was 21, then I finally had this new thing that excited me and was working for me. It slowly just became my thing.”
By now, Josh was part of a group of friends whose lives revolved around YouTube, allowing him to improve his video making skills quickly: “I was really lucky to have that guidance from Joe [Sugg] and Caspar. I would edit the video and they’d be like, ‘Maybe change that’, or ‘Don’t say that’. I was really lucky to have that.”
He acknowledges that “it’s so hard to get started without collaboration, so in that way I was really lucky. Sometimes you’ve got to make the most of what you’ve got and I feel like that’s what I did,” adding that “now it’s turned into my life which is really cool!”
With starting out on YouTube came a permanent move to London. He admits that he found it difficult at first. “I’d started my channel but I was still making ends meet and staying where I could, like on couches,” he recalls. At the start of 2016, he moved into his first flat in London, with Conor and Jack Maynard. “I finally got on my feet and I’m in another flat now with Caspar for this year. It’s all happened pretty quickly.”
Josh sees the UK YouTube community as very tight-knit. “There’s probably fewer creators so everyone kind of knows each other. I think it’s definitely a good community,” he says. “I feel like there are different little niches in the community – just friends or whatever, that’s natural with anything – but I’ve never had a bad experience with a UK YouTuber… everyone seems pretty cool and pretty friendly and easy-going.”
“My favourite thing is making people laugh.”
Two years on, he feels like he’s made a name for himself on YouTube, making challenge and prank videos. After being so closely associated with Caspar when he started out, he says, “I like to think I’ve established myself now more as my own person but obviously that takes time”. Entertaining people is now his main goal: “My favourite thing is making people laugh. I enjoy that.”
He mentions that his video-making process is “so different all the time. I might see something in the day and think, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea’, or see something on TV. If I’m really stuck I’ll go onto YouTube and look around and try and come up with something or put a spin on something I’ve seen on YouTube already, or speak to friends.”
Originality in challenge videos (a topic also discussed on the Popularity, Trends & Integrity panel at Summer in the City 2017) is important to Josh. “Even if you’re going to do a challenge that has been done before, give it your own spin, and you can make it still your own,” he suggests.
Challenge and prank videos are commonly known to perform well on YouTube, but there are differences of opinion about creators using clickbait to boost the amount of views on their videos. Josh says: “I think everyone [uses clickbait]. There’s so much content on YouTube now that you want your video to look as appealing as possible and you’ve put so much work into it, you obviously want people to watch it. I’m not ridiculous, but every now and then I will.
“If your videos are good enough, they will get the recognition they need,” he adds. “But it’s very tempting every now and then to help it along a little bit. I think everyone is guilty of it from time to time. I am as well.
“Compared to newspapers, I’d say we’re pretty tame,” he laughs.
Josh asserts that there’s clearly an audience for these types of videos, but what has helped him most is his close-knit group of friends and how viewers enjoy watching them together. Ultimately though, there aren’t any rules on what will succeed or fail. “I guess you don’t know sometimes why a video doesn’t do well and you don’t know why it does do well. If I knew exactly why my videos do well, I’d probably have a million subscribers by now!”
His favourite way to make these videos is surrounded by his YouTube friends. “I think people like to watch a group of people because then you kind of feel like you become part of that group. You understand their inside jokes.”
Making videos with his friends often allows him to create game show set-ups (like THE WEAKEST LINK! Youtube Edition) and act as the host, which he particularly enjoys. “I grew up watching all those shows. I enjoy doing that. I wanted to try to do an Amazing Race, but it would be really hard!”
Recently, Josh had the opportunity to trial his presenting skills on Comedy Central with his show Josh Investigates.
He describes the series as “basically where I go around investigating things – stupid things, like sex and climate change – and misconstrue or misunderstand everything. Becoming even more stupid than I was at the beginning of the episode.”
Would he consider presenting again in future? “Yeah, definitely! I like presenting so it’s definitely something I want to do more of… I like speaking to people, I like interacting with people on camera.”
Although he only started making videos in 2015, Josh has been aware of YouTube since around 2010. “Caspar and I used to watch a lot of YouTube when we were young”, he says, mentioning Ray William Johnson and Supermac18 as being among his favourite creators when he was younger.
Speaking about how the platform has evolved since, he says: “Obviously now there’s actual YouTube creators like us, whose job is to make content for YouTube, so I think it’s just become more of a proper media platform rather than just a website where you can find random stuff.
“It’s a platform where there isn’t a producer or anyone telling you what you can and can’t do – so it can be a problem as well, you can say some stupid things!” he adds.
“It’s as raw as you want it to be, so you’re seeing real things – you’re not seeing something that’s been manufactured by a Hollywood studio, or by someone with a lot of money, you’re seeing what people are really creating. That’s what’s unique about YouTube, and I think they need to be careful not to stray away from that.”
And Josh doesn’t think his life will move him away from YouTube any time soon. “I’ll always have something to do with YouTube,” he affirms. “I don’t know if I’ll be doing the same kind of stuff for the rest of my life but… whether it’s consulting or maybe helping other people with videos, or even still doing my own videos, I do still want to be involved with it.”
So who does he look up to on YouTube now? Josh mentions Ian Carter from iDubbbzTV, before speaking about Logan Paul, saying, “He’s really, really good. I’ve watched quite a few of his videos. I’d say he definitely deserves to be one of the biggest YouTubers at the moment because he really is entertaining.”
Logan’s most popular video is his song The Fall Of Jake Paul, created during a public feud between the Paul brothers. Two versions of the song were released a month apart and each of them currently have more than 60 million views.
On the controversy surrounding the Pauls, Josh says: “It’s just to make things interesting, isn’t it? There’s got to be a storyline and things to make things interesting, I guess. I don’t know, I don’t know them. Who knows what’s real and what’s not? But aside from that, I think Logan is really, really, really good. He’s just a very entertaining person.”
So what’s next for Josh? “We’ve kind of been working on something for the last year and a bit which is to do with a video I’ve done and we’ve been trying to make it into sort of a longer-format type show… It is a concept I’ve done on my channel but now I want to make it into a longer format thing.”
He adds: “I’ve got some cool ideas for some cool public stuff I want to do that’s a little bit original,” he says, referring to his video MOST INAPPROPRIATE THING DONE ON A TRAIN! as an example.
He also speaks about his goal of reaching a million subscribers. With 800,000 subscribers in just over two years, we don’t think it should be too difficult!
“I’m still striving to do as well as I can, but yeah, I’m super, super thankful. I didn’t really think that would happen,” he says. “You never really get used to it. It slowly happens and then that’s what it is and you’re like, ‘Okay, I guess that’s real life’, and it doesn’t feel real but it must be! And then you just sort of get on with it. But I am very grateful, very happy, and very thankful.
“I think, amongst younger people, YouTube’s a very popular thing… You can be a good role model for people and try your best to help a lot of people through things and give a lot of encouragement or entertainment,” he continues.
“As long as you’re helping to make people happier, or giving them a smile in their day by making a video that they like, I think that’s what matters.”
Photos by George Yonge.
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