While many YouTube comedians make their fame by being the most bombastic, dynamic, crazy person around, New York native Jason Horton gets people’s attention by playing the most love-shy, awkward guy around. It’s his natural, introverted abilities that has made him a name as an alternative comedian. Since breaking out with his Totally Sketch video, “Keyboard Cat: True Internet Story,” in 2009, he has collaborated with prominent Internet names like iJustine, Shane Dawson, Kassem G and Jenna Marbles. We caught up with him recently over lunch and then ended up zipping through a home furnishings store.
Why are you always playing the awkward young man/teen?
Jason Horton: I think why I’ve had so much success in being awkward in videos is because it’s pretty much me. It’s a somewhat heightened sense of me. That’s what I’ve been used to with women. It’s not so much that I was so awkward I couldn’t get a girl. I was awkward yet I still managed to get a girl. I think there’s that kind of honesty; I never tried to be someone I wasn’t. I never tried to be the cool guy. If you’ve seen any of my videos, I’m never the cool guy. I’m never the typical hero, and it wouldn’t be genuine. There’s so many people that are better at being the cool guy or the hero or the hot guy or whatever else there is. I do me because it seems to work, and I’m honest.
Has being the awkward guy helped you land roles?
Jason: I’ve had a lot of auditions for commercials or for anything because I can play that deadpan guy. It’s easy for people to be loud and yelling and screaming, “Look at me! Look at me!’ I’ve always been good at dialing that back and playing it subtle. Some of my favorite comedians are like that, so I try to emulate that. I’ve done so many Shane Dawson videos, which has been very helpful for my Internet presence, but it’s always like doctor, principal, policeman. I’m one of the few people that Shane knows that are not younger, so I pretty much land those roles. I joke on set that I want to play the hot model but no, I will put on the doctor coat again. But it’s great because I get to do what I think is funny, so whether it’s a doctor coat or a principal or a policeman, I get to do me still.
Given your more introverted personality, how did you get into acting?
Jason: It’s weird, because in high school I wasn’t a complete total loser nor was I popular. I was more of a nobody than anything. For some reason, I think that’s worse because you got the least amount of attention. I was really bullied in high school. It’s weird with all these bullying things that come up, and it’s all relative. Things hurt whether it’s because they called you fat once or say something that sent you over the edge. I was bullied dangerously, but for the most part, I was still kind of middle of the road, and that to me was worse. I got into theatre a little bit in high school and a little bit in college. I was also really into punk rock, straight edge and hard core. I couldn’t deal with douchebag actors. Even back then, I couldn’t deal with douchebag actors not knowing that I would ever end up in Los Angeles being surrounded by really great people and a lot of douchebag actors, so I couldn’t handle that. I found improv comedy. I was a fan of “The State” on MTV—one of my favorites. If it wasn’t for “The State,” I don’t know if I’d be doing this right now. I used to go to the tapings at New York University. I was just a huge fan. This was before YouTube. There was no YouTube. You saw it live, or someone had a tape of it. Then I kind of rediscovered improv, and I was with my girlfriend at the time, and I said, “Let’s go see an improv show.” She said, “You could be good doing that.” So I took some classes, and it was time for my first improv show and I said, “I can’t do this.” She said, “You could do it.” I have been improvising since, and that was about 8 or 9 years ago. Now, I perform every week, I teach improv, I’ve done sketches for Rob Huebel for UCB, places like IO West where I perform at. It’s given me this home to perform and translate it to YouTube. I think I found my voice very quickly, so I haven’t been stumbling or struggling and figuring it out almost too late.
What was the transition to YouTube like?
Jason: I met Michael Gallagher through Bree Essrig—another YouTuber. She joined an improv group that I started in San Diego. When I went to LA, Michael asked, “Do you know any actors or good comedians?” At the time, Steve Green and I were doing improv together with her roommates. She connected us to Michael Gallagher. We’d show up to his place,–never met him before–knock on the door and we shoot this video, “True Hollywood Story: Keyboard Cat.” I’ve done Funny or Die and UCB comedy. I was familiar with it, but YouTube is a community, a home which I didn’t know at the time. So I shot this video and got a whole bunch of views, and they asked, “Do you want to do another one?” We did “Sexual Activity” with Nikki Limo. First time I worked with Nikki Limo, we end up in our underwear. She’s an actor. I’m an actor. Then I did “Behind the Scenes” with iJustine and Shane Dawson for Totally Sketch. So I started realizing the more videos I did, the more people said, “You should have your own channel.” I had a channel called “Horton5151,” but it got spammed. Then, George, the head of partners at YouTube, gave me the name “JasonHorton.” People started pointing at me and said, “Oh, you’re famous.” I’m not famous because I’m not on TV or I’m not in the movies. I’m not famous. I’m a nobody. So I realized how this could work, and I started pointing to myself. Yet here I am, still a nobody.
A nobody who has millions of views on YouTube.
Jason: Between both of my channels, I have 4 million views, but I’ve been seen in going on 300 million with Totally Sketch, Shane Dawson, KassemG, Annoying Orange. If you add up all those and my own stuff, it just keeps growing. I’m the king of collaboration. There’s probably other people that are doing a better job. That’s how I became popular, not because I was so funny or great. I worked with every popular YouTuber.
You’ve also collaborated with Jenna Marbles on Totally Sketch. What was that like?
Jason: I wrote the sketch, and they said, “Great, I’m going to get Jenna Marbles.” I don’t know who she is, but she shows up in my apartment. She’s great, funny, cool. She doesn’t know me. I don’t know her. We do the sketch and end up obviously in our underwear in bed. She’s great. She’s a really good actor and a good YouTuber. Everyone was like, “What was it like? Did you get a boner?” It’s a job. I take it really seriously. I’ll only do sexual stuff if it’s funny. If it’s not funny, I’m like, “Don’t just have a girl in a bra just for views.” She obviously got very, very popular. The video was “The Morning After” that I wrote for Totally Sketch. I also did her music video “Bounce That Dick” where she has sex with my face with food. There’s a part where I have mascara running down my eye, and that was my idea. I was like, “I’m going to do this 100 percent. I’m not doing it for the sake of doing it.” I’ve been known for being one of the very few people that she has done a sketch with.
Is creating collaborations that easy?
Jason: It’s not that easy. People ask me all the time, “How do I do collaborations?” Well, number one, you physically—I know everyone can send clips to each other, and YouTube shouldn’t be restricted to where you live. If I lived in Iowa right now, and I wanted to do this interview with you, we probably wouldn’t be able to do it in person, so being in an area where a lot of YouTubers are helps. People ask, “How do I do this? How do I do that?” If you really want to be an actor, you’ve got to live in LA or even New York. They say they’ll do anything but won’t do anything. It’s kind of like—I think about it as like I dated a girl who was considered hot. Other girls that were hot would be like, “Well, if she’s dating him, maybe I want to date him.” I feel like it’s the same thing. I know it’s a terrible thing to say, but it’s really true. Everyone wants to share audiences. I don’t have so much to offer as other people, but I’ve risen in value and I guess I’m an alternative comedian. I’ve got a big audience that way, and I’ve even got my own audience. It’s not hard if you have something to offer. If you have nothing to offer, it’s hard to get a job.
Do you have a dream collaboration?
Jason: I feel like I’ve already collaborated with so many awesome people. I’m a huge fan of Miranda Sings. I know she’s not a YouTuber in the visual sense, but she’s so funny and interesting. If she wanted me to be an extra in one of her videos, I would do it. But I’ve done videos with so many awesome people that it’s like I don’t even know who else is out there. I like this group, Magic Hugs. One of my favorite YouTube videos is “How To Be Tight.” I would like to do something with them. I don’t think anything’s out of reach. It’s just a matter of “Am I right for this?” “No.” Great. Are you right for something of mine? “No.” No big deal. It just has to be the right project, right time.
What kind of advice do you have for aspiring comedians on YouTube?
Jason: Don’t go on YouTube first and do the comedy second. Don’t be like, “All right, well I want to be an aspiring comedian. I’ll figure out the YouTube stuff, and later I’ll figure out my voice in comedy.” Know your voice. Know what you think is funny. Be unapologetic about it. Do it, and never look back. There’s people that will love it, people that will hate it, but you’re going to find your audience, and it’s going to be genuine. Do something that’s great. Don’t be like, “Shane Dawson vlogs, and I’ll vlog for that reason only.” No, do what you want to do first, and then kind of find your platform or niche to do it.