Self-proclaimed vlogger and improv performer Grace Helbig is known to the YouTube world simply as “Daily Grace.” Her style blends comedy, quick wit and the personality of the awkward sister next door, Grace videos follow a theme of the day schedule: Tuesdays for hazing her viewers, Wednesdays for reviewing things (usually followed by a shot of Bailey’s), Thursdays for tutorials and Fridays for giving advice on sexy things (like cleaning the toilet). With brains, sarcasm and humor, Grace has not only made a name for herself as a female voice in the male-dominated world of comedy but has also inspired other girls to take a chance, step up to the mic and let the jokes fly.
When did you originally get into comedy?
I grew up in a family with all boys; I was the only girl. I have two brothers and three stepbrothers, and they were always so, so funny. I grew up around really hilarious boys, and we would watch “Saturday Night Live” every Saturday. They introduced me to “Monty Python;” they were great influences that way. After I got into college, I started pursuing comedy more and originally wanted to be a tiny Tina Fey. I wanted to write sketch comedy, so I took a lot of writing classes. Then I took a sketch writing class at People’s Improv Theatre, where I was also interning, and fell in love with performing. At the same time, I started watching a lot of web videos on the Internet and noticed that people were using their comedy online, so my roommate in college and I started making web videos together. Then we moved to NYC and continued on with it and let it grow into wonderful, wonderful things.
When did you first decide to get on YouTube and put up your first video?
When we were in college, I remember we didn’t have iMacs, so my roommate and I were taking editing classes which gave us access to the Mac lab. We spent so many hours in these Mac labs, and I remember seeing these two cute, funny girls that were talking to their webcam and answering questions that had been emailed to them by viewers. They used jump cuts, and I’d never seen jump cuts before, and it blew my mind! I was like, “Oh my god, you can erase so many unfunny moments, and you can use jump cuts to make it feel so much funnier!” I showed Michelle those videos, and we thought we could do those and started making our own little videos. A lot of friends spend time watching TV; we spent time making these videos together. Then, through an audition that I got through the People’s Improv Theatre, I spoke a part on the web series called “Bedtime Stories,” which eventually went up on My Damn Channel. Rob Barnett, the CEO of My Damn Channel, found the videos that Michelle and I had been making in our apartment and called in for a meeting to talk about how we could make something together for My Damn Channel, and “Daily Grace” was born.
So the “Daily Grace” comes out every weekday and has themes?
I shoot videos, and they air Monday through Friday. Before this phone call, I just shot my video for tomorrow that I will edit later today and put up in the middle of the night. It was really important that the videos have themes, especially when we decided to start putting “Daily Grace” on YouTube. The “Daily Grace” has been on MyDamnChannel.com since 2008, and in 2010, I decided to put it on YouTube as well. I sat down with the director of content at MyDamnChannel, and he was definitely adamant about giving it some sort of structure. I need a lot of freedom with the videos, but freedom within structure is really a great formula, and it worked out really, really well. We came up with the categories, which was also helpful for me to figure out what I wanted to do each day. Rather than pulling from any idea in the universe, I can pull from any idea within this category, which made it a lot easier to conceptualize each day. It’s fun because each day feels special now.
Are the videos a mixture of your ideas and fan-generated suggestions?
Yeah, I firmly believe that the Internet took stage over other mediums because of its intimacy and its interaction. On television, you can’t get the intimacy directly with those characters, but you can in web videos and especially when you’re able to draw ideas from viewers themselves — not that I try and do a lot unless I have very strong idea already that I want to create. I will usually go on Tumblr or my Facebook page or Twitter and ask people for their ideas, and it just makes it feel like we are all collaborating on these videos together. I like being able to take someone’s idea, turn it into my own concept and still give credit to all of the people for helping me make them. I think that’s what’s made it successful.
What have you learned along the way from video one till now?
I’ve learned a lot about my voice and my style of comedy. I go back to some of my videos that I first did in 2008, and at the time, I thought they were the funniest thing in the world! And now to me, they are so dumb. I mean, your comedy perspective comes from your own experiences, and so in four years, mine has definitely changed a little bit. It’s also been interesting because with YouTube, the analytics are so precise that you can find out exactly your demo on every video: what age range is watching you, what gender, how long they are watching your videos for, how many they are watching in a row. That’s really helpful for me to understand what types of people are watching my videos so that I can create content that I think that they will enjoy specifically. YouTube has also been helpful to know what doesn’t work as well, like heavy-handed promotion.
After joining My Damn Channel in 2008, how has it been different working for a network rather than working on your own?
Well, that’s the thing; this network is good at making me feel like I working on my own. They don’t step in or impose too many parameters for me, but at the same time, they are a great resource and have a lot of smart, creative and knowledgeable people working for them. It’s like a support system of people that are able to help me out if I’m having technical issues or if I need help uploading. They’re really supportive that way and promotional-wise too; they’ve been really great. Every now and then, there will be a new web series that is on their channel that I’ve promoted; just like a family system, you promote your brothers and sisters. I’ve really been so thankful that they’ve given me the chance to cultivate this web presence. It’s been amazing.
What do you feel like you’ve gotten out of putting these on YouTube as opposed to if you had just decided stand-up or performance comedy?
I used to do some sketch shows at the People’s Improv Theatre with Michelle; we used to do some live shows there. I remember working so hard to fill an audience of 100 people in a theatre and then putting a video online and within four hours watching 100 views happen on it with almost no effort. It felt like the Internet was just such a concentrated space where you could reach so many more people, and you could still get the type of comedy and the view point that you want. It just seemed so new and exciting. We are kind of tech-nerds and kind of homebodies, so it was the best of both worlds for us to create comedy from home. We are pretty self sufficient, so we’re into shooting, editing and uploading all our own stuff. I have a lot of comedy friends now that are trying to get into the Internet and YouTube world, and it feels exciting to have had a leg up on it. I tell everyone now, I’m like, “Do you have a YouTube page? You need to have a YouTube page.” It’s become like this product that I’m selling to everyone now, “You’re on the Internet? That’s really great; you should buy some.”
At what point did you realize, I can actually make a career out of this?
Well, it was interesting because I still today do improv comedy at the People’s Improv Theatre, and the first year or so that I was blogging for MyDamnChannel, I didn’t really tell anyone at the comedy theatre about it because it was so new that it felt almost embarrassing that I was making these web videos online. But then when we put them on YouTube, and we saw an audience start growing and growing at a pretty rapid pace, it made me feel like, okay, this has some value, this is interesting to people, and it’s something I really enjoy doing. It’s a hobby that becomes a job, so once you see that people want to watch it and people are into it, then you realize this could be something bigger than anything I ever thought it was.
I remember walking into a Brooklyn Industries in my neighbor maybe two months after I started putting “Daily Grace” on YouTube, and one of the employees walked over to me and was like, “You’re DailyGrace.” I was so embarrassed, and my face got all red, and I was like, “…Uh, you watch the videos?” He was like, “Yeah, you hazed my roommate.” It was so crazy! I was like, “Thank you so much for watching the videos,” and I immediately left the store. I was like, I need to evacuate myself from this situation! This is overwhelming because you never see faces behind these anonymous numbers that come up under your video of views, so to hear that a complete stranger had watched one of my videos blew my mind. I came back and was so excited to make another video. That was kind of like a little turning point.
Do you still get that excitement when people say they watch your stuff?
I do! I perform on an improv team called Borealis at the People’s Improv Theatre on Friday nights, and every now and then, “Daily Grace” fans will come to the theatre. I remember there was this one girl from Chicago; she came with her mom. We came out on stage and were getting our suggestion from the audience, and I looked in the front row, and she was wearing a “You’ve Been Hazed” shirt, and my mind was just like, “Oh my god, how am I supposed to do this show now? I’m so distracted!” It was so wonderful, and she was such a nice girl. She was there with her mom, and her mom watched the videos, and they were so, so nice. She said that I inspired her to get into comedy. She was doing improv comedy in Chicago, and it just made me feel so good and so validated in a weird way that these videos were not only stupid ideas that I had in my brain, but were helping young girls. I remember being a young girl surrounded by my brothers, obsessing over Tina Fey because I thought that she was so inspiring being a woman in the comedy space, and if I can make another little girl feel that way then that’s the only motivation I need.
Is it a challenge being in the comedy space with few other female writers or performers?
Yeah, this has become an interesting subject that I get asked about a lot: is it a challenge being a female in the comedy world. And in some ways, it is, but I really believe that you are either good at comedy or you’re not good at comedy. As I said, it comes from your own personal experience, and that’s something that audiences can either relate to or can’t relate to. I have my own personal set of experiences that I draw on for inspiration, and I think people will either like it or won’t like it. I personally think for myself an advantage for me being a girl in this space, if I had a nickel for every tall, white awkward boy I’ve seen in comedy, I would be a millionaire, and so I do not envy them at all. I feel like there is an advantage to it; I enjoy it, and I feel like there is just women coming to the forefront of comedy right now, and I’m happy and hopeful to be one of them.
What do you think your audience connects with in your videos and keeps them subscribing and coming back every week?
I think in a way that I’ve become this awkward older sister to my audience. Like I said, a lot of them are going through high school or starting college, and I’m able to sort of talk to them, make fun of my own college experience, and I think that’s what interesting to them. Its’ like this girl is clearly older than them, giving them clearly bad advice about how to live their lives and being slightly awkward about it. I think that girls especially find the videos interesting that they don’t have to be super beautiful, prissy, put-together. You can be awkward and weird and strange and uncomfortable and celebrate that side of you. As long as you’re having a good time, that’s all that matters, so I think I’m that awkward older sister that is trying to give them any comfort possible.
Yeah, there is an awkward personality in the videos. Is that how you are in your everyday life, or is that kind of played up a little bit?
Yeah, it’s definitely a heightened version of myself, but its all definitely myself. It all comes from my own neurosis and insecurities, and it’s developed over time. You start to find your voice and find what people find funny, and you tend to consciously or subconsciously play that part of you more in your videos. But, it is 100 percent me.
What have been some of your favorite videos to make?
Recently, I made the video called “How to Make Your Videos Epic,” teaching you how to use filters and music to make your videos epic. That was really fun and actually an idea that came to me on the subway. I didn’t pull from the audience or the suggestion because I had such a clear vision riding to an audition and from an audition in the city. I was so excited to come home, work on it and post it for people to see it. The same happened last week; I did “101 Ways to Say No to Sex,” and that came from an idea from someone on Tumblr. I actually spent a long time writing out a list of 101 things that I was really proud of after the fact.
What else are you currently involved in?
I perform improv at the People’s Improv Theatre with a team called Borealis. I audition for TV and film on a regular basis, which is why the Internet is so fun when you’re able to go on an audition and you know they don’t like you, but you know that you can come home to the Internet at the end of the day to such a relieving thing. I’m working on a tour with Kevin Pereira right now called “Leetup” that will be coming to a few cities. It’s kind of a nerd, Comic Con-esque, digital sort of tour. It has a combo of a lot of fun things.
Grace Helbig, what makes you laugh really hard?
Babies and animals getting hit with giant bouncy balls. Those make me laugh so hard that it’s borderline psychotic. There is this one video of this mom chasing her daughter around on the front yard, and then she nails her with this giant yoga ball, and the girl falls over and she’s fine, but I could watch that video every single day. It’s so good.