It has been quite the year for Grace Helbig, the actress and comedian behind the hit YouTube channel “Daily Grace”: She moved to Los Angeles after living in New York City for five years, recently won two Streamys for “Audience Choice Finalist For Personality of the Year” and “Best First Person Series” and just bought a life-size giraffe head to furnish her new cabin in the hills of Los Angeles.
Grace first began making YouTube videos when she and her best friend Michelle Vargas moved to Manhattan to pursue comedy right after graduating from college in 2006. A year later, Grace signed with the online comedy network MyDamnChannel, and now with six years of YouTube experience under her belt, she has become one of the most prominent female comedians in the YouTube space with over 1 million subscribers and 117 million video views. She releases a themed video every weekday starting with Miscellaneous Mondays, Comment Tuesdays for hazing her viewers, Review Wednesdays, How To and Tutorial Thursday and Sexy Fridays for giving advice on sexy things.
Yet despite her superstar YouTube status, Grace is still continuing to pursue auditions throughout Hollywood and is looking to create and star in her own television comedy show that will utilize the social media experience. Surrounded by the 25 couch pillows she admits to obsessively collecting, Grace shared with NMR her craziest audition experience, why it was time to move from New York City to Los Angeles and her thoughts on YouTube’s relationship with Hollywood.
To watch interview in video format, go to the last page.
How has everything been since moving to L.A.?
Grace Helbig: Everything has been pretty cool since I came to L.A. It’s nice to be surrounded by people who do YouTube for a change. New York you kind of end up being somewhat of a little island unto yourself ‘cause it’s not as huge of a community there, and here I find myself getting excited to talk about YouTube with YouTubers because I can do it face to face now, and it’s been really great. And collaborating has kind of gone through the roof. There was one week recently where I was literally doing a collaboration video with someone every single day of the week, and it was really stressful but it was also very cool because then all those videos come out, it’s like, oh, this is why it’s nice to be out here. Also I wore shorts in February so that’s a great change.
Why did you decide to move out here?
Well, for a couple reasons. You tend to hit a ceiling in New York. I go on auditions for TV, film and there you can only do so much. That industry is out here as well as the YouTube industry so it is kind of twofold to come out here for pilot season and to come out here so I could start collaborating and working with people and figuring out what the next step is for the Daily Grace channel and how I can grow it in ways that might not only be on YouTube. I’ve got a couple things that are going on that hopefully will blossom into beautiful trees of interesting content for people.
How is the L.A. YouTube community different from the New York YouTube community?
The L.A. YouTube culture is different from the New York YouTube culture in that New York does not have a YouTube culture, or the culture is very small, and here it’s very big and it’s just you can’t even compare it. I was doing collaborations in New York with YouTubers across the country and asking them to send me their footage and I’d edit it into something, and it’s not the same as being in a room with someone, and it’s just so much easier here. It’s just so much easier. And there is beautiful natural light here all the time. In New York the weather is a horrible b*tch, so you can’t depend on shooting, outside at least. When I left, I left right after Hurricane Sandy and it was kind of like the final f*ck you from New York to me as I left, and I was like, thank you very much New York City! You were a horrible, horrible b*tch to me, but also nice sometimes. You’re like a PMSing woman to me — you’re really nice when I fed you french fries but then you would just get mad at me for no reason.
How long did you live there for?
I was in New York from December of 2007 until November of 2012, so that’s about five years I guess. Five years, a toddler — I was there for a toddler’s age.
What were you most excited about moving to L.A.?
I think I was super excited to move here for the change. In New York there was a period of time where I was moving every six months; I was very migratory and I liked change and I liked starting over. So I’m one of those people who loves New Years’ resolutions but then I love starting new New Years’ resolutions like two months later, and so I was excited to have a change. I finally lived in an apartment in New York for three years and I felt like it was still very temporary, so I feel like I’ve kind of nested here in more ways than one ‘cause there are lots of animals around here [looks around room]. But I’ve made really good friends with a lot of YouTubers, and so it’s nice to hang out on a different coast with those people.
Have you ever made any really impulsive changes?
Oh, well one impulsive change is after I went through a breakup I got a dog in New York and his name is Doug. He is a teacup chihuahua. He now lives with one of my co-video makers, slash friends Michelle Varags, and I got him ‘cause I was lonely, and I was like, oh a tiny adorable thing will make me feel better, and I can fit him in my Ugg boot, and this is great! And then after that one day of fitting him in an Ugg boot I was like, I can’t take care of this thing! I can barely take care of myself right now, and luckily Michelle grew up with dogs and was very good at taking care of dogs and when she moved in with her boyfriend who had a dog, she took Doug, and I learned that I wasn’t ready for dog care at that time. But now I feel like I’m in a space, as you can see by the dog bed that is not for any dog, but will be in the future soon. Here’s hoping. I just want a big dog that protects me if any weirdos come by.
Do you have a type of dog you’d want to get?
I’ve been having a lot of nights lately where I have a glass of wine and peruse Petfinder.com, and there have been a lot of dogs that I’ve wanted. There was this little liter of dachshunds slash mini pinschers; they were mini pinscher and dachshunds, and they were so cute and I wanted all of them! And one of their names was Harmony, and her head was bigger than her body. It was so great. But I just have to let myself know that I can’t Doug it again; I have to find the right dog, so I think after pilot season when things will calm down a little bit and I know I’ll have more time to spend at home with an animal, I will actually venture out to some adoption agencies out here — I hear there are some really good ones — and get myself a tiny creature.
What has been going on for you during pilot season?
Pilot season has been in full swing. I’ve been going on a lot of auditions, I’ve been going on a lot of meetings with development departments, and it’s just such a silly thing. It’s very silly. You put yourself up for judgment basically on a daily basis, and it’s done wonders for my self esteem. It’s been great. I just had a moment the other day where I went on an audition at ABC and I walked into the room, and it was for a pilot that was about three main girls, and I walked into a room of just about twenty girls all beautifully dressed and perfectly accessorized and I just started laughing out loud because it’s just so silly. They were all sitting in this room totally nervous and like wringing our hands like, oh god, waiting for this God-like creature to judge us and either choose or not choose us and it’s such a thing. And then when you realize, oh no one is forcing us to be in this crazy, emotionally taxing thing, we’ve all volunteered to be here, it’s just so silly. But coming to the end of pilot season, I haven’t booked anything, but it’s been really pushing my desire to create my own content which is what I’ve been used to doing, which I feel is my strong suit, so now I’m trying to kind of curve my trajectory in a direction that allows me to create possibly my own show.
Would you want to create your own show on YouTube or stay within the world of television?
I’d like to be within the world of television for this future endeavor but utilizing YouTube at the same time. A lot of questions I get are, what’s the future of TV and internet? Will they fight to the death or will they have sex with each other? And I think that they need to have sex with each other because neither one is going to go away entirely, but the idea of collaboration and supplemental content on another platform I think is a smart way to bring new life to old media, so that would be my goal is to create a program that utilizes the digital medium and creates an experience for people rather than just, hey, here is my content on this wall, look at it. I want it to be interactive in as many ways as it can be. What that is, is to be determined — I have all of the descriptions of it, but I just don’t have “it” yet.
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You have such a huge following on YouTube but you’re still going on television auditions. Is it because you just really love television? Have you ever considered just sticking to one medium?
I was auditioning for TV film before I started doing YouTube. YouTube came about in 2008 — I started working for MyDamnChannel.com and putting up “Daily Grace” on their website for two years and then it went on YouTube, all the while I was still auditioning for commericials and TV and film, just nothing had happened. And about a few months ago I booked a Lowes commercial that went on TV, and it was a series — we shot eight commercials in three days, and everyone online that saw it was like, “Daily Grace is in this commercial — Lowes got Daily Grace!” When really it’s like, they got Grace Helbig the actress that auditions for things; it wasn’t like they saw my YouTube videos and plucked me from the internet. The YouTube videos almost didn’t get me the job because companies like to have a very squeaky clean spokesperson, and some of the videos are not squeaky clean. So I always wanted to be a person that was involved in both worlds ‘cause I think that they can coexist and support each other, and I think TV is obviously a great way to reach another audience, just another platform to reach an audience.
I saw the Lowes commercial come up on TV with my family, and I was yelling, “I know her!”
[laughs] Lowes almost didn’t hire me because of a piece that I shot with G4 for “Attack of the Show,” and after they disregarded it and put the commercials up, the social media returns on the commercial was so ecstatic and so positive that they were like, “We love Grace! She’s great! We love her! Forget everything we said! We didn’t say anything! We were always Grace, Grace, Grace!” And so I think that they realized the power of the internet to help promote product, and that’s why I think I could never fully ever abandon the internet — it’s such a great, cool place, and also a terrible place?
Do you feel like being on YouTube has been an advantage to being an actress or is it actually a disadvantage?
Well, I definitely don’t look straight into the camera on auditions. I’ve learned not to do that, but I think it is really helpful to have done YouTube. I talk to myself everyday so I know my point of view and my persona and my voice, so I feel like going into an audition, I know that this is who I am; I’m Grace Helbig as this character, and you’re either going to want that or you’re not gonna want it. So far no one has wanted it, but like so many people before me like Felicia Day and Tina Fey and all these really smart, talented women, I’ve started to realize you have to create the part for yourself, and that’s where my focus is turning too. I think YouTube is just so helpful because just over the four years or five years I’ve been making web videos, I said I’ve developed my comedy perspective and I would have had a really hard time doing that had I not been making a video every single day except for Saturday and Sunday.
What’s been a really memorable audition for you?
Well actually, the Lowes audition was a really memorable audition ‘cause it was one of those auditions where I was like, if I don’t book this, this audition tape is going to go online somewhere in 20 years and people are going to be like, “This is insane,” ‘cause the director really liked f*cking with people, so he wanted you to be an a**hole to potential customers because they were using real customers. So you had to be able to riff with them until they got the sound byte they needed for their commercial, and so he was having me do crazy stuff like my energy super high. He’s like, “There are jets next to you. Pretend there are jets next to you.” And I was like, “Welcome to Lowes, blah, blah, blah,” and I was making horrible puns and just like screaming, and I walked out of the audition room and all the girls that were waiting to go in who — at that point in time this was in New York, and I knew a lot of them because the comedy scene is very tight-knit — were just like, “Oh we heard it. Sounded great.” Yeah, that was really embarrassing, and every girl that went in was like, “I feel like we’re all getting punked right now in this audition.” Then I ended up booking the audition and then the day we shot he was like, “Okay, so everything that you did in that audition, don’t do. So we just got to play it real monotone.” [laughs] And so in the commercial I’m just like the most generic version of like “Try my Lowes,” and so it was one of those things where I was like, why did you make me do all of that then? And I think he just wanted to see that someone would do what he said, so that tape will probably be online at some point in time, but it was definitely one of those where I was like, god I hope I booked that, because if not I just really went to the lowest common denominator for something [laughs].
How would you describe your comedy style?
I think my comedy style, it’s not mean spirited, it’s silly, it’s goofy, it’s fun. When people ask me to describe “Daily Grace,” because the audience tends to lean towards teenage girls, I say, “‘Daily Grace’ is your awkward older sister that doesn’t know everything about the world but is trying to figure it out with you and give you advice that might not be the best. but she’s trying,” and so I think that kind of summarizes. It’s awkward and goofy and hopefully not annoying is what I try to steer clear of.
You are making a video every weekday — what is your creative process like? How do you stay fresh and not get burned out?
I create a lot of content, and sometimes I sit back and I look at it, and I’m like, woah, that’s pretty cool that I’ve done a lot of different ideas. And then sometimes I sit back and the fear — oh god, one day the well is going to run dry! But the great thing about the internet and about it being a two-way street is I utilize Tumblr and I ask people for ideas for Wednesday reviews or “How To’s” or what kind of advice do you need for daily advice episodes. And it’s been really, really great, and I think that’s a part of the success that “Daily Grace” has had is that there is a closeness to the audience because they help me make videos everyday. For instance, I have to make a video — today is Wednesday — for tomorrow which is Thursday, so it will be a “How To” video, and I have no idea what I am going to do yet. I’m trying to find an hour in my day that I can shoot it because I have meetings and other things going on, and I know that after this I will probably go on Tumblr and put up “What do you want to learn how to do?” and then come back in a few hours and check and see if any of them sparked something in my brain. There will be days when I am driving and I’ll have an idea; I did something called “Sexy 991 Phone Calls” a few weeks ago and that idea just hit me while I was driving and listening to Alicia Keys’ “That Girl Is On Fire” or whatever that song is. And so sometimes I have ideas where I am like very excited about, but all the other days I will ask the internet and they’re always really great.
If you could have anyone in your videos dead or alive, who would you pick?
Oh my god, at this point I would really want to have Jennifer Lawrence in a video and take a shot with her.
She’s doing that all at the Oscars.
She took a shot after the Oscars and she was hilarious, so I’d like to have her I think in a “Daily Grace” video even if she was just standing in the back while I did a “Daily Grace” video and she was never talked to. Just to have her presence there I think would be real comforting to me.
Would you want her to be in her giant dress?
Yeah, her giant like conch shell dress that she wore. That girl should just wear pants; she needed to stop ‘cause obviously the dresses aren’t working for her.
If you could have any cartoon character in a video who would you pick?
I want Bobby from “King of the Hill.” I think he is the greatest created cartoon character of all time; a flamboyant, overweight boy from Texas is so perfect! I would love to have him in a “Daily Grace”!
Is it ever hard getting criticism from viewers and not taking it personally?
Reading comments and listening to negative comments is impossible, so you can’t let yourself fall down that hole of doing the self-sabotage, pity myself ‘cause these people don’t like me. You’re never going to please everyone; the internet is huge. That’s why there is not just one website on the internet, ‘cause there is something for everyone and your brain has this tendency to remember pain more than pleasure, which so fascinates me, because you’ll read a hundred great comments and then you’ll read one negative comment and you’ll remember that negative comment word for word, but you couldn’t quote any of the other hundred that you’ve read. And it’s just something chemically that I think happens that allows us to remember pain, and so I’ve learned by doing it so many times that I’m not going to make everyone happy. People have issues that they like to project onto other people by typing it out, and it might make them feel good for a second, that’s fine, I can’t take it personally. If I took it personally, I wouldn’t be able to ever create anything, so it’s hard to do but you just have to let it slide and I just like to picture them in a wood-paneled basement living a very sad sad life and then I’m fine and I feel good [laughs].
Was that something you have to learn or has it been pretty natural?
It was hard. I remember my roommate Michelle and I had a conversation about mean comments when we first started getting mean comments, and it’s so hard because you want to post it on your blog and be like, this person is an idiot, everyone yell at this person! And I remember one time on Tumblr I did respond to a teenage girl leaving me a mean comment, and people went after her and I felt so horrible; I felt so, so bad that I let a teenager get to me as an adult. She shut down her Tumblr, and I felt so, so horrible after that, so I learned a very valuable lesson to never fight it. Just let it exist, and it’s so easy to say and so hard to do, but you just have to try, try and make an effort to do it. You’ll waste your time; it’s a waste of time, it’s a waste of time.
How is the Daily Grace channel different from the GraceNMichelle channel?
Michelle and I started making videos post-college graduation in Jersey when we moved to Brooklyn to kind of like document our transition, and also it’s how we hung out. That was our hobby. We both had jobs, we’d come home from work, drink a glass of wine and make a video, and then we’d trade off who edited it, and it was really, really fun for a while. But then when I got the opportunity to work with My Damn Channel, and so Daily Grace separate, we kept it going for a little bit, but now we’re at a point in our lives where she is a life coach and I am trying to be an actress-writer-comedian and all those things, so we’ve diverged a little bit, but we still support each other full-force. And I think Daily Grace was a great playing field for me to be able to do things and try things that wouldn’t necessarily work on Grace N Michelle. And I love all the videos that we’ve made on Grace N Michelle and I think they were super, super fun. It was always just kind of a hobby for us there, and Daily Grace became a career and that’s where I had to focus my attention.
What are you working on now?
Now I am working on getting through the rest of pilot season. I’m doing live comedy shows with Hannah Hart and Mamrie Hart at the Meltdown Theatre here in Los Angeles, and we’re trying to take the show, it’s called “No Filter,” on tour and we’re hoping to go to a few colleges across the United States and do some live comedy, ‘cause Mamrie and I both come from comedy backgrounds. I do improv comedy in New York, and she’s done sketch comedy at UCB and all around New York as well, and after that working on some hopeful, potential TV ideas and maybe throw in a book idea in there, we’ll see. Wheels are turning, but right now the immediate future — oh, also gearing up for Playlist Live, the YouTube convention that happens in Orlando I think March 22nd to 24th around there I will be going to that and I will be going to SXSW for a couple days for My Damn Channel. It should be all in all a really great time.
Wow, you have a lot going on.
Yeah, my brain is barely hanging on right now.
When you’re not doing all of your YouTube and going to auditions, what do you like to do in your free time?
I love watching trashy reality TV and I like going out to eat and going out to bars. Living in New York it is a very easy thing to do, just walk out to bars. Mamrie and I would meet during the day, get a bloody mary at a bar, and talk over ideas for things, and I really liked that social aspect of eating out and drinking. I’ve also started to, because I now have a decent kitchen to cook in, I want to get into cooking more and entertaining at home, but my first go-to is always “Real Housewives.” All of them. I just watched an episode of “Vanderpump Rules” before you got here, [laughs] which is another excellent show. So that’s what I indulge in — really trashy reality TV.
Do you have a go-to drink?
My drink of choice varies a lot. I always love a dirty gin martini, but the drink that I drink all the time is usually a vodka soda. Wedding and that sort of thing, that’s kind of my go-to social drink ‘cause it doesn’t really give me hangovers. It’s low sugar, so it’s practical in a sense. I love margaritas, but I love dirty gin martinis. There is an old man deep inside me somewhere and that’s where that comes from.
Okay, so say your house catches fire — what are three things you would grab?
Probably grab the giraffe head because it’s surprisingly light-weight. I would grab my phone, and I usually have everything in my purse, so I’d probably just grab my purse, because I am a girl so I lose my credit cards and debit cards and phone all the time, so I now have to keep everything in one space so I remember it, so I think I’d grab my purse that would hopefully have my phone in it. The giraffe and my camera. I would grab my camera ‘cause I don’t want to replace that; I like my camera. I finally know how to use it enough. [Looks at pillow] Unfortunately, you would not be saved, sorry sir.
How was it going to the Streamys?
Oh my god, the Streamys were amazing. It really hasn’t sunk in to me yet. It was just such a surreal fun night, and Dick Clark productions put on a great show! I was so impressed from start to finish with everything, and it’s just a fun night to celebrate the industry that you work in. Everyone had this joy radiating from them that was so cool to be around and it’s just to be like, ah the internet is an industry that is growing and succeeding so let’s all celebrate it tonight, and it was great. I was like, why don’t we have these once a month? This is a great time for everyone!
And you won two awards too!
Yeah, I won two awards which added to the joy that was radiating off of me in particular! And I won the Audience Choice Award which was amazing ‘cause that means that people voted for that, and that’s very very cool. And I was never prom — I was going to say prom king — I was never prom king or queen for that matter, and voting things are always very strange situations and a weird way to feel validated, but it made me feel really appreciated by the people I’ve never met before, and it was very very cool. And afterwards there was some tears shed after; I had a sweet sincere moment to myself about it and it was just very, very cool. It was also scary ‘cause it’s like, oh maybe these awards are signs that I’m peaking right here, right now, and everything can only go downhill, so either way cool night.
Was there anyone you were super excited to meet?
I was excited to see the SourceFed crew. I never really get to see them, and I think they’re really great and I’m really glad that they got the appreciation that they deserve, because they work their butts off and I think that they are doing a great job. Also, Eliza Dushku, after I won the “Best First Person Series,” I went back to my seat and she leaned over — she was sitting behind me — and was just like, “Great job, great speech.” I was like, “Thank you,” and she’s like, “I’m Eliza,” and I tried to play it cool, and I’m like, “I’m sorry, what?” She’s like, “I’m Eliza,” and I’m like, “Oh, I’m Grace nice to meet you.” And she’s like, “Yeah, it was really great,” and I was like, “Oh thanks, blah, blah, blah,” and then I turned back around and I was just like, ah Eliza Dushku. And she was sitting next to Joss Whedon and I wanted to be like, “Joss, I auditioned for your new TV show ‘The Shield’ — maybe you’d like to rewatch my tape if you want to.” But I regret not making that statement to him, but I think it’s probably for the best. But that was a really cool moment at the Streamys.
Were you dancing when Vanilla Ice was rapping?
Oh god, Vanilla Ice. I was unfortunately in the back of the theatre, and people were trying to talk to me, and I was like, “Shhh, Vanila Ice is performing!” There is my favorite GIF of all time is Mamrie Hart, like my best friend, she gets up and she’s the first person to get up and she’s doing this [fist pumps in the air] when he’s behind the thing going, “Go ninja, go ninja, go!” It’s her behind the thing going “Go ninja, go ninja, go!” and the camera finds her instantly, and I was backstage at that point at the beginning of the thing, and I was like, “Mamrie!” I saw it on TV and I was just like screaming I was so excited, and then I went back and rewatched his performance online and he was amazing! There was no irony to his performance; he just gave it his all and was a total showman, and I thought that was so cool! Vanilla Ice, an internet award show, and he’s just like with Epic Rap Battles and with Chester See. He was so humble and great and shared the spotlight and it made me respect him so much more.
And then you met Lance Bass after that?
After the Streamys I got to do Lance Bass’ radio show on Sirius XM — it’s called “Dirty Pop,” and it was very cool. I saw him on stage presenting with the Fine Brothers, and I was like, “Oh my god, Lance Bass is here.” The first time I ever got drunk with my best friend in high school, her sister, we went to her sister’s college and got drunk and her sister’s friend and her sister drove us to a bowling alley, and I remember the whole night we just kept saying, “Who do you think you are, Lance Bass?” to her sister’s friend, because we thought that was the funniest thing in the whole world to say. And we said it literally hundreds of times that night, and I was so close to telling him that story, but I didn’t because I thought it might not be a flattering story for him or me, but it was really, really cool to do his radio show. He was someone in high school that I loved and I thought was so cool, so much so that the first time I got drunk I kept screaming his name, so he’s a great dude.
You pretty much had an instant connection with him then?
It was kismet; it has been written out as my destiny to link up with Lance Bass in some way, shape or form, and it’s come to fruition.
Who have been some very influential people in your comedy and your life?
Well, when I was younger — I’m the only girl in a family of brothers and I thought my brothers were the funniest people in the world, so I had a comedy inkling when I was younger because I always wanted to make them laugh. And I remember the first time I made them laugh was by doing a Cartman impersonation in the car when we were driving on a family trip, and I was like, yes, this is the greatest feeling! And so I wanted to do that somehow, and obviously Tina Fey was one of the first people that I thought was so, so great, and I wanted to follow her career path as a sketch writer and then maybe a performer, and so I was taking sketch writing classes. I started a sketch team at my college and an improv team, and we did a lot of comedy stuff and it was really fun. I also think that Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe on “Friends” is one of the funniest characters ever, and I think there is a real strong influence of that in “Daily Grace,” and when people comment on it, I’m like, oh cool! ‘Cause I think that her character’s just so funny, and people don’t really realize it or don’t think about it in terms of funny women. I think she’s just so, so great. And then currently people like Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy are just so endlessly funny, and Maya Rudolph and Rachel Dratch and Amy Poehler, they are just so, so great, and so I’ve definitely been influenced by them.
What advice would you have for women trying to break into the comedy YouTube space?
Yeah, it can be intimidating to break into a comedy space, whether it’s in traditional media or on the internet because it’s quote, unquote a male-dominated field. But it doesn’t matter; the only thing that matters in comedy is that you have a point of view or an opinion or perspective on the world that people can either relate to or laugh at, and so it doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a guy, it’s just your point of view, so work on developing your point of view and your voice; that’s the most important thing. And your authenticity ‘cause attention is currency online. I heard Chris Hardwick say this recently, and it really resonated with me and it’s true: if you can get someone’s attention, it’s like they’ve paid you for your service, and I think that authenticity rings so true online and people can see bullsh*t. Your audience is smart even if they seem dumb, so just don’t feed them bullsh*t; be authentic and find a point of view or find something you’re really passionate about. Also, if you’re passionate about two different things, combine them is always what I heard Chris Hardwick say, so basically just ask Chris Hardwick.
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Photography by Daniel Nguyen