By Charlotte Chilton and Taylor Wanbaugh
Jimmy Donaldson, aka MrBeast, stands in front of a camera in the middle of an empty field. He looks into the lens and recalls an episode of The Simpsons in which a main character, Bart, destroys the town by lining 15 megaphones in a row and blaring music out his bedroom window.
“Well guess what, Bart?” Donaldson, 20, asks. “We have hundreds of megaphones right here. And if your puny 15 megaphones could destroy a town, oh boy, I’m afraid of what’s going to happen to North America.”
The Greenville resident was filming one of his most popular YouTube videos, “Breaking Glass Using Only Megaphones,” which he accomplishes using 100 megaphones, a row of tables and a glass vase. The trick racked up more than 17 million views on the Google-owned YouTube website that features videos and music.
Such attention-grabbing stunts are Donaldson’s bread and butter. In his videos, he’s counted to 200,000, read the Bee Movie script, watched paint dry for more than an hour and Ubered across the U.S. In December, a video in which he gave his mother $100,000 got more than 5 million views.
That zaniness has attracted more than 6.2 million subscribers as of mid-July, making Donaldson one of the most-watched YouTubers. He reached the 500 million-view milestone in May, impressing sponsors who want to reach the teenagers and young adults who are his core followers.
Donaldson was criticized in The Atlantic magazine, which reported in May that he had made homophobic slurs on his Twitter account as recently as December. The tweets have since been removed. “I’m just a dumb kid that makes YouTube videos and I don’t like doing interviews,” Donaldson told the magazine. He declined interview requests for this story.
A few YouTube personalities are earning vast sums on the platform. Daniel Middleton, 26, posts daily gaming videos under the username DanTDM and raked in an estimated $16.5 million in 2017, according to Forbes. Video-game commentator Evan Fong, who is called VanossGaming, took in $15.5 million. YouTubers earn money through video sponsorships or Google’s AdSense platform that pays fees based on the number of views, subscribers and the engagement with fans.
MrBeast’s appeal is the absurdity of his grandiose tasks. Recently, MrBeast began creating corporate “donation videos” in which he gifts money to random people. “Tipping Pizza Delivery Guys $10,000” racked up 15 million views and was sponsored by New York-based Quidd, a platform for buying, trading and using digital GIFs, stickers and cards. With sponsorship by Cary-based Epic Games Inc., he has donated $10,000 to random players who win the company’s international video-game sensation, Fortnite.
Donaldson, a 2016 graduate of Greenville Christian Academy, seems to have found the YouTube success sweet spot by creating eye-catching content without the intrusion of product placement.
“[MrBeast] gains popularity by giving that money away, either by giving to the community or to someone close to him. That is his brand, giving back, and the sponsors make it so he can do that,” says Spencer Bunting, creative director of the Raleigh-based agency Red Shark Digital.
In an April tweet, Donaldson offered some advice for new YouTubers looking to make it big.
“Dear small youtubers, be creative and stand out. If you do what everyone else already does, why do we need you? Be different and people can’t ignore you.”