Once upon a time, YouTube was just a place where you and your friends could upload videos and share them with people around the world. No one was making millions of dollars from making videos for YouTube – it was just for fun. Now, YouTube is a media giant, and the most popular channel to make fortunes for their creators. The staggering amount of profit some YouTube users generate is almost comical. Consider Jordan Maron, also known as CaptainSparklez, who used the money he made making YouTube videos of himself playing Minecraft to buy a $4.575 million home in the Hollywood Hills this year. Maron is only 23 years old. Of course, money is not the only reward successful YouTubers have managed to find – some of them have established successful acting careers based on their work on YouTube.
Talent agencies now actively watch YouTube, looking for the next big star, so they can take them from internet fame to bonafide Hollywood fame. Groups like Good Neighbor, The Lonely Island, and Smosh started out on YouTube and made their members into famous celebrities. You can now see one-time YouTubers like Andy Samberg and Beck Bennett on television shows on major networks, like Brooklyn Nine Nine and Saturday Night Live.
With more and more YouTube success stories appearing every year, competition is becoming more fierce, and it’s not as easy to make it on YouTube as it once was. Here are 10 actors who managed to bridge successful YouTube channels into real fame and fortune.
10. Bo Burnham
Bo Burnham is a hilarious, offbeat comedian who started in his parents’ attic, singing funny songs he wrote himself about his own awkwardness. He quickly became incredibly popular online and eventually released an album of his songs. Now he takes his act on tour, and he has tried his hand as an actor to a certain degree of success. His first role was in the Judd Apatow film Funny People, but he went on to star in his own TV show on MTV called Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous, and has had guest appearances on shows like Parks and Recreation and Key and Peele.
9. Andy Samberg
Andy Samberg is a huge television and film star, but before he became wildly famous, he was making sketch videos on YouTube with his friends Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer. The three of them met in junior high and started making videos in 2000 under the group name The Lonely Island. Their YouTube videos helped all three of them get gigs on Saturday Night Live, where they produced over 100 “Digital Short” videos, including viral hits like “I’m on a Boat,” and “Jizz In My Pants.” Today you can see Samberg on the Fox sitcom Brooklyn Nine Nine, but he had his origins making YouTube videos with his buddies.
8. Jorma Taccone
Another member of The Lonely Island, Jorma Taccone is not as well-known as Andy Samberg, but he starred alongside Samberg in the 2007 film Hot Rod, and has appeared in a number of comedy films and television shows. He wrote the 2010 film MacGruber along with Will Forte and John Solomon, which was based on an SNL character parodying MacGyver. Taccone is a comedic force in his own right, and just like Samberg, he owes much of his success to his early days making YouTube videos for fun. Rumor has it that there is a The Lonely Island film currently in development.
7. Beck Bennett
Beck Bennett, along with Kyle Mooney, Nick Rutherford and Dave McCary, started a sketch group called Good Neighbor in Los Angeles, and started posting sketch videos online on YouTube. Their videos, like The Lonely Island, were big hits, although their style of humor was much more stilted and awkward. The success of the YouTube channel eventually led to every member of Good Neighbor getting hired at Saturday Night Live. Beck Bennett is now a featured player on SNL, thanks in large part to his work on YouTube. Bennett will also be appearing in next year’s Zoolander 2.
6. Kyle Mooney
Kyle Mooney was another member of Good Neighbor, until he got hired alongside Beck Bennett and Dave McCary to work on Saturday Night Live. Mooney is best known for his character sketches, where he plays clueless but lovable idiots. Many of his sketches on SNL closely match those he was known for posting on YouTube. Mooney played a supporting character in the HBO show Hello Ladies, which was created by Stephen Merchant. He will also be appearing in next year’s Zoolander 2 alongside his friend and SNL co-star Beck Bennett.
5. Nick Rutherford
Unlike the rest of the sketch group Good Neighbor, Nick Rutherford was not hired to work on SNL at first, but he was later hired on as a writer. He has gone on to act in several feature films, including Balls Out (formerly known as Intramural: The Movie), and he lends his voice to the animated show Golan The Insatiable. He continues to perform sketch comedy in Los Angeles and New York.
4. Ian Hecox
One part of the popular YouTube sketch duo Smosh, Ian Hecox has managed to create a lucrative career out of slapstick comedy. Smosh is one of the few YouTube groups or channels that has managed to make its creators incredibly successful and wealthy. After all, popular YouTubers can now make legitimate claims to being more famous than television or pop music celebrities. The duo started posting YouTube videos in 2005, and their videos have garnered more than 5 billion views total. Ian recently starred in Smosh: The Movie, and he has been cast in next year’s Angry Birds Movie. He may not be Leonardo DiCaprio famous, but he is a successful actor, and it all started on YouTube.
3. Anthony Padilla
The other half of Smosh, Anthony Padilla, started posting animated videos to the popular Flash animation site Newgrounds in 2003 under the name Smosh before teaming up with Hecox to make YouTube videos in 2005. Just like Hecox, he also starred in Smosh: The Movie, and has a voice acting role in Angry Birds Movie. In an interview with TIME Magazine in 2006, Hecox and Padilla said that they hope to end up like The Lonely Island members Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone, using their YouTube notoriety to transition in major television and movie success. Unlike The Lonely Island, Smosh has stuck mostly to YouTube, having never made a clean transition to only acting in film and television – at least not yet.
2. Justin Bieber
Although Justin Bieber is mostly known for his singing career and his celebrity antics, he has tried his hand at acting. He appeared on an episode of CSI, and he had a cameo appearance in Men In Black III. He will even be playing a part in next year’s Zoolander 2. When Bieber was 12, he was entered in a singing competition, and his mother recorded the performance and posted it on YouTube. That video, along with others his mother posted, soon caught the attention of people around the world, including talent agent Scooter Braun, who secured Bieber an album deal and started his celebrity music career.
1. Jon Lajoie
You may know Jon Lajoie from his role on the popular sitcom The League, about a group of friends who all compete in a fantasy football league together. Jon Lajoie plays Taco, a musician and stoner who doesn’t care about football all that much. What you might not know is that before Lajoie became a television actor, he got famous making comedy music videos on YouTube. Some of his most popular videos include “Everyday Normal Guy,” and “2 Girls 1 Cup.” His videos garnered plenty of attention, and he even ended up going on tour playing his hilarious songs.