Tyler Oakley: An Interview with the Titan of Team Internet
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Tyler Oakley: An Interview with the Titan of Team Internet

His thoughts on his life and some advice for you.

Tyler Oakley: An Interview with the Titan of Team Internet

He just celebrated his seven-year anniversary on YouTube, is nearing six million subscribers, and boasts over three million Twitter followers. 

His smile and infectious laugh bring light to every subscriber, fan, family member, and friend that consider themselves one of his “people” every single day and he keeps up with his people through Twitter, his weekly videos, his frequently updated Tumblr, and his new podcast with his best friend, “Psychobabble.” 

During a recent phone call, we discussed his YouTube career, the rise of Team Internet, his involvement with the Trevor Project, and his words of advice for college students like you and me. Enjoy!     

Danielle: Your YouTube career started in 2007, before any social media platform really took off. What drew you to YouTube as a social network?   

Tyler: Well, I had just gone off to Michigan State, and I was leaving my hometown, all my friends were going to different schools, and I hate talking on the phone, so I would just have to catch up with friends by telling the same stories over and over and so I was like “I wish there was a way, like a blog, that I could just put all the things that I wanted to tell my friends in one place.” 

At the same time, I found YouTube and I found a creator who was just talking to a camera and I said, “I have a camera. I could talk into it and just talk to my friends. That could be my way to keep up with them.” So I made my first video, I sent it to my friends, and it got like ten views and from there I just kept using YouTube as a platform to chat with my friends and share some stories or give them a tour of my dorm room or anything like that that would keep them involved in my life. 

In no way was it meant to turn into this and then as the years went on, I realized that more than just my friends were watching and that there was a community. From there, it became a hobby and then five years into it, it became a career and now it’s my full-time gig.  

D: What advice do you have for college students who want to start their own channel?  

T: The biggest hurdle is to just start. The very first video will seem impossible and while you’re doing it you’ll probably say, “This is the worst thing I could ever do and I’m terrible at this”, but everyone starts at zero subscribers. Everyone starts not really knowing what they’re doing. You just have to start. And if you ask pretty much any YouTuber, most of them have privated their first videos because you grow a lot as you’re making videos and every time you make a new video, you learn a new tactic or a new trick to editing, so it takes time to get to the level where you want to be. You just have to have patience and perseverance and be authentic to yourself because if you try to emulate anyone that already exists on YouTube, why would anyone tune in for you when they could just tune in for the real deal? If you are just yourself, that’s when people start gravitating towards you because nobody else can be you except you. Be authentic, don’t give up, and start today.   

D: Your recent collaboration with Michelle Obama focused on the importance of education. What was the biggest lesson you learned in your time at Michigan State?   

T: It was definitely while I was an RA and that was about fostering community. I studied communication and public speaking and marketing which have definitely gone into my career, but the biggest take away that I got was not necessarily in the classroom, but in the dorms when I was having hall meetings or mediating issues between residents and learning how to foster a community where people are encouraged, supported, and having their creativity perpetuated, and fostering that community in a safe, open, supportive place. It’s something that I try to do with my YouTube community. I try to encourage people and hopefully lead them to a positive environment and encourage them to be themselves or to create what they’ve been wanting to create.   

D: How did it feel to win two Teen Choice Awards and two Streamy Awards this summer?  

T: It’s insane! You grow up watching the Teen Choice Awards, for example, and you never even think that it could be a possibility to even be nominated or to even be in that realm of that world. And then for the opportunity to attend and then to be nominated and then win and then go up on stage and talk and knowing that my mom was at home watching, it was just very bizarre and incredible.   

D: You were also featured in the most recent issue of Seventeen Magazine along with a lot of your fellow YouTubers. How did it feel to be recognized by such as widely known publication as a community?   

T: It’s a huge win for us! Every time somebody has a moment in the mainstream media or in their career, whether it’s a book or a TV show or a movie or podcast, we all support each other and we all consider it a win for Team Internet and it's one of those situations where the rising tides raise all ships. If somebody is succeeding within the community, it’s a success for all of us because we all get to experience acceptance from mainstream culture and a better understanding of what we do.   

D: You’ve been involved with the Trevor Project for many years now and raised over $500,000 dollars through your birthday campaign this year. What advice would you have for anyone who isn’t really familiar with the foundation but wants to get involved? 

T: The Trevor Project is the leading national organization for crisis and suicide prevention and they focus a lot on LGBT issues like coming out, having an unaccepting family, and homelessness. You can get involved on your campus, do fundraisers, get involved online, be a volunteer or work at call centers.  I was actually an intern with them. A lot of people might think “Okay, well it’s just for LGBT people, it doesn’t necessarily have to do with me” but spreading awareness about the Trevor Project is so important to me because you never know who is listening and you never know who can hear you talk about it and hear that it’s a resource. There may be someone that you might not know is a member of the LGBT community who might need it. And maybe just from knowing that it exists, it might save them from doing something because they know that there is someone there that will listen. So just spreading awareness is life-saving and life-changing within itself, but then getting involved through volunteering or monetarily donating, it literally saves lives so it’s definitely something that a lot of people should get involved in.   

D: What is your best memory of your work with the Trevor Project?   

T: There’s been so many things. When I was an intern, I got to see firsthand the amazing work that they do and I got to see the people that were actually affected by depression or by suicidal thoughts and seeing that they were getting the help that they need, that was huge. On a personal level, back in 2008, when I made my first video about them, I received a postcard from one of the founders of the Trevor Project saying thank you for the video and back then I had barely any subscribers. I didn’t have much of a reach at all, but seeing that was the encouragement that I needed to stay involved and to use my influence to be a part of the Trevor Project’s movement. Since then I’ve had that postcard on my shelf as a reminder to focus on what’s important and to use the influence that I have for the greater good and it kind of all culminated this year with the fundraiser that I did and they gave me an honor at one of their events and it was an incredible experience because it wasn’t just me that raised the money. It was all of my audience that came together and realized that this was an important cause and it felt like a good full-circle moment and I got to share it with my audience which was the coolest thing ever.   

D: Could you give any advice to college students hoping to have a career in entertainment and media?  

T: You just have to put yourself out there. My way of putting myself out there was on YouTube. In whatever way is best for you, you have to just go full-force, so whether that’s YouTube or podcasts or creating your own show online or producing or interning or whatever, you just have to go for it. It’s intimidating and fast and crazy and it's Hollywood and you just have to believe in what you want to do and have no mercy and make it happen.   

D: How do you cope with the ups and downs of life while still being in the public eye?   

T: I try to surround myself with a good support system. Whether that’s other creators or my family or my friends, or even my viewers, who encourage me just as much as I might encourage them and they’re just as much a part of my life as they let me be a part of theirs. I just try to surround myself with good, positive supportive people who are trying to make the world better. There’s this quote that I always remember when I’m feeling down or negative. “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” I just try to surround myself with people that make me a better person.   

D: You get to interview tons of people on red carpets and through your channel, but is there one person you wish you could have interviewed before they died?  

T: Michael Jackson. That would have been incredible. But back then that hadn’t even crossed my mind that I could do celebrity interviews or that I could talk to anybody who was actually influential themselves.   

D: If you could only keep one video up on your channel, which video would you choose?   

T: At the end of the day, my channel has been kind of like a diary, so to get the full affect of having those memories still accessible, I’d pick “100 Things I Did in 2013” because I love going back and seeing what I was doing any day out the of the past seven years and seeing what I was up to that week. That would be the one that I would keep just for my sake so I could kind of cheat and have 100 videos in one so I could remember everything.

Subscribe to Tyler: https://www.youtube.com/user/tyleroakley

Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tyleroakley

Learn more about the Trevor Project: http://www.thetrevorproject.org

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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