International YouTube superstar Jacksepticeye, dressed in all black except for his signature coif of neon green hair, glided onto the stage at the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis last Saturday to the cheers and squeals of his fortunate fans who had scored tickets to the sold-out show.
First order of business — Jack (as his fans simply call him) implored the crowd to lower those smartphone screens that helped make him famous.
“Let’s be in the moment and go on a journey,” said Jack, aka Irish national Sean William McLoughlin, 27, to a sea of wide-eyed teenage and young adult fans unsure of what to expect at the YouTuber’s second-ever live performance of his new show “How Did We Get Here?”
Jack’s YouTube channel boasts nearly 17 million subscribers worldwide who watch the goofball gamer play and narrate video games. He starts each upload with his “Top of the morning, laddies!” greeting in an Irish brogue.
Now, Jack is among a growing number of YouTube celebrities who found fame via their online antics — often recorded in the comfort of home — but are now hitting the road on international live tours.
And they’re a hot ticket. Jack sold out his Minneapolis show in nine minutes. His Chicago and Milwaukee shows also sold out. He’s now headed to Europe for the second leg of the tour.
“The phone was ringing off the hook at the Woman’s Club,” said venue manager Steve Weiss. “All these parents said, ‘I don’t now what this is, but my kids want to go.’ ”
YouTuber Puddles Pity Party, a forlorn clown who sings pop covers, sold out the same 625-seat venue in June. Toronto-based YouTuber Lilly Singh, famous for her comedy sketches depicting her parents and a cast of colorful characters, was one of the headliners for 2016 WE Day, a concert and rally for teens at Xcel Center.
Kids and teens today spend more time watching YouTube than they do television, according to a host of surveys, and many of today’s celebrities born on the DIY video website later land network and TV contracts, book and even movie deals.
“It’s TV that works on your schedule. It’s 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there. Plus you feel like you are hanging out with your friends,” said Adam Welker of Portland-based APA Talent and Literary Agency, which is coordinating Jack’s tour.
But today’s teens are not so different from generations before them in one respect.
“People still want the live experience. That’s the cool thing,” Weiss said.
From a million views to millionaires
Welker said they started working with YouTube clients about a year ago when they realized there was an appetite for live shows. YouTube success amounts to more than just the thrill of millions of followers. It’s also big money for entertainers who can garner billions of clicks. Advertisers pay to run prerolls or commercials before those videos. Plus, a popular YouTube personality can market T-shirts and other merchandise to adoring fans.
Forbes started compiling a top YouTube millionaires list in 2015. Last year the combined earnings of the top 10 exceeded $70 million.
Ashley Woitalla, a 15-year-old high school freshman from the St. Cloud area, asked to go to Jacksepticeye’s Minneapolis show for her birthday.
“I was like, ‘Mother, we NEED to do this for my birthday,’ ” she said.
Mom’s initial response: “What’s a YouTuber?”
Woitalla was able to persuade her folks that Jacksepticeye was a legit and appropriate entertainer.
“I like how he’s loud and energetic. I feed off those vibes,” she said.
The morning that tickets went on sale Woitalla was at school frantically texting her dad, who was tasked with making the purchase. Dad came through, landing front-row seats for Woitalla and a friend.
Aspiring Minneapolis YouTuber Red Williams spotted Jacksepticeye, who was dining at a Minneapolis cafe a day before the show. When Williams said hello, Jack gave him a ticket to the show.
“Meeting one of the YouTube greats is a cool experience,” said Williams, 20.
“I can see why teens turn to YouTube. It’s an escape,” Williams said. “They can laugh along with them. They can hang with them.”
How do you translate Jacksepticeye’s mostly talking-head, stream-of-consciousness comedy into a live show? Jack didn’t stray far from his online formula for success. He walked the stage with a microphone telling amusing stories about his childhood, teen and young adult years using video games as the narrative arc.
He paused the storytelling several times, rolled out his signature green and black power chair and invited audience members, quivering with excitement, to come onstage and play video games on a huge overhead screen as he knelt beside them throwing out quips and encouragement.
Some profanity gave the show a bit of an edge for the largely underage crowd. But his personal stories of growing up in a big Catholic family in small-town Ireland, playing Nintendo Gameboys in a neighborhood treehouse and finding a sense of belonging in video games, seemed to create an endearing connection to his YouTube community.
Even the story of how he got his alias was rooted in childhood innocence — an eye injury during a soccer match followed by a schoolyard ribbing from a friend named Paul led to the now-famous “Jack-septic-eye” moniker.
“You know what, Paul, who is laughing now?” Jack said to cheers and applause.
Shannon Prather • 612-673-4804