While most of his career has been dedicated to being the class clown of YouTube, there’s more to Jesse Wellens than pulling off a viral pranks. Over the last 10 years, Wellens has developed a presence online, and in that time subscribers have watched him mature as a creator, and have learned about some of the real life challenges he’s had to overcome. We sat down with Jesse to learn where his love for pulling pranks began, how he’s stayed positive throughout dark times and what his viewers can expect to see in 2020.
Ten years ago you started your channel. How did the idea of starting a channel come about and how did you keep the momentum going after the initial success?
The idea came about in 2005, when I started consuming more online content, and I realized there was a need for better content outside of TV. I worked really hard at it, kept a pulse on what was popular online and tried to play into that.
How has the landscape of YouTube changed since your early years and how have you adapted to the times?
It was like the Wild West when it first started. You could get away with anything. Now, there are more restrictions and censorship—and it’s a lot more crowded. It’s harder to grow and be different. I’ve tried to maintain the audience that started following me from the beginning and grow up with them and their interests.
Why do you think audiences are captivated by pranks and how have you managed to keep things fresh?
I think people liked my pranks because they were real, which made them really funny to watch. I’ve continuously tried to better myself as a filmmaker, as a storyteller and as an editor. My production value has increased so much over the years because I continue to invest in equipment and hone my skills.
What was the first prank you remember pulling, who was it on and how did it go?
The first one I remember was when I worked at a Halloween store in high school. I put on a costume that made me like seven-feet-tall and stood in front of the store scaring the shit out of people. My boss was cool with it too. I scared people for hours. I loved it.
What’s a prank that you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t gotten around to executing?
I don’t want to say, because I still plan on doing it. It would prank the world.
What’s your favorite prank that you’ve pulled on a fellow YouTuber?
Joey Graceffa. I made him believe that he caused someone to catch on fire on a cooking show.
How do you stay positive in light of the difficult experiences you have faced?
Knowing that I have an impact on a lot of people, especially young people, I feel a responsibility to them to stay positive. It makes me more conscious.
What made you decide to open up about some of your struggles online and how have your fans helped you through things?
I knew I wasn’t alone in my struggles. When you share your life online, people watch what you put out there and idealize your life, but in reality we all have struggles. I wanted my viewers to know they weren’t alone either. The fans are supportive with their comments, and by sticking with me as I evolve as a person and a content creator. That definitely helps.
What made you decide to get your tattoo by Kat Von D and what significance does the image she created hold to you?
I was interested in getting a tattoo of my mom, and I had a mutual friend with Kat Von D, so I thought why not see if the queen of this art form would be interested in doing it. Since it was about honoring my mom, it felt important to have it done by a female. Kat was so awesome throughout the process. She did it for free just because she loves her work so much, which made it that much more special. I think my mom would have been happy knowing she was the artist.
Do any of your other tattoos hold personally significant meanings to you?
I got the Star of David on my chest when I was 19, when I was in the military. I was inspired by “American History X,” I was always picked on for being Jewish in grade school so I got the reverse tattoo of Ed Norton’s character from the movie. The rose on my forearm is also an homage to my mom. She used to paint watercolor flowers so I got this one to look like watercolor.
Do you have plans to add to your tattoo collection, if so, what speaks to you?
Yes. All my tattoos have a story, so I’m not sure what the next story will be until it’s written. I’ll keep you posted.
In addition to possibly getting more tattoos, what does 2020 hold for Jesse Wellens and what outlook do you hope to have going into the New Year?
A lot of traveling. A lot of big projects. A lot of enjoying life. I want to come into 2020 continuing to grow and push myself as a director and storyteller.
What defines Jesse Wellens?
My YouTube career defined me for a long time, but now I’m more focused on making a contribution to the world, and using my creativity and my platform to make an impact. I’ve done a lot with helping homeless, earlier this year, I helped homeless people in my neighborhood get haircuts, take showers, etc. I’m interested in living more consciously and helping the environment, so I hope to explore creating more content to raise awareness around that.