Jenna Mourey – better known as Jenna Marbles – is known for her edgy, funny and often profanity-laced videos. With over 16 million subscribers to her YouTube channel, she has built an internet empire simply by unapologetically being herself.
I recently had the chance talk with Marbles about her success on YouTube, what it takes to be an internet star and her insights into growing an internet audience.
Q: Is the Jenna Marbles of internet fame an alter ego, or is it basically yourself?
I think it’s a little bit of both. I’d say for my main channel, it definitely started off as an exaggerated version, or at least the 23-year-old version of myself, which is very animated. But at this point, there are many different versions of that. I mean, some of it is an exaggerated version and some of it is just me living life. But it’s mostly me… though sometimes hooked on more caffeine!
Q: When do you know you are on to something that will connect with people? Have you been able to get a handle on what makes something go viral?
I never know, ever, if something is going to be popular; if people are going to like it or hate it.
Sometimes whatever I think people are really going to like, they hate. And sometimes, when I think something is really boring and stupid and about nothing, it really resonates with people. I’ve been making videos for seven years, and I couldn’t tell you, honestly. I have no idea what’s going to resonate with people.
In terms of making something go viral, I have no clue – none. It’s also a little different now than it used to be on the internet, when YouTube was the main place where people were seeing things go viral.
I think people’s eyes are in all different directions now. Something could go viral on Facebook; something could go viral on Twitter or YouTube. I think viral now means something a little different than it did in 2009 or ’10. But in terms of getting a lot of people to see it or care about it, I have no idea.
Q: What do you think are the key components your audience is drawn to in your videos? Do you script them ahead of time or do you wing it each time?
I think one of the biggest things that people are drawn to is authenticity.
There are a lot of teenagers and early-20s people consuming online entertainment. They have all of this information at their fingertips on their phones, and they’ve already been exposed to television, and there’s something about the internet that’s just so authentically real.
People are looking for that. They’re actively searching for that. And YouTube, in many ways, is like being a voyeur in someone’s house — a fly on the wall — and seeing how they live their life.
I watch people organize their kitchen drawers and go grocery shopping. And I don’t know why. It’s just infinitely fascinating.
So I think that the level of authenticity is really important. And it definitely keeps people wanting to consume online media, because it seems far more real than a production set on a television show. Trust me, I watch Master Chef and shit, but sometimes you just want to watch another person be a person.
As for the script matter, it’s definitely a combination. I mean, I go in there with a little bit of a plan. And then I leave a little wiggle room for some ridiculousness.
Q: What method do you use to come up with your ideas?
Mostly just living life. I’m getting a little older now. I’m turning 30 this week. Fuck, yeah! But sometimes I feel kind of old for internet culture. And it’s really not the case, because there are so many people on the internet all the time.
Whatever you’re feeling or experiencing or think is funny, there are a lot of people out there who feel the same way or think the same way. I think just living life and sharing that is mostly what I do. Really, there’s no special magic formula.
Q: Are there certain topics that seem more popular than others? Are there any topics that you would avoid?
Well, there’s clickbait that might be more popular than others. I think a while ago, you’d make videos about girls and guys, and that sort of thing. Those were very popular, because it applies to everybody at some point, you know – it’s something that’s universal… Those videos tend to be more popular because it’s something that everybody deals with.
But at this time, I just make whatever feels true to me, because I’m a 30-year-old, and I can’t make videos like “This is what I saw in school today,” because that’s not who I am at all.
Topics that I would avoid: anything blatantly offensive. Anything you would debate about in your high school debate class, I’d probably stay away from. I don’t set out to make people angry.
Q: How are you able to get your viewers coming back over and over without becoming stale? How do you continue to humor, shock and engage them?
I think I just do my best to grow with my audience, and not try to pretend I’m something that I’m not. Like I said, I’m 30 years old, and I can’t pretend that I’m a 15-year-old on the internet, doing 15-year-old things. I’m a grown adult.
People who started watching me when I was 23, they just grew up with me. It feels real. It is real. And I think that some of it has to do with growing up and not pretending to not grow up. It’s just authenticity.
Q: What advice do you have for someone looking to launch themselves as an internet star?
I think my general tip for starting anything on the internet is to just be consistent and be yourself. Figure out what your voice is and use it. Say it, and unapologetically be yourself. But also engage with people.
So if you’re problematic and someone’s like, “Hey, you’re being really problematic,” then take that advice. Understand what constructive criticism is.
And grow with people. Be the two-way street that the internet is rather than just one-sided yelling into an abyss. Be consistent, especially on YouTube. You know, don’t upload a video and then fail to show up for three months, and wonder why no one cares.
You have to be there. You have to keep showing people that you’re posting videos and you’re going to be there no matter what.
When I started on the internet, there was no viable internet career path, really, in terms of YouTube. There was no such thing as setting out to be an internet star. But I think if anyone is setting out with that intention, it’s not going to end up that great. You might end up with some disappointments.
But I think setting out to do something that you think is fun, and can be rewarding in the future, and is an awesome way to spend your time and share your thoughts – that’s the way to go, rather than setting out to be some internet star.
Q: How important is the technical side of producing your videos in terms of creating a product that will go viral?
For my process now, I have some better gear, some better cameras, and some better setup and stuff, but when I started, I had a laptop webcam.
If you have a phone or any sort of camera at this point, you need almost no technical setup – you just need an internet connection and a camera, and you’re good to go.
Because all that really matters is that you’re saying something that hits some nerve or resonates with people. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got good sound and lighting. It really doesn’t matter at all.
Because of the number of years that I’ve been doing it, I decided that it was important to invest in those things; to stop uploading shitty-quality videos. But to start, it’s really not that important at all.
In terms of editing and learning how to cut things, that was a result of internet culture. When I started on YouTube, if your video was over three minutes long, that was death. No one was going to watch over three minutes, because people consuming internet media wanted it very short and to the point, and funny, or a click away.
Whereas now, you can upload an hour-long podcast, and people who have cut the cord to cable have the time to sit there and really genuinely want to watch videos that are hours long. That’s what they’re looking for. So the editing style was a combination of watching other people do it and trying to save time to get it down to that three-minute window.
Q: Comedic blogging started out as a predominantly male thing, but you have shattered that glass ceiling. What makes you stand apart? Do you believe more women can follow in your footsteps?
I wouldn’t even categorize this as comedy. I think I’m just sort of a genuinely quirky person. And the skill set that I have, I think consists mostly of being that, being authentically that, unapologetically that, and having a very clear voice, and being willing to share.
I’ve always said that there’s enough room on the internet for everyone. And what I do isn’t necessarily special.
I’m just out here doing it. Anyone can. There’s space for everyone’s voice on the internet – there really is a place for it. And I hope that other women are encouraged.
When I started out, I felt like everyone was doing these beauty videos, and I felt so horribly left out of the beautiful-people club. I could only be me. No matter how much I tried to staple it, it just snuck its way back in there. So I hope more women are encouraged to be themselves.
And you see it on YouTube now. There are lots of amazingly hilarious, quirky, wonderful people who have just shown themselves through YouTube. It’s awesome! I wouldn’t give myself credit for that. I think we’re doing it together.
Q: What do you see as the next steps?
It is my goal to live on the internet for as long as I can, because I think it’s the place to be. It’s the coolest spot!