Elision speaks to Dan Howell—better known in online communities as dansinotonfire—and finds what’s it’s like inside the mind of an Internet Cult Leader. And, yes, we’re definitely fangirling, too.
by Kat Abelgas & Fiel Estrella
Last year, Daniel Howell was voted Hottest Lad of 2012 on teen site Sugarscape. He beat out forty-nine other “hot lads,” including Douglas Booth, Tom Felton, the boys of McFly and even members of One Direction (as well as their drummer?), especially 2011’s Hottest Lad Niall Horan, despite being a completely new entry to the list. Reaction was mixed: Dan’s fans (known as “Danosaurs”) found humor and pride in the situation. Others were impassive, maybe a tad rejective. But most common is bafflement—“Who is this kid?” And, really, just who is Dan Howell?
One way of introducing Dan would be to state that he is a good example of the Ascended Fanboy trope: Spending a lot of time on YouTube, he struck up a friendship with vlogger Phil Lester (AmazingPhil), bonding over similar interests and shared sentiments. The then-18-year-old had always wanted to make videos himself, though he was afraid he wouldn’t be good enough. His friend, who is now his flatmate and co-creates The Super Amazing Project episodes with him besides co-starring in most of his videos, convinced him otherwise.
In late 2009 he uploaded his first video—“HELLO INTERNET,” the title of which has become a catchphrase of sorts—and now, thanks to his creative, witty, hilarious and cutting-edge style, has over 880,000 subscribers and counting. And we won’t forget the legions of fangirls or Phan (look it up) shippers. ”You never know,” he says of all this. Did we mention that he and Phil have been doing special radio shows for BBC Radio 1 and have now taken over the Sunday Night Request show regularly, and that their first official broadcast takes place tonight? Not bad for a 21-year-old former Law student.
When we asked our readers what they like about Dan Howell—“The real question is, what’s not to like?”—we got a couple of spirited responses. “He makes so much sense,” they said, “in the most humorous way ever.” Having seen his videos and reading his answers to these questions, we can’t help but agree.
How did Phil convince you to finally post a video all those years ago?
Quite simple! I said I’d always wanted to make videos but thought no one would ever watch, and Phil just said that I should give it a shot and he’d help me if I had any problems!
You seem to have taken the anecdotal “internet support group” approach in your videos with a little bit of sketch comedy thrown in. How did you find your particular style?
Whilst I do a variety of videos, I’d say my Reasons Why Dan’s a Fail type of videos are the “Dan style,” if you will. I think it’s that mainly on YouTube I want to make videos as a storyteller and opinion-sharer. I make videos about things! And after watching YouTubers like Shane Dawson and Natalie Tran I just thought that acting out the stories would be more interesting than me just saying them to the camera! And like my Christmas video, I can do more sketch-type videos or anything! I don’t like to do just one thing and pigeon-hole my creativity so I like to shake it up.
Your fellow YouTubers Charlie McDonnell and Chris Kendall recently expressed some insecurities regarding YouTube and alluded to the pressure that comes with Internet celebrity. Have you experienced similar anxieties? If so, how do you address them?
Oh boy, haha. I had a traumatic incident with some particularly nasty people a few months ago and it really drew a line under a lot of things for me. Whilst I don’t share the same creative block anxieties as Charlie or Chris’ problems with the nature of YouTube, I just find it very hard to let stupid people say things that are wrong without correcting them! Haha. But I have learned that the more popular I get, the more people of all kinds will watch me! So I’ve decided to not even acknowledge negativity anymore and instead focus on positivity and having fun with my subscribers.
How does the average danisnotonfire video come into existence? Have you ever gotten an idea for a video that you rejected for some reason?
Well, they all draw inspiration from things that have happened to me! All my anecdotes are just things that have happened to me at some point in my life, whereas videos like “How to ruin a Meme” or “What not to do on Public Transport” were made just a few days after the incident that inspired them! I have a notepad with about 50 video ideas I can make so I’m never strapped for creativity.
Response to Fantastic Foursome videos is always positive; have you ever considered giving the Foursome its own channel?
Nah, because we all make very, very different kinds of videos and the joy in our collaborations is that we all adopt each other’s video styles in them so you see us in different ways! We like that.
You and Phil are doing pretty well with your new gig over at Radio 1. Congratulations are very much in order! That said, how is planning a radio show different from doing a video?
It is incredibly different. On the internet you can do whatever you want whenever you want but working for the BBC is like involving 50 people in a video! I won’t go into too much detail, but whilst it’s not as hard as filming or editing videos by myself, the pressure to not get things wrong is there!
You were acting in school plays and small theatre companies before vlogging. Do you still have plans to pursue a viable acting career and move to television and film?
Haha, who knows. Maybe one day! I’d like to; I’m just very busy making the most of all the opportunities I have right now.
What are the pros and cons of living with Phil?
Pro: He likes the same shows as me. Con: He uses 4 towels every time he showers.
You’ve done a couple of “series” for your channel, like Truth or Dare, What Not to Do and Reasons Why Dan’s a Fail. What’s your favorite series to do, and are you thinking of starting any more?
Reasons Why Dan’s a Fail will always be the main feature and I can’t wait to do another in a couple of weeks! Truth or Dare is the most fun to film and I look forward to it, but don’t do it that often as it’s not very “creative.”
You talked about the subculture of shipping in a video, but you never really mentioned your OTPs besides Dantesers. So, Dan, which ship will you go down with?
Sookie and Eric from True Blood. Go home Bill nobody likes you.
Now that you’re very much self-sufficient, do you still see yourself returning to university and finishing your degree?
Haha, no. If I could go back to 17, I probably wouldn’t have studied Law and on the path that I am on, it wouldn’t help in any way.
What do you think is the most important factor when it comes to making quality videos?
Just having ideas! A fancy camera and professional level editing aren’t as important as the idea. If you are good and the ideas are good it doesn’t matter how you present it!
Do you have any advice for aspiring vloggers who don’t know how to start or are doubting whether they’re good enough?
I’d say always start with an introduction. And as for being unsure, I was, and look where I am now! You never know.
How much of an impact has vlogging had on your life? Would you say that it has a positive effect on your social (and, ahem, dating) life or is it the opposite?
Well, generally, obviously a positive effect! As for dating…aha, I try to not really mix the two. It might have given me more confidence but that’s about it.
Aside from getting fit, what is on the danisnotonfire agenda for 2013?
For danisnotonfire? Bigger and better videos! I’m still getting better at making videos so things only look up.
Finally, as an Internet Cult Leader, what is your favorite thing about the internet?
Probably the communities. It gives everyone the ability to make as many friends they want on any website or about anything that someone might want to and I think that’s great.
Find Dan here: danisnotonfire on YouTube | danisnotinteresting on YouTube | The Super Amazing Project on YouTube | BBC Radio 1 | Huffington Post Blog | Twitter | Tumblr | Merch | vYou | YouNow | Facebook