Pando goes to Tyler Oakley’s Slumber Party
Tyler Oakley’s Slumber Party doesn’t run on rock ‘n roll time.
I arrived at San Francisco's Warfield Theater just thirteen minutes after the printed start time and could already hear it. The unmistakeable, bone-curdling sound of two thousand teens in a panic crescendo.
I recorded the sound so you could enjoy it too...
I don’t know about you or Ed Sullivan but, for me, that sound triggers some sort of autonomic fight or flight routine.
The Warfield’s door staff -- veterans of crowd control -- gave me curious looks and smiles. I pointed out the ID-checker’s full box of orange paper wristbands.
“Not a lot of drinkers in there,” he said, laughing. “It’s full though.”
* * * *
Inside the Warfield, a few straggling bunnies and teddy bears, roughly the size of small humans, were climbing up the staircase and hustling from the bathrooms to join their fuzzy brethren in the darkened theater. I found my seat next to an indisguishable blue mammal, and settled in for the show.
Tyler Oakley is a YouTube personality. This isn’t his first national stage tour. He’s an alumnus of DigiTour, the 5-year-old touring social-media star circus that raised a $2 million seed round last spring led by Ryan Seacrest and the parent company of Conde Naste, with past sponsorships from Intel, Sony and YouTube.
This year, Oakley isn’t on the DigiTour ticket. Mills Entertainment, the production company behind Tyler Oakley’s Slumber Party, is more Old Media, having developed its chops creating stage shows for middle-aged reality TV stars.
Oakley is a veteran of an early wave of YouTube Mouseketeers, among the first people to make a handsome living on the platform from videos of themselves talking about themselves and other YouTubers. In addition to the stage show, he has a book deal. Signs on the Warfield doors announced that guests might see themselves in an upcoming film project.
Over his seven-year run, Oakley has hawked brand for Pepsi, Taco Bell, Warby Parker, Virgin Mobile, NBC, E!, MTV, and more, with his personal social media fire hose. During the Slumber Party he encouraged the furry shriekers to check out his new Chevrolet ad on his Twitter feed, and to Tweet at Chevrolet. Even the President and First Lady have made appearances on 26-year-old Oakley’s videos.
He offers brands an impressive collection of millenial eyeballs, recently hitting the seven million YouTube subscribers mark, putting him ahead of the YouTube channels of Vice, Buzzfeed and Jimmy Kimmel Live, but still well behind top YouTubers like PewDiePie (37 million) and Jenna Marbles (15 million).
Still, as evidenced in the audio clip above, many of his fans are shockingly engaged.
So what exactly does a YouTuber do on stage for an hour and half to entertain 2,000 people?
He banters with his YouTuber co-host, displays Tweets from the crowd on the big screen behind him and answers their questions, and plays a game of crowd-sourced fan-fic Madlibs. He brings parents on stage with their children for a quiz show –“Everyone gets a prize, you can all be my queen.” Takes incoming (pre-recorded) video messages from fellow YouTubers, who promote their own tours and books and projects. He dishes and gossips and gushes and charms. He makes a Vine of the crowd, and solicits selfies and Tweets, draws from a hat to determine which lucky fans will get to come back stage after the show. He plays a game of “would you rather” with a wand and a board affixed with the cutout faces of other YouTubers – “I feel like a wizard queen.” He delivers inspirational messages.
“People are appreciating [YouTubers] for who they are and it’s uhhhh-mazing. Does anybody here make videos? [Screams] Well all you gotta do is make one really crappy first video, send me a link, and I will stalk you and be your first subscriber. I started with zero subscribers, even PewdiePie did.”
He conducts the crowd with his every word, and they squeal, shout, laugh, Tweet and lose their shit on command.
Oakley has cannily built a brand around his own chatty charisma; casting himself not as a teen idol but as a terribly interesting and mellifluous friend, often sassy but ever kind, a guide to the travails of adulthood, and champion of the shy and self-conscious teen. He is a readymade friend to lift your spirits, if you’re willing to tolerate the occasional commercial interruptions. And he comes complete with a network of YouTuber friends. Collect them all! Both brands and their target audience find him irresistible.
Parents seem to approve. Scattered among the onesied crowd are moms and dads, looking brave in their pyjamas.
Out in the lobby after the show, it was a long slow march back to the street, the egress snarled by a growing line waiting to buy T shirts and other Tyler Oakley merch. I resigned myself to jotting down tidbits of conversation among this unique human subspecies.
“He retweeted me before the show; I almost died!”
“I could watch that for like four hours!”
“Oh hey! I see your face all over Twitter. Hi!”
As Tyler Oakley took selfies with a handful of lucky fans backstage, those who hadn’t been chosen milled around on the sidewalk, waiting to get picked up by their parents, effectively blocking the entrance to the strip club next door.
Just a few feet away, man with a tenor saxophone blew an infinity loop of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” over a top hat with a couple one-dollar bills in it. The teens didn’t seem to notice. Get with the times, gramps!
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