Adventures with Tobuscus: A Chat with Toby Turner
If you watch any of Toby Turner's vlogs, Tobuscus Adventures, songs, or literal trailers, at some point or another I'm sure the following question has crossed your mind: "Is he that energetic in real life?"
Let me answer that for you. Yes.
With more than 14.7 million subscribers across his three channels, Toby Turner (Tobuscus) is one of the most prominent YouTubers on the Internet. An accomplished comedian and musician, Toby writes his own content and composes original songs (or parodies popular ones). As you sift through his content, you might be surprised how much of his work you've already seen, be it on YouTube, in a mobile game, on the iTunes store, or in Cartoon Network's The Annoying Orange.
I recently chatted with Toby to talk about his work, tips for aspiring YouTubers, and projects on the horizon.
GameSkinny: To get things started, give me a lesser-known fact about you.
Toby Turner: A doctor accidentally pulled out one of my ear drums when I was a kid. I had allergies, so they put tubes in my ears to drain them. One day, my doctor looked into my ear and said, “Hmmm, your son’s been putting beads into his ears.”
My mom’s like, “What?”
So the doctor reaches in, pulls the tube out, and ripped out a chunk of my ear drum. My mom’s like, “I think that’s his eardrum,” and the doctor’s like, “So it is!” ... and he moved away and changed his name.
GS: Whoa! So do you have hearing problems because of that?
TT: It's not all that bad; I’m not totally deaf. My right ear just isn’t as good. They did surgery where they took skin from behind my ear and just shoved it in there, and my body accepted it. I don't know how my body was like, “Alright just give me some anything, anything you find, just shove that in.” It kind of replaced itself.
GS: If I was that doctor, I would have definitely moved away and changed my name, too.
TT: Of course. He changed it to like, Blade. I’ve always wanted to change my name to Blade. One day. Costs like $500 though. I’ve looked into it.
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GS: When you were little, did you always want to be a comedian and musician, or was that something that evolved over time?
TT: In school I was a nerd, and I didn’t have a lot of friends. I found out that I could just see ... funny stuff, like that kid in Sixth Sense. I would try and make the class laugh, and eventually, it became this battle to constantly keep the students and the teachers laughing. I usually didn't get in trouble, but there were two teachers that ended up not really enjoying me in the classroom.
This one teacher failed me for trying to be funny. That didn’t really stop me from making jokes, but I did find out because he didn’t like me, he was grading me very harshly. He failed almost everything I was doing.
I sat next to my friend Ebraheim. He's smart. Super smart. This kid won the national science fair, and he created a coating for hypodermic needles to make them last three times longer. He invented stuff that has generated billions of dollars. This kid is smart. So, I sat next to him and completely copied his test. And I turned it in. He got 110%, and I got a 70%. I’m like, dude.
So after I took the test -- and you could get in trouble for this -- I got my grade back. I took my test and his test up to the teacher, and I’m like:
“Okay, can you tell me why he got a 110% and I got a 70% on this? Just check out the answers. Just pay attention to how similar what we wrote is.” It was pretty identical. My teacher sounded like Kermit the Frog, but he looked like Harry Caray.
“Well, I can see what you did. In your case, you earned a 70%, and in his case he earned 110%.”
But, back to your original question.
I found out I could be funny, and I kept that in my arsenal. One day I made my friend laugh so hard, and made myself laugh also, by pulling a prank on a buddy of mine. I laughed so hard I was sore for days, literally days. I thought, if I can make other people do that, that would be the greatest feeling. That’s probably my favorite memory. Laughing that hard. In that moment, I realized I want to make people do that.
GS: I would say you succeed in doing that. I was watching your 21 Hydrants video, and the whole office was like, are you alright? I was choking I was laughing so hard.
TT: Thank you! I really enjoyed making that. I actually saw 21 Pilots in concert before I made that. They’re so good live that I had to make a parody, just so I can put that paint on my neck.
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GS: So, would you say your parodies are a tribute to things you really enjoy or admire?
TT: Oh yeah. I only parody stuff that I really like. I have so many parodies that I haven’t made. I took the song “It’s Too Late to Apologize” by One Republic and wrote out a parody for it. It’s an older song, but it starts out like:
“You probably haven't heard this song in quite a while/And parodies depend on relevance to go viral/And this one has already been parodied into the ground ... anyways ... safe to say that I missed the window of ---”
I’m sorry, this is too long. I didn’t realize how long it takes to actually get to the chorus. The fun part is:
"It’s too late to parody. It’s too laaaaaaate."
So the whole joke is about how it’s too late to even parody that song because it’s been out for so long.
Parodies are fun. It has all the heart of the original song, and if you write the lyrics the right way, you get the same feeling packed in there plus laughter.
GS: That’s awesome! What is your creative process like for the parodies or the Tobuscus Adventures videos? Do you have any routines you follow or superstitious behavior like wearing a particular pair of socks in order to make a great video?
TT: I don’t really know. I make up funnier stuff when I don't have any sort of substance affecting my brain. If I wake up and start working on something and I don't have coffee, I don't know what it is, but I’m just so much more creative. I drink way too much coffee though, as you can probably tell from my energy level.
As for my process, I’ll sit down and make everything in order. If it’s a song, I’ll start at the very beginning and ask myself what I want to hear at the very beginning. Same with editing. I immediately want to start a project by creating something I know I can right away watch and say “Yeah this is good,” and then add to it. Through the whole process, like when I’m doing a literal trailer or something like that, I can watch the first 30 seconds of it and be like, “Oh yeah, this has to keep going.”
As for Tobuscus Adventures, I don't even know -- I wanted to make a cartoon, and it just exploded out. If I could make that into a whole cartoon or a real series, that would be the dream. Those things write themselves.
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GS: You do cover a lot of territory, and you do a lot of different things. How do you maintain all of your channels and juggle all the content you create?
TT: For a long time I would isolate myself and just focus on making as much stuff as I could. Over time, I discovered a lot of it is trying to find the balance of what I need to do to make me happy versus what I have to do (and can do) to maintain a following.
I took some time off and I wrote a book about Tobuscus Adventures. It’s like Diary of a Wimpy Kid meets zombies, but it’s for a little bit of an older audience. I wrote it, and I didn’t realize how much work it is to write a book. I was working on it a lot over the past couple years, and I really couldn’t juggle a lot of stuff at that point. Now, I’m getting back to finding the core of the content I like that resonates with people but also stuff that makes me the happiest. I’m trying to focus on that more. A lot of music.
If you make something that you love, it’s weird, but it fuels you to make more of that. When you make something you love, you feel love. You find happiness in your art. I think that’s a very important part. When you’re doing a bunch of stuff that you don’t like, which is what life is -- a lot of stuff in life you’re not going to necessarily like -- but if you have one thing that really drives you, you get through everything else with ease.
GS: You’ve been doing this for awhile, is it still fresh and new to you? How do you keep it new and enjoyable?
TT: It all starts with thinking of something that makes me laugh. A lot of my favorite stuff I haven’t even made, which is the worst. What happens is, if I have a joke that I think is really, really, really, good, like better than anything else, then I don’t want to make it simple. I want to make it as good as it can be. Sometimes I end up putting it into a box and never getting started on it.
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I wrote a song called “Push” a couple years ago. It’s serious, and I don’t usually do stuff like that. It’s a completely different direction, and I didn’t know if it would resonate with my audience at all.
I didn’t want to release it until it sounded as good as I thought it should sound. It’s very sad. It’s about a breakup. Exploring different parts of things I enjoy, like writing and music, is a lot of fun, but I’ve never done any serious music. Right now, I’m really excited about the idea of getting into it.
I haven’t gotten bored of doing animations; I just don’t have animators right now. I only handle the writing and the voice-overs. Literal trailers are a bit different because I’m singing about a movie or video game. The trailer has to be for something I’m excited about, or it has to be so awesome that you can feel whoever made this trailer is a freakin’ badass artist. And then it moves me to want to sing lyrics to it.
GS: What is one of the highlights of your career thus far?
TT: Getting interviewed by Snoop Dogg was pretty cool. I think he was Snoop Lion at the time. That was pretty awesome. I did a vlog with James Cameron -- he started the blog holding my phone.
GS: What advice would you give to aspiring YouTubers: One do and one don’t.
TT: Do: Find your voice. That’s super important. It comes from really hearing how the people you admire and look up to present themselves, and mixing all of the different spices and flavors into whatever your voice would become. Spend time on it. I guess that’s something that takes awhile to do, but if you make one video and you can watch it all the way through and say, “Yeah, that’s me,” that’s a good goal to have starting out.
Don’t: Don’t give up. Don’t expect it to be a success instantly. Expect it to not. It takes time. No matter how brilliant your project is, it still takes time. It could take years. I think the most important thing is to find the thing that is completely true to yourself and harvest it for content. It’s like mining the diamond.
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GS: If you could go back to the very beginning and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
TT: Don’t do it! (laughs). Keep a close-knit set of friends, and be a little less trusting and more selective/careful with the people I spend my time with. You kind of get mixed up in Los Angeles. When you go out there and you don’t really have anything and you figure stuff out, people tend to gravitate to you, and a lot of times, those are the wrong types of people.
You don’t need them in your life. You don’t need someone who is trying to get something from you. Because they’ll take advantage of you. Everybody goes through this type of thing to some extent. You experience success and people just kind of appear or are suddenly interested in being your friend. Now I get alarm bells and red flags, which would have been a nice instinct to have a long time ago.
GS: Where do you go from here? Any awesome new projects that you can tell us about?
TT: We have a video game coming out on Steam, and we’re testing it. It’s called Tobuscus Adventures: Wizards. It’s already on iOS and Android. It was for an indiegogo campaign I did years ago, and it took this long. I don’t think that’s right -- it should have happened faster, but at this point I’m like, dude, this has to happen. I’m performing a lot next year at conventions, too, so that should be fun. Look out for those.
GS: Closing thoughts or remarks?
TT: If anybody is making video games, I’m super great at voice-overs. Hire me!
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If you're ever in search of a good belly laugh, Toby's channels offer a smorgasbord of giggle-inducing content. With an already robust portfolio and plans to expand in the gaming and writing markets, Toby isn't relinquishing his title as one of the most prominent YouTube personalities.
You can check out Toby's work on YouTube. Follow his video game playthroughs and commentary on TobyGames;, his daily vlogs on TobyTurner; or find Tobuscus Adventures, Literal Trailers, song parodies, and a host of other content on Tobuscus.