There are a lot of habits you need to cultivate in order to become a great storyteller, but the one practice I think is most essential is to listen to other people’s stories.
I have a confession — something I’m really not proud of. The stories I listen to most are stories written by people who look a lot like me and have a background not so different than mine. I began preparing for this post with a title something like “The Five Best Storytellers on YouTube.” I decided the best place to start would be to look at the channels to which I subscribe. Mostly white folks. Mostly men. Some exceptions, sure, but there’s no denying the patterns. If anything, the channels to which I tend I subscribe pretty much confirm that I really have no defensible grounds to think I have a sense for the diversity of voices telling stories online.
So, I decided to expand the scope of my research to seek out high-quality channels with content created by at least some people who don’t look like me, date like me, spend like me, work like me, or sound like me. I decided to go about half-n-half on new channels I’ve decided to follow and some of my familiar favorites. I know now that I’m going to have to start thinking about some longer posts reflecting on why I subscribe to certain channels and not to others. But for now, I’m going to work on that project in parallel to other, shorter posts like this one.
The premise of this channel is that Simone makes shitty robots, and she absolutely does not care that they are shitty. Typically, I wouldn’t characterize someone else’s work as “shitty,” but she often refers to herself as the Queen of Shitty Robots. So there. Apparently, I have permission. There are a lot of apt adjectives for her channel: original, charming, amateurish, self-deprecating, funny, and inspiring. But shitty isn’t one of them. Her robots? Yes, definitely. But not the channel. She’s great at framing each of her projects as a story. Not necessarily what most people think about when they think of a storyteller. But she is definitely a funny and talented storyteller. I’m including the “trailer” for her channel below.
(I first became a fan about two years ago because of all the adjectives above. But earlier this year, Simone was diagnosed with a pretty serious brain tumor. She hasn’t made that diagnosis (and subsequent successful removal) the primary subject of many of her posts, but she has made a few videos to share that emotional process with her audience. I know there have been YouTube channels whose creators have also encountered serious health challenges, but this channel was one of which I was already a huge fan.)
This channel is one of my most recent follows. After binge-watching a bunch of random videos from sWooZie’s channel, I am overwhelmed by two thoughts: He’s really damn funny. And I totally want to hang out with him and listen to him tell stories. More thoughts: he’s willing to say things that other people aren’t willing to say. You know how stand-up comics can sometimes really push the limit of what we all think it’s okay to say, but it’s sort of okay because that’s kind of a comedian’s job? I get that same vibe here, but not primarily in the service of comedy. Instead, here it seems to be in the service of giving us the honest context and subtext of his stories. Maybe more than any other storyteller I’ve been watching lately, he says things I’ve thought and wish I would have had the words for. I can’t think of a better model for storytellers than that. The video below is the one featured on his channel’s homepage.
Casey is a vlogger. He used to be a daily vlogger. Yes DAILY. And when you consider the amount of footage he works with, the quality of his cinematography, and the incredible editing of each of his posts, the amount of work demonstrated is SHOCKING. A lot of people argue that he has had more influence on YouTube as a vlogging platform than any other YouTuber. Probably. Before he was a vlogger, he was a commercial movie maker and commercial maker. He’s not everybody’s favorite flavor, but he’s one of my favorites. I’ll be honest, Watch enough of his vlogs and the shine of his idiosyncratic editing style will eventually wear off. Which is good because that’s when his storytelling skills become evident. Instead of merely documenting the mundane details of his life, he has developed an approach that manages to frame each particular day as a story unto itself. Sometimes it works better than others. But if you’re looking for an example of someone who can consistently elevate trivial into something engaging, you could learn a lot from Casey. Although several of his videos have gone viral (Bike Lanes, Make It Count, The $21,000 First Class Airplane Seat) I’ve embedded the video below as a recent (relatively random) example of what I think makes him a genuinely inspiring storyteller.
So there you have it. Three channels you might want to start watching to keep you thinking and learning about your own storytelling voice. I was going to highlight six different channels, but I think this is long enough as-is. Soon enough, I’ll publish another similar post with three more storytelling channels (Kat Blaque [https://www.youtube.com/user/TransDIYer/featured], zeFrank [https://www.youtube.com/user/zefrank1/featured], and the New York Times’ Op-Docs Video Channel [https://www.nytimes.com/video/op-docs]. Until then, enjoy the shows.