Hank Green started making YouTube videos with his brother, novelist John Green, back in 2007. What started as a conversation between the brothers developed a devoted following of people who call themselves “nerdfighters” (fighting for nerdiness, not against it).
Eleven years later, the nerdfighter community is more than 3 million strong. The Green brothers have created the critically-acclaimed educational YouTube channels Crashcourse and SciShow. They’ve helped raise millions of dollars for human rights organizations during their annual Project for Awesome fundraiser. And John Green’s novels Looking For Alaska, The Fault in Our Stars and Turtles All the Way Down have become New York Times best-sellers.
Hank Green has now written a novel of his own called An Absolutely Remarkable Thing which is available now. It’s a sci-fi thriller, with a protagonist who’s learning how to deal with newfound Internet fame.
Green joins the Morning Shift to talk about his new book, and about what it’s really like to be famous on the Internet.
On getting to know his brother via the Internet
Before Hank and John Green began making videos together, they only talked a few times a year.
Hank Green: It’s interesting, because we didn’t talk during that [first] year. We maybe talked on the phone a few times, we probably saw each other in real life a few times, but it really was separating out who I was and who I was gonna present to John, and also with the added audience. I mean, there were people who were watching us do this. And in that way, it was definitely a more constructed relationship, but it also gave us the reason to do it. And I think that that’s often what people are searching for.
Tony Sarabia: Well because there was an audience, though, was [it] in the back of your mind, or maybe John’s, that you knew there was a performative aspect to all of this?
Green: Oh sure, yeah. Not in the back of our minds—that was there the whole time. And John was the most important member of the audience, but he wasn’t the only member of the audience, and that also gave us the opportunity to try and one-up each other, and to try and make a better video than the other, but also it gave us a shared project. We were doing this thing together, rather than saying basically like, “This is the conversation we’re having,” “This is the project we’re embarking on together, and we’re going to do that, and it will be a thing that’s binding us together, and that we’ll always have done together.”
On realizing he was famous
Green: It was nice and slow for me, which was not the case for April [the protagonist of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing], and so I had some time to get used to it. The first time I got recognized by a stranger was at a They Might Be Giants concert, which—there’s a lot of people there, and they’re also nerds, and so I’m much more likely to be recognized at a place with a bunch of nerds. So it didn’t seem that unusual, versus being recognized at the grocery store by just a person—there’s no self selection going on there…now, I wouldn’t be surprised if I got recognized on any given trip to the grocery store, and I know how to deal with it. And also, all this happened to me when I was in my late twenties and early thirties, so I had some stability in my life, and a pretty good idea of who I was, and had had jobs before. I’ve noticed it be harder for my friends who are younger, and I’ve also noticed that…people can be a lot more abusive to young women than they are to young men.
On doing projects with audience involvement
Green: [YouTube] isn’t cool [because] we get to make content and distribute it easily. It’s cool because we get to make content and have it be immediately and constantly informed by the people who are watching it, to the point where my video on Tuesday would be influenced by the response to John’s video on Monday.
GUEST: Hank Green, YouTube star and author
LEARN MORE: The Vlogbrothers YouTube channel
In His Debut Novel, Hank Green Ponders Online Fame—and Alien Robots (Wall Street Journal 9/19/18)