What started in 2005 with Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox making silly sketches about cartoon theme songs and Pokémon, Smosh has evolved into a multi-channel empire putting out daily sketches, podcasts, reactions, and, most recently, a live-streamed mock funeral.
But over the past two decades, the Smosh brand has narrowly avoided an untimely demise multiple times. In 2011, the group was purchased by multi-channel network Defy Media, which paid the founders in stock that became worthless when the network went bankrupt in 2018. Years of bubbling malcontent under a tyrannical company soured the relationship between the pair, with Padilla leaving to start his own channel in 2017.
After a couple of years of floundering, two fellow YouTubers, Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal (aka Rhett & Link), purchased the Smosh brand under the umbrella of their production company, Mythical Entertainment.
And just six months ago, there was another shocking evolution: Padilla rejoined the Smosh team. Not only is Padilla back to making sketches like the old days, but Padilla and Hecox also bought back the Smosh brand from Mythical Entertainment.
Now that the duo is back to working together, they had to bring in a new CEO to steer the ship.
“We are the modern YouTube landscape,” CEO of Smosh Aléssandra Catanese told Passionfruit. “I believe Smosh is the prime example of what any creator can hope to achieve with long-term success on a platform like YouTube.”
Catanese has worked in the YouTuber management space since 2010 at relics like What’s Trending and Maker Studios. In those days, Catanese said that “YouTube and digital media were in their infancy and received little to no respect from the broader entertainment industry.” When you went viral, it “was a notable accomplishment that often influenced pop culture moments” built off the backs of an engaged community — rather than a socially engineered talk show clip or piece of drama.
In 2017, Catanese broke free of the mold and became Padilla’s manager, representing him exclusively in 2020. Then, when negotiations to reacquire Smosh started to happen, the pair offered her the role of CEO, which she said she “happily accepted.”
In this new social landscape dominated by TikTok and short-form video, the model for internet success has certainly changed. But having a strong fan base backing you up is still a core asset.
“Smosh is an 18-year-old brand that has built such strong ties with its community,” Catanese said.
In Catanese’s first six months in the role, she said she’s done what you’d expect any CEO to do, like managing the company’s profits and losses, setting company policies, and working with the over a dozen members on furthering their projects. She said that her biggest challenge “is earning the team’s trust and loyalty” of her staff — which isn’t easy considering all of the regime changes that the Smosh crew has undergone over the past few years.
“In this latest era of Smosh, we have tossed out the idea of overthinking our content and welcomed in a new level of creative trust in our team,” Smosh producer and performer Courtney Miller told Passionfruit.
Miller has been with the ensemble since 2015, through all the highs and lows, and has recently taken on more ambitious projects. She creatively directed the entire live-streamed funeral, where members of Smosh roasted and consoled Padilla while he pretended to be dead, which she said she “never would have believed” would have happened in 2019.
“My whole mission with this show was to create a love letter to Smosh and Smosh fans,” Miller said. “With Anthony being back and Smosh’s founders working together again, I wanted this event to be a cultural reset.”
This new Smosh is still in its infancy but is already off to an amazing start. With millions of views pouring into videos, it’s clear that though the mechanisms change, the charm of two dudes with floppy emo hair remains as strong as ever.