Those plugged into the YouTube space have known the Try Guys since 2014 as the BuzzFeed video producers who tried everything from the tiniest speedos of European swimwear to fully immersing themselves in the bloated goggles of virtual reality before they split off in 2018 to start their own eight-million-subscriber YouTube channel.
But since the fall of 2022, almost everyone knows who the Try Guys are. The four-man group crashed into mainstream discourse when it leaked that member Ned Fulmer was having an affair with an employee. After dozens of articles, the removal of Fulmer, and a now-viral couch video spoofed on SNL, the group had to reform its identity.
10 months later, the three remaining members, Zach Kornfeld, Keith Habersberger, and Eugene Lee Yang, decided to throw caution to the wind and make the content they want, hoping their audience comes along for the ride.
On Thursday, they put it all on the stage with a two-hour, summarized, live-event rendition of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Fans could vote on ways to change the scenes—like force-feeding Habersberger’s Juliet bananas or having Kornfeld’s Romeo fight with purple floppy dildos.
“We lovingly refer to ourselves as being in our, ‘Fuck it, let’s do what we want’ era,” Kornfeld told Passionfruit before the event. “Basically, we try and make it, and the audience tries to break it. So it’s a highly interactive, fun event that is also an exercise in trying to not break character.”
Fortunately for the audience, that exercise didn’t work out the way Kornfeld hoped. With a chat room zooming with excited fans, a behind-the-scenes camera that captured Yang’s many costume changes, and multiple cameos from YouTube royalty, the event was a night to remember, made complete with character breaks, bong rips, and even floppier giant dildos.
Shakespeare seems like an odd choice for a group of YouTubers to perform—it isn’t popular with any trends and the Zoomers don’t theoretically want to engage with more old-timey content. But this is a project the Try Guys dreamed of doing for a long time, a bit of a “wish fulfillment,” according to Habersberger, who feels like trying to bring one of the most famous pieces of theater to an internet audience “intimidating” and makes for a good challenge.
Breaking a Trend
The Try Guys started in a much smaller BuzzFeed, which only had around “20 to 30 people” in its video department, according to their documentary “Behind the Try.” The Try Guys began as producers who weren’t necessarily the stars of videos. But when BuzzFeed needed male participants to try on ladies’ underwear, they were the only ones willing to do it.
The video was an instant success, propelling the guys from office strangers to close friends in order to keep the content flowing.
“The first several years we worked at BuzzFeed, it was all about going viral, making mega-hits, and doing all this stuff,” Habersberger said. “We’ve just done it for so long that the goal isn’t to go viral for us anymore because everyone goes viral all the time.”
Even in those early days of getting pummeled in the octagon at UFC fighting and testing on the most elegant wedding dresses, the Try Guys said they wanted to do more with their content but couldn’t for fear of losing their employment. Over the years, the idea of doing Shakespeare had bounced around: At one point it was going to be a drunk spin-the-wheel show, but they eventually realized that it would be more fun if the audience was the one steering the content ship.
So in this new era of doing what they want, it felt like a perfect opportunity to break out something they’ve always wanted to do. They still do quite a bit of classic Try Guys content, filming two episodes a week for a total of 114 episodes a year, to keep up the content factory they’ve been running for the past nine years. But their core team has been able to stay fairly consistent over the years while flexing their new skills.
“I think making the same thing over and over and over and over and over, all the time is really exhausting and draining,” Habersberger said. “When we have a project that is so different and new, it excites us.”
A Chaotic Year For The Try Guys
The past 12 months haven’t been easy for the group. Outside of the obvious tumultuous removal of Fulmer, Kornfeld got married (and was hospitalized multiple times) and Yang and Habersberger were out of town unable to film.
So partially out of necessity, but also a need to creatively push themselves, their videos have been featuring more people trying than those just inside the group. Former BuzzFeed coworkers Kwesi James and Joyce Louis-Jean, as well as chef Jonny “JonnyCakes” Manganello, are just some of the others that have made appearances on videos in the past few months. Their Shakespeare performance also featured multiple guest stars like Good Mythical Morning, Philip Defranco, and MatPat.
“To create more unique things and keep making stuff that people want to watch, I think getting new faces in there is helpful,” Habersberger said. “Also, just in general, people want to see more [than] a couple of white guys’ opinions.”
These new perspectives have allowed the group to reignite their passion, coming up with new creative ways outside of their usual testing fare focusing more on series like the “Surprise Talent Show,” which has a guest star perform a hidden talent that the group then has to copy like opera singing or using a flaming jump rope. It’s one of the ways they’ve been able to deal with burnout in such a tumultuous year, funneling their insecurities into their passion to pop out content.
They’ve also used this time to dabble more with high-production value shows, trying to make something that feels closer to a television show just on the internet. Kornfeld has created a short film that they are going to shop at festivals, and they hope to make more of them in the future. They believe in the strength of live-streamed shows, like “Romeo and Juliet.” Earlier this year, they also held a live event for “Without a Recipe,” where the trio attempted to make churros from scratch without the use of a recipe.
“Obviously it’s a bigger risk, they cost more to make, and maybe they don’t always do better than the videos. But they’re more gratifying to us, and I think our audience appreciates them more too,” Habersberger said.
The Try Guys are no longer four friends forced to make videos together at an office in LA. It’s a movement with a flowing cast of creators that let creativity and passion be their guiding force, hoping that their fans will come along for the journey.
“You can’t do the same thing forever,” Kornfeld said. “You have to evolve and change and allow yourself to grow, give your audience an opportunity to grow with you.”
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