A few years ago, Chicago resident Craig Benzine worked as a waiter. Now his day consists of planning, editing and posting a show for a large audience. His sound stage? His home.
Benzine is part of a new breed of celebrity: the successful YouTuber.
Not only that, he now makes a living just from his videos.
Under the name "Wheezy Waiter," Benzine puts on a regular show for 480,000 subscribers. He's part of the community of YouTube users who don't just think of the site as a place for fun videos (and with 1 billion unique users monthly, there are certainly plenty of casual viewers), but actively post to the site, putting a great deal of time and effort into entertaining their audience -- some of whom become "Internet famous" in the meantime.
Benzine is one of the subjects of a documentary, "Please Subscribe," which examines the hardcore YouTube community, which ran in theaters earlier this year and is now available streaming online.
Maintaining YouTube fame and making a living
For a lot of people, the idea of becoming famous -- and even making money -- on YouTube would appear to be something that just happens overnight. But in cases like Tay Zonday - whose song "Chocolate Rain" went viral - that's not the whole story.
Zonday was already uploading a series of videos to YouTube, when one became wildly popular, increasing his following on the site and leading to more videos.
With the number of YouTube subscribers having doubled in the last year, it should come as no surprise that we're seeing more success stories like this as well.
"The people on YouTube are hard-working people, and they make a good living doing it," which is something that director Dan Dobi said he wanted to show with "Please Subscribe."
That living is made through Google's AdSense program, which allows users to open their YouTube accounts to advertisers, after which Google selects the highest bidder. YouTubers get a cut of the profits. Some, according to Socialblade.com, earn millions of dollars a year.
Dobi pointed out that most people on YouTube are not "one-hit wonders."
"'Wheezy Waiter' uploaded hundreds of videos before getting recognition. To get successful is a hustle."
"I wish more people took the plunge into it and created an account, and realized it's not just cat videos," said Mitchell Davis, another subject of "Please Subscribe," who posts stream of consciousness vidoes as "LiveLavaLive," for his 638,500 subscribers, and then some.
The nature of YouTube celebrity
At the same time, the top YouTubers have fans just like other celebrities.
"The Internet celebrity aspect is almost more of a personal thing. They come up to you, they see you on a regular basis," said Davis.
"Some YouTubers upload five times a day. It's like 'I know you, I was just with you yesterday.' It's just like seeing a friend."
Benzine remembers being pointed out by a woman on the street once, saying "It's Wheezy Waiter! I love Wheezy Waiter!"
"I expected she was going to talk to me, but they walked right past," he said.
"It was funny because she treated it as if I was just on her computer screen, not actually there."
Zonday, who was suddenly everywhere in 2007 with his original song "Chocolate Rain," said he has gotten anecdotes from those among the video's 93 million views telling him he changed their lives.
"Their 2-year-old can't stop singing 'Chocolate Rain' at bedtime. Their grandmother loves to hear me sing 'You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.' They made their boss laugh by playing my 'Old Spice' video and got forgiven for being late. These are the most rewarding [things to hear]."
The Denton, Texas, YouTuber who only goes by the name Laina hit it out of the park with her very first video parodying "Beliebers." It made her an Internet meme for what became known as the "Overly Attached Girlfriend" face, which earned her more than 844,000 subscribers, a full-time YouTube career that pays her bills, and an invite to appear on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon."
"It was the most surreal, crazy, fun experience of my entire life. Not only to be on TV, or to be on a late-night talk show, but to be on Jimmy Fallon -- a show I love and watch all the time -- that was crazy."