The unstoppable rise of Shane Dawson

3 September 2018, 16:03 | Updated: 4 September 2018, 11:08

The unstoppable rise of Shane Dawson
Picture: Instagram: Shane Dawson
Benedict Townsend

By Benedict Townsend

Ten years after he was fired from his day job for making YouTube videos, Shane Dawson is more successful than ever

If television is the home of fifteen minutes of fame, then surely the internet is the home of the fifteen seconds of seconds. How many YouTubers have risen so high and then fallen so fast? How many creators who were once "the biggest YouTuber in the world" have already faded into obscurity? Could a young YouTube fan in 2018 really tell you who Ray William Johnson is? Probably not, and yet he dominated YouTube for years and years.

Who Will Shane Collab With Next?

It's nothing against Ray, it's just a symptom of the transient nature of online fame. In the cutthroat and often apathetic world of YouTube, enduring success is only enjoyed by those talented and adaptable enough to survive.

How little sense it makes, then, that the YouTuber who has dominated YouTube throughout 2018, the YouTuber who is a never-ending source of buzz, is also one of the site's veterans.

How the hell is Shane Dawson doing this?

A post shared by Shane Dawson (@shanedawson) on

Adapt to survive

YouTube was a very different place in 2008 when, at the age of 19, Shane Dawson first started to upload videos. There were no professional YouTubers, brands barely cared about the site, content was scattershot and random - you couldn't even watch or upload videos in HD.

The idea of a YouTube 'personality' was just starting to emerge. Though the kinds of 'personalities' that captured the public consciousness were generally things like 'a chipmunk turning around' or 'a man crying about Britney Spears which actually has a very dark story behind it'. We had not yet encountered true 'vloggers', we couldn't even conceive of the idea of gaming videos (what computer would possibly be powerful enough to capture that??)

At the start, Shane, like pretty much everyone on YouTube at the time, would upload whatever he felt like. Original characters, movie parodies, even songs. This worked for a while, but Shane, like other old school YouTubers who remain successful to this day (Smosh, for example) recognised that he needed to keep producing something new, and consistent, or he would swiftly become irrelevant.

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I won't recount Shane's entire life story here, but suffice to say that his ability to move with the time has allowed him to stay on top of the game. Ask a YouTube fan "what does Shane Dawson actually DO?" And they may well struggle to answer you - that's not an accident. In an unbelievably saturated YouTube market, it can be useful not to pin yourself down.

No man content creator is an island

Shane has also always demonstrated a willingness to collaborate with other YouTubers and is frequently very savvy at recognising the best people to work with. Molly Burke was quietly emerging as a YouTuber to watch and Shane recognised it before anyone else. He made a series of (often touching) videos with Molly, resulting in great exposure for them both.

To be clear - I'm not saying that Shane does these collaborations purely for cynical click drivin' reasons, I'm saying that he understands what his audience likes and doesn't have an ego that prevents him from sharing, or even handing over, the limelight.

A post shared by Shane Dawson (@shanedawson) on

It started with TanaCon

TanaCon, an unmitigated disaster of a YouTube convention that we all saw coming from a mile away, turned out to be yet another turning point in Shane's varied career. Rather than turn on creator Tana Mongeau as some other YouTubers had done, he decided to head directly to her. Whereas some would stay away from her, worried the failure of the Con would prove radioactive for their own YouTube brand, Shane recognised the opportunity that lay in the heart of the reactor.

This documentary series was instantly, stratospherically successful and has spawned a series of follow-up videos in the same vein which have also done what can only sensibly be described as 'truly wacky numbers'. Take a look at this image, notice that Shane's last ten videos have all easily garnered over 10 million views. That's not normal:

Where next?

YouTube is notoriously fickle - and laced with obstacles as varied and terrifying as having to deny you are a sex offender, so I will not definitively state that 'the only way is up' for Shane Dawson, but judging by the current state of things, it's pretty hard to see his views, and his influence going anywhere but up. Especially with the excitement surrounding his new documentary, which he says he "like 100 hours of footage for".

Whatever the case, do not bet against Shane Dawson.