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18th August 2022

In Conversation: Daniel Howell (danisnotonfire)

Head Music Editor Sarah Taylor chats to Daniel Howell about his (anti-)YouTube career and his first ever solo stand-up tour, We’re All Doomed!
In Conversation: Daniel Howell (danisnotonfire)
Photo: Daniel Howell – We’re All Doomed! Official Tour Poster @ Press

With over six million YouTube subscribers, two successful tours with comedic partner-in-crime Phil Lester, and an award-winning radio show under his belt, you might be wondering where next for Daniel Howell (aka danisnotonfire)?

After a two-year hiatus of sorts, everyone’s favourite Sims-playing, black-wearing, sardonic, king of cringe returned to YouTube with a scathing 85-minute video exposing the downside of YouTube as a career. Now penning and looking to produce a would-be hit sit-com and on the cusp of embarking on his first solo world tour, titled We’re All Doomed!, Dan spoke to The Mancunion about his years as a student in Manchester (including visiting Fac251), the importance of being open about mental health and the impact of his coming out video, along with what we can expect from his show in September!

Speaking from his London apartment, Dan laughs: “I spent all of the other week complaining about the heat, and now its miserable and I’m complaining so I guess I’m just annoying.”

Dan initially moved to Manchester as a student to study Law, dropping out after his first year but remaining in the city for a further year. He met Phil Lester (AmazingPhil) here, and so was born perhaps YouTube’s most iconic duo: DanAndPhilGAMES.

Originally from Reading, which he describes as “depressing and crap”, he said Manchester was “an amazing place to be a student” and jokes about going to Fallowfield for a “horrifying curry the night before an exam and making some terrible mistake you’ll never live down.

“I miss it though – down South, in London, people are so miserable, like they’re not just wearing grey suits; they’re emotionally grey. Manchester feels like the homecoming show. I’m looking forward to going back and remembering something I forgot because I blacked out in a club somewhere at 2am or left having an existential crisis.”

I asked Dan about any memorable nights out or clubs he would frequent.

“Everything on Canal Street, Warehouse Project, and Factory. I was the nerd stood in the corner having a triple Jager bomb thinking I should not be here. I should be in bed on my laptop playing The Sims.”

On May 4th 2022, Dan uploaded his first video in x amount of time, an 85-minute epic titled ‘Why I Quit YouTube.’ The video has since racked up over 3,000,000 views.

“It was a video 10 years in the making”, Dan explains. “It was something I couldn’t just whip up on a random Tuesday. It was everything I’d been feeling since I was a teenager messing about and then to turning into one of these crazy YouTuber people. And then looking back and going ‘what the hell was that all about?’”

Always one for self-deprecation, he laughs, “I didn’t know it would be so obnoxiously long. It just so happened that by the time I’d written down everything I wanted to say and read it out, I realised if someone’s watching this on their phone, they’re gonna run out of battery, or they’re gonna get a cramp. This is unethical!”

“A lot of the things I do are for entertainment but really it’s just an excuse to give myself therapy.”

Being so open and communicating with fans and viewers on a weekly, if not daily, basis meant it was sometimes difficult to draw a line. I asked Dan about finding the balance between oversharing and having a life of your own: “When you talk about something, there is no line if you’re telling a story. If I’m talking about an embarrassing sexual encounter, or the most awful thing that happened to me as a child that traumatised me, or a friend rejecting me etc. then that’s out there. I think when you feel like your actual life is being distracted by it, that’s when it’s too much. Like you can take a picture of your food, but if you don’t put the camera down the whole time, did you even appreciate it? Like there’s always that lady filming the whole Adele concert on an iPad. You’ve got to make sure you actually live your life, and if you’re like me and you’re just prone to constant failure and disaster from social awkwardness, there’ll always be a cracking anecdote from it!”

Reflecting on the video, and whether it may open up a door for other YouTubers from a similar scene to share their experiences with their newfound fame, Dan tells me: “I think it’s quite a relatable thing in life that very often we don’t take stock and look around and think about things. It could be relationships, jobs, friends we have etc. You know, lockdown did that for a lot of people. I think it’s essential for every person to have a little mental breakdown now and then.”

Part of Daniel’s reason for periodically parting ways with the platform that made him a household name was its lack of support with his own projects. In 2020, Dan was in the midst of developing a TV sit-com titled Dan Is Not OK, based partially on his own life. After YouTube agreed to produce the series, a combination of delays, spending elsewhere, and broken promises saw the platform combust and the project broke down.

Having spent two years working on the show, Dan was understandably downtrodden, but he’s holding onto hope: “I am in this horrendously awkward period of my life where I’m going back to all the people that I turned down a year ago, going ‘Hey do you remember me?’ It’s a glacial process but I just have to swallow my pride and get on with it.”

Dream cast? “I would love to have just cast Meryl Streep in every role. She’d play a better me than me.”

“Wow! Finally, this makes it feel like there’s a reason why I bang my head against a wall all day trying to do this clown rubbish.”

“It’s quite exciting to think about your dreams and all this stuff, but it always happens on someone else’s timeline. For all the problems I had with YouTube, what we do know is that whether it is some big YouTuber or just your weird aunt on Facebook going on a rant about something, everyone can just flog whatever they want and put it on the internet.”

Dan is optimistic though, ironically so given the title of his new show. He reflects on the positives of his career and the opportunities he’s had, expressing gratitude to the viewers and fans who queue up to meet him at signings and events: “I did not think that anything on the internet was real. I didn’t ever appreciate that there were real people watching it that have thoughts and feelings about what I made. It was when I went on tour for the first time, and I finally met these people outside the stage door. They’d say things like ‘you cheer me up’, and I was like, wow! Finally, this makes it feel like there’s a reason why I bang my head against a wall all day trying to do this clown rubbish.’”

“After COVID, I just want to make people have a good time. I want them to come out and have a good night. I want to see the faces of people to remind myself what’s real every now and then. It’s as much for them as it is for me. And let’s be honest, not leaving the house is not great for your mental health. If I’m literally forcing myself outside, touching grass, and seeing these people, that’s going to make me feel better.”

Oversharing on the internet has its consequences: “If you find a keyboard warrior in real life, it’s almost respectable. After a fair amount of time, you just lose all the shame. Things that we feel embarrassed about or ashamed or afraid of – people feel the same – it’s very liberating when you realise, ‘wow, it’s not just me that is that weird because we all feel it.’”

Discussing mental health with both humour and nuance has become much more accepted in comedy today with comedians like James Acaster and Bo Burnham paving the way in stand-up. This is also something Dan has often done in his past YouTube videos and will continue to do on tour.

“These days I came out as gay, I’m talking about my mental health, and I’ve got some spicy opinions every now and then. People are a bit scared of what Dan unleashed might be like now.”

“Some people think it’s way more compelling to be making a joke about something that is grounded in something with meaning to it. It’s edgy. But seriously, just talk about it at the dinner table. Get it off your chest. Your friends will be on your side.

“I’ve done a few one-offs and festivals, but this is the first solo tour. The first time I’ve gone on a whole bus journey around the world. I really like living on a bus. A lot of people think it’s crazy and depressing and like living in a coffin.”

So, what can we expect from We’re All Doomed!?

“These days I came out as gay, I’m talking about my mental health, and I’ve got some spicy opinions every now and then. People are a bit scared of what dan unleashed might be like now. Someone said to me ‘I’m bringing my boyfriend; will he break up with me after the show?’ Well, I might just start talking about anything. So, if he stays with you after he’s a keeper! I’ll be trying to do stand-up about all the terrible things in the world. Are we all doomed? How are we going to solve all these problems? But sometimes I see people arguing on Facebook, and I don’t think we’ve got it, I don’t trust these people! So, let’s just do a show about all the most terrifying things we can possibly think of, and then we’ll feel better cos we’ve got it off our chest. Maybe we’ll all find something to be hopeful for.”

Speaking of coming out, it’s just over three years since Dan publicly did so, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“It was amazing. I grew up with a very whacky, traumatising, homophobic childhood so to feel an overwhelming wave of acceptance and people in the same situation was… People saying, they feel less alone. It was what you wish someone said to you several years ago. But we can’t have it all, I came out and then immediately we were in lockdown.”

So, what does the future hold?

“There’s lots of big, exciting things I want to do. Try and make the show of course. Do more things with different people that allows me to go to different places.”

Tour doesn’t necessarily allow for that as Dan will be moving from city to city at breakneck speed. “It’s relentless. If I can cross the road and go to a Greggs, that’s what I need. Maybe get a curry in Fallowfield and relive those student years.”

Daniel Howell will be bringing We’re All Doomed to the UK, USA, CANADA, AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND, IRELAND, GERMANY, BELGIUM, NETHERLANDS, DENMARK, SWEDEN, NORWAY, FINLAND and ICELAND in 2022/23.

The tour will include a stop at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall on 11th September.

Sarah Taylor

Sarah Taylor

Head Music Editor @ The Mancunion. Freelance Music and Culture Writer @ DIY, The Line of Best Fit, Gigwise, etc. Avid gig-goer and alt-rock enthusiast! Twitter: @tayl0rsarah LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-taylor-48a562211/

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