How does a shy kid who likes math and science (because he preferred the soothing certainty of accuracy to the messy ambiguity of language and art) and starts out studying business administration successfully embark on a career in entertainment?
The short answer is ‘the Internet.’
The long answer involves a borrowed webcam, a quest to make friends laugh, the Pokemon theme song, and a website called YouTube.
Anthony Padilla grew up in Carmichael, attending Albert Schweitzer Elementary, John Barrett Middle School and Del Campo High School. He took classes at American River College for several semesters after high school, studying business administration and building websites as a source of income.
Around this time, he borrowed a web camera from his dad and started making videos with his best friend, Ian Hecox.
“I didn’t realize I had any creative anything going on until I started making videos,” he said.
The videos were made mostly for the benefit of friends and family until Youtube came along in 2005. They began putting their videos on the new site, and as it happened, a video they made spoofing the Pokemon theme song was on the front page just at the time people began writing about the fledgling site.
They quickly got 10s of thousands of views.
“Ian and I got very lucky,” he said. “It doesn’t happen for everybody.”
At the time, there wasn’t a way to make money from the videos they were creating. They did it for the fun of it. In a year or so, however YouTube started to pay for content, and a career path was forged.
With their company Smosh, Padilla and Hecox created hundreds of videos, gaining more than 22 million subscribers.
Padilla left Smosh this summer because of the lack of creative control he had over his work, he said in a Youtube video. The break-up was amicable, with Padilla and Hecox releasing supportive statements toward one another at the time. An email to Smosh for comment wasn’t answered immediately answered.
Now on his own, Padilla is still making YouTube videos, but is kicking around ideas for a television show or perhaps a book, although he wouldn’t elaborate in any detail on these projects.
The persona he projects on his YouTube channel appears brash and outgoing, playing highly personal material for laughs, as in the video, “What I did to my girlfriend (the truth).” But he has a serious side as well, talking about coping with anxiety attacks and the difficult decision to leave Smosh after more than a decade of collaboration with Hecox.
Other times, he explores serious issues of the day, such as watermelon vivisection.
Despite his candor in front of the camera, Padilla described himself as a shy kid who preferred computers to people (one hilarious video describes finding his extremely short-lived first romantic relationship on AOL – a relationship that did not survive an in-person meeting).
“I was so shy, I had no interest in becoming a performer,” he said. “It’s a lot easier for me to open up in front of a camera.”
Indeed, on YouTube, Padilla’s life appears an open book.
Looking back at his earlier efforts with Smosh brings mixed feelings, he said.
Sometimes he cringes. Why did he think that was funny? Why did he make that inappropriate joke? But he’s also nostalgic for it saying it was ‘a different time.’
“In the beginning there was no social media, there weren’t other stresses,” said Padilla.
In the beginning, it was just about taking the time to make something he and Hecox thought was funny – something that would make his friends laugh. Making a business out of it changed things, and being in business on the Internet has its own perils and pitfalls. Living and dying by the number of likes and spending too much time reading comments can take its toll on the psyche.
Padilla has learned when to put the brakes on reading comments.
“I think it’s healthy to take a step back,” he said. Stepping back helps him focus on the work he wants to do instead of worrying about how other people might judge it.
Padilla moved to Los Angeles after his YouTube stardom took off. Although he could make his videos anywhere, the company that owned Smosh was there. Also, because of his frequent trips there, he began making friends in Los Angeles, and along with the friendships came opportunities.
At first, he found the fast pace of Southern California life intimidating.
“It seemed like everyone had some secret,” he said. "There was the traffic, and everyone seemed to be in a hurry; no one wanted to stop and talk. People drove around by themselves, parked as close as possible to their destinations, got what they were there to get and rushed off again. And they all had ‘perfect hair."
Fortunately, Padilla is no slouch in the hair department, something his fans have taken note of. Early on, Padilla favored a flat-ironed style referred to by his fans as ‘emo hair,’ according to a profile on the Smosh Wiki. The fans were fond of his emo hair and were devastated when he debuted a new look.
“(His) haircut in 2016 was so AWSOME (sic) and before 2016 his hair was still AWSOME but not as AWSOME as 2016 hair. RIP the really really really old Anthony hair (before 2016 hair),” wrote a fan, Molly Aves in a comment on YouTube.
Hair aside, Padilla said he’s gotten used to L.A.’s fast pace and competitive spirit, but eventually he’d like to live somewhere a little slower, and a lot greener.
“I like the Pacific Northwest a lot," he said. "I like places around a lot of nature -- forests, mountains, rivers."