Hello, Old Person. Would you like to be annoyed and confused? Let's talk about the chipmunk-voiced YouTube phenomenon known as 'Fred'. He has a new movie coming out, and all the kids are going to be talking about it.
Poor Old Person. You thought you were so "with it" once you figured out who The Jonas Brothers were. No. You know nothing. Meet Fred: The YouTube phenomenon whose videos have been seen more than just about any piece of visual culture made in the last 20 years.
Fred is a character
Fred is not a real kid, thank God: Fred Figglehorn is a character, a six year-old kid with an alcoholic stepmother and a father in jail. In his videos, he's constantly chasing a girl named Judy, running away from a bully named Kevin, and peeing where he shouldn't be (the pool, the bed.)
Fred is the Justin Bieber of Comedy
Fred is the creation of a 16-year-old named Lucas Cruikshank, the Justin Bieber of comedy. (Even you should know who pop sensation Justin Bieber is by now.) Justin Bieber and Lucas Cruikshank are both 16. They both got their start filming low-rent videos in the middle of nowhere: Bieber comes from Stratford, Ontario; Cruikshank hails from Columbus, Nebraska. He started making comedy videos with his cousins, but his real success came when he started his own channel in 2008 featuring Fred. There, Fred just got a little less scary, right?
Fred is incredibly popular
Fred was the first individual Youtuber to hit 1 million subscribers back in 2008. His videos have racked up nearly 530 million views in aggregate. All of Fred's 61 videos have more than 1 million views except the latest one—and it was put up just 2 days ago. ("Fred Goes Swimming," above, has more than 44 million views.) Let's put this in terms you can understand: If The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo came with a free iPhone 4, Fred would still be more popular. (Although YouTuber Nigahiga recently passed Fred in subscribers.)
All Old People hate Fred
By now, you've probably watched one of Fred's videos and physically recoiled from his trademark chipmunk voice and zany mien. This is because your ears are very sensitive, better-suited to listening to Mad Men dialogue and smooth jazz. As the LA Times put it:
If you're past a certain age, Fred's appeal is essentially inscrutable. His antics are Kryptonite for grown-ups, repelling any but the most vigorous attempts to watch an entire episode and keeping us in the dark about why kids seem to love him so much.
Even Cruikshank admits Fred is "an acquired taste... like sushi." And indeed, Fred's popularity is probably comparable to Justin Bieber's in a certain demographic—and pretty much nowhere else. But Fred endlessly entertains kids under, say, 16. This is what they find funny, and no amount of you trying to foist old Monty Python tapes on them will convince them otherwise.
Fred makes money
Bet that made you put down your Wall Street Journal, huh, Old Person? Cruikshank and his handlers have been pretty savvy about monetizing the Fred craze. In 2008, he signed a five-figure endorsement deal with Zipit, a handheld instant messaging device manufacturer, whose products are not-so-subtly inserted into many of his videos. Fred appeared in viral promotions for the flop family film The City of Ember, and various Fred merchandise is available at Hot Topic and other places you don't shop. That he's done all this while remaining a largely Internet phenomenon disproves the Old Person notion that you can't make money on YouTube.
Fred has a movie
September 17th is the Fredageddon. That day, Fred: the Movie hits Nickelodeon, whose executives have successfully overcome their physical aversion to realize that Fred is a money machine. Many Old People are wondering if Fred will "work" as a feature-length film. We predict that it will work (It's written by a Family Guy executive producer) and that it's only a matter of time before Justin Bieber and Fred team up for a 3-D IMAX production, Broadway show and/or presidential campaign. Buy some earplugs, Old People.
[Fred with singer Pixie Lott at the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards]