“It’s ridiculous,” says Deborah Mourey, when asked what she thinks of the situation she finds herself in. And she’s right. Having flown across the globe to be in UCD, she’s just walked past a queue with around a thousand people in it, and there’s people pressing themselves up against the small pane of glass in the door to the room, holding up signs and desperately trying to catch a glimpse of her daughter.
Edging close to 7.5 million subscribers and one billion video views, Jenna Mourey, now known more commonly as Jenna Marbles, is the third most subscribed to YouTuber in the world. She first caught people’s attention with her video ‘How to trick people into thinking you’re good looking’, a satirical take on the lengths women go to to appear attractive to men. It received over five million views in its first week and is now approaching 50 million views.
It’s this, the sheer amount of people who now follow her channel, that she finds most daunting. She says: “This is crazy. I expected maybe my mom to think I was funny but not like, other people. People thinking anything I do is funny is ridiculous.” It’s something which she finds can get overwhelming when coming up with ideas for videos, as she explains: “It really does sometimes. I like to just be like ‘Oh I’m going to upload a video today,’ but then I’m like, more than like my mom and my friends are going to watch it, so sometimes I do feel a bit of pressure.”
This pressure however, hasn’t affected the way she makes videos or how she thinks about them. With no real planning process outside of knowing that her videos must go online on ‘Sexual Wednesday’, she explains that on Tuesday: “I just freak out and don’t know what to do. Sometimes I’ll write down some things that I want to do, but I don’t actually write out a script or anything… I try really hard to come up with ideas but it’s definitely on of the hardest parts. It has to be something I can execute myself, alone in my house.”
While she attempts to include her fans in the process, this often leaves her back at square one, as when she asks her followers on Twitter and Facebook what is it they want to see from her, they often come back with out-there suggestions. “I’m like ‘What do you wanna see in my videos?’ and everyone’s like ‘Jenna, your period!’. I’m serious. I get a couple of ideas like, ‘Re-enact all the Harry Potters, with your dogs’ There’s like, how many scenes in those movies? Like, come on!”
While Jenna’s videos fall firmly into the comedy category, comedy or stand-up wasn’t something she’d ever tried before she started her YouTube channel. “Never ever! It’s just what I do now. I think I’m hilarious, but no one else thinks I’m funny. I just crack myself up,” she says.
Her modesty surrounding her ability to make people laugh may be contributing factor to her own disbelief that uploading videos to YouTube is now a full time job for her. Even after her channel became successful, this wasn’t something she could even begin to fathom: “I didn’t know that you could do this full time! I didn’t know that this was a thing but it is now, and it’s the greatest job ever. I just sit in, make jokes and have laughs on the internet.”
Jenna had a whole other career pathway laid out before she started her channel. A psychology major at undergraduate level, she graduated from Boston University with a masters in Sport Psychology and Counselling. As her channel grew and an opportunity to make a living from making her videos arose, however, that was set aside, something which she believes was the right choice. “You’ve just got to figure it out and do whatever makes you happy. Don’t ever settle for some job because someone tells you that you’re supposed to do it. Say ‘Fuck you!’ Right mom?”
Deborah is thoroughly supportive of Jenna’s ventures on the internet, and says she knew she’d veer off into another avenue at some stage, as she explained: “She always said she was going to be rich, and I knew from when she was very little that she would do something that was different from what everybody else did. That I was pretty sure of, although she did go a traditional academic route. I figured she’d find a way to get whatever she wanted and she did.”
Deborah does believe that even though she’s not working in a traditional arena, as a YouTube personality, she feels she is making use of her degree, through how she thinks about people. “I think it’s amazing. I think her understanding of people, her observations about where people are most vulnerable and how to make them feel better, is rare and a real gift and a real talent. Then if you add a sense of humour onto that… I think it’s just an amazing thing. The technology has enabled her voice and her acceptance of everyone, and her wanting people to accept themselves and technology enabling that is a wonderful thing.”
Jenna begins to agree, saying, “Maybe a little bit, more so on how I think about things” but she quickly reverts to downplaying herself, quipping: “I think it’s still just brain diahorrea that comes out.” Having already deemed her current role as “the greatest job ever”, it’s tough for her to imagine doing anything else, nor does she even think about it. “I’ve no idea, I’m going to make a video today and then I don’t know… I’m just going to see what happens. I don’t really have any expectations of what’s going to happen but if this all just crashes and burns at some point, at least I have my degree. I’ll always have that,” she says. “Um, I could build a spaceship? I don’t know. Honestly if this doesn’t work out, I think I would just get some dogs and like, start a doggy daycare. I just sort of live everyday by itself and then see where that goes. I don’t make plans.”
It is this sort of decision-making process that delayed her trip to Ireland. As this is one of the first times she’s travelled abroad for a public appearance, it took her quite a while to actually commit to it fully. “You guys invited me like a year ago, and I was like ‘Oh you know what I want to do? Go to Ireland!’ and it took me this long to like, figure out my life,” she says. With the success of this trip, she says she hopes to do more, but is very unsure when or where. “I don’t know, anywhere that invites me. Really, I don’t know. I would like to go to the rest of.. over here. Yeah, Europe! Geography is not my forte.”
Arriving to UCD to a packed-out Astra Hall, with a live-stream set up over Skype to broadcast the talk to outside the venue where hundreds more fans were watching, really gives a picture of just how big her fanbase is and how far it spreads. It is rare that her fans are so visibly present offline, though her encounters with fans still aren’t otherwise limited to being stopped in the street near her home in California. “I was in Hawaii and this girl was convinced we were like, BFFs, and she just stood outside our hotel room, banging on the door and was like, sliding notes under it, and I had to DM her on Twitter being like, ‘Hey, I’ll come meet you somewhere else, like tomorrow. Please don’t cut my skin off.’ I couldn’t leave my room, I was like quarantined, and this girl was like ‘Jeennnnnaaa’. I met her at her job the next day and she gave me a bunch of notes and it was weird. She was totally normal and nice, but sometimes there’s the line of ‘Oh, I think you might kill me. I know you know that you’re not going to kill me, but I don’t know that you’re not going to kill me, so I’ll see you in a little bit.’ That was definitely the weirdest, for the most part everything is high fives and hugs. Don’t cut my skin of guys, that would be awful. I’ll still be here, just skinless!”
When she moved to California, she did see a marked increase in her interaction with other YouTubers in real life, however she does still find the relationship between herself, them and the internet as entirely bizarre. She explains: “I moved to California, where for some reason, they all live. I don’t know what’s happening. But I’ve met most of them at Playlist and VidCon and stuff, and they’re all really nice and awesome. The only thing that sucks is when you’re like, ‘Hey, let’s hang out and be regular friends!’ and they’re like ‘Oh let’s make a video’ No, dude, let’s just be regular for like, five minutes. Sometimes it’s weird, but for the most part they are very nice, awesome people. I get really giggly sometimes, like ‘Oh my god, you’re not in my computer right now, can we hug and touch?’… I just do my own thing though. Some of it is so fake and feels really forced, to be like, at the grocery store and recording.”
Being such a large presence on YouTube, or anywhere on the internet will always bring some level of negativity, but Jenna maintains that she has learned to ignore it, saying: “I think for the most part, I try and not pay attention to a lot of it because if you pay attention to the bad things that people are saying to you, then you’d stop doing what you do. Like, I would stop making videos. I would just sit alone at home and cry all day.”
Recently however, she received so much negative feedback after putting her video, ‘Things I Don’t Understand About Girls Part 2: The Slut Edition’, online, that she couldn’t possibly ignore it. “That obviously was brought to my attention because it was such an overwhelming amount of negative comments, but everyone was like, you need to apologise, you need to take back what you said, which I’m just not going to do. If it was something horribly offensive or racist or something over the line, obviously I would apologise, but that is what I thought and what I felt, so I said it… I stand by what I said and I really don’t care that people got really upset about it. That my video is still up and I’m not taking it down and fuck them. You can be unhappy but that doesn’t change the way that I feel about it… I don’t give a fuck and I put it on the internet. I try not to pay much attention to it because they’re just sad people alone in their basements.”
This is her attitude to all the content she puts online, including the video she’s most proud of making: “Landshark. When I first uploaded Landshark, everyone was like ‘What the fuck is this shit Jenna? I want ‘How to trick people into thinking you’re good-looking’ or something’. Well then you can’t be in my super secret Landshark Club. Yeah, people didn’t like it at first, when I uploaded it. But I’m just like, you know what? I just did what I wanted and I uploaded it and it was what I wanted to do.”
While Jenna isn’t sure what she wants to do next, or where she wants this success to take her, one thing’s for sure: Marbles and Kermit, her dogs who appear in every video, will remain a part of whatever she chooses to do. She says: “They have to be there; they are there. Kermit demands attention!” This is despite earlier complaints about both dogs’ laziness: “I do everything and edit it all myself. I don’t have anybody, sometimes I get so lonely. Marbles and Kermit don’t do anything.”
She rubbishes the idea that she would ever get tied into brand partnerships or sponsorship deals on her channel. Commenting on other YouTuber’s doing it, she says: “They’re like ‘Oh check out my Samsung Galaxy phone’ and you’re like, ‘Fuck you. I don’t sell out.'” and she says that while it has been brought up before, it’s unlikely that the television route is for her, as she explains: “It’s really cool, like the internet right now, you don’t have to go into traditional media, you can just stay on the internet and be like ‘Fuck you guys!’. I don’t have to listen to anyone else, no one tells me what to do, it’s really cool.”
The only avenue she does get excited about exploring further is music, having found reasonable success when she released her song ‘Bounce that dick’: “You don’t even know, I am dying to make more songs,” she says. “It is all just depending on me getting like a keyboard maybe, and a microphone, because I recorded a lot of songs on some headphones and it didn’t work well but I’m going to get one soon and I’m going to make more songs, and it’ll be like the ‘Bounce That Dick’ remix.”
With no more plans in place than to film her talk and use some of it for her video, and to give “everyone in Ireland who wants a sexual hug” a sexual hug, she leaves with one announcement: “I’m only wearing one bra today, I thought I’d keep it sort of like, professional! If you’re coming to Palace though, they’re going to be up and out and up to my neck, and glitter, party glitter all over them.”
All of Jenna Marbles’ videos are available on her YouTube channel, youtube.com/jennamarbles.