Media-savvy celebs have long used social media to promote themselves and their projects. But the new generation of luminaries was virtually born on the Internet, parlaying massive followings on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms into their own TV shows and movie roles.
Case in point? One Miss Grace Helbig. Known for her Webby Award-winning YouTube series It’s Grace, she’s leaping to late-night television with The Grace Helbig Show (Fridays on E! at 10:30/9:30c beginning tonight)—and presumably bringing her nearly four million social media followers with her.
Helbig also starred in and produced the movie Camp Takota, wrote the best seller Grace’s Guide: The Art of Pretending to Be a Grown-up, and co-hosts the Conde Nast travel vlog HeyUSA with BFF Mamrie Hart, who’ll be a guest (along with Aisha Tyler and DJ Flula) on episode one. We asked her about riding the cyber wave to Hollywood, where social media is headed and, yes, what she learned from the Miss New Jersey pageant…
“I came to a conclusion in my adulthood that I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m OK with that, and it’s really freeing to come to terms with that.”
How did you become such a social media sensation?
It didn’t happen overnight. I’ve been making videos going on seven years now. After college when I was in New York doing sketch comedy, waiting tables and auditioning for TV and movies, YouTube started to become a platform for people to make videos and I thought it was fun to come home and make a video with my roommate and post it online. It was just a fun hobby, not any indication of anything else. Then a website hired me to make videos for them and I was able to make that my survival job.
Over the course of the next six years it slowly built up steam. My original series was called DailyGrace, with a company called My Damn Channel. I left that at the end of 2013 and started my own YouTube channel called It’s Grace. By making things that I was proud of, that I thought were funny and videos that I would watch if I wasn’t in them, and that were true to myself and my point of view, I think that started to resonate with young people, from teenagers to twenty-somethings, across the millennial spectrum.
Coming from the Wild Wild Web, do you think traditional TV will be limiting? What do you need to consider in making the transition?
Everyone warns you that television is this big bad wolf that will try to blow your house down, but that hasn’t been my experience. They trust my brand and the relationship I have with my audience. They’re opening this path and ushering me in, encouraging me. The thing I have to consider most is ‘Does this feel like a television show?’ I don’t want it to feel like a Web series brought to TV. I want it to feel like a fully developed idea that feels big enough for television, with structure, but with that hometown charm and the unpolished feel that I naturally have.
Are you concerned about entering the crowded late-night TV space?
I’m pretty used to being in a crowded space. YouTube is pretty crowded. The only thing I can do is stay true to my point of view and create a show that I’d want to watch and make sure that my audience is included. I want it to be interactive. I want to get the audience on board in helping me create the show, give me ideas.
You competed in the Miss New Jersey pageant in 2005. Did you learn anything that prepared you for Hollywood?
In a way, it did. It was a rude awakening that I am not a beauty pageant contestant. It was the only beauty pageant I ever attempted to engage in. I did a lot of sports in high school. I had a very competitive spirit so I wanted to try it and see what it was like. I realized it was not for me. Comedy is much more me.
Were you always funny?
I grew up with two brothers and two stepbrothers, all older except for one. They all have great senses of humor and I just kind of observed them interacting. But in high school I was very shy, very reserved. I studied and I did sports. I was still a workaholic when I went to college.
You have several other projects in the works—tell me about the Elektra Woman and Dyna Girl reboot.
It’s a modern update I’m doing with my friend Hannah Hart. It was a wonderful opportunity for us to be in something together and to be able to play two female superheroes with a friendship that mirrors our real-life friendship and show what happens when they’re not being superheroes. It’s eight 11-minute episodes that you can watch all at once online. It’ll be out towards the end of this year.
How about The Smosh Movie?
The creators asked me to play the part of a receptionist at YouTube. There’s this meta thing going on with some YouTubers actually playing themselves. It’s a little insider but I think it’s really fun.
Are you still doing HeyUSA?
I can’t be on the road right now so we worked out a way for me to be the voice of God that tells Mamrie where she’s going throughout the season.
If these pics are any indication, Helbig can handle any role with, umm, equal Grace.
Do you do any stand-up?
I’ve never done standup—I’m terrified of that. Mamrie and Hannah and I do a variety show. Mamrie has a book coming out May 26 so we will be doing some shows across the United States.
What was the inspiration for your book?
I read a lot of self-help books when I was in college. They didn’t resonate with me. A lot of them felt a little generic. I came to a conclusion in my adulthood that I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m OK with that, and it’s really freeing to come to terms with that. I wanted to make a self-help book that was entertaining and offered advice that I’ve learned along my path.
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
To stay humble and grounded and be kind to everyone. My parents are such kind people and I think my brothers and I inherited that subconsciously. The other thing is to have fun with what you’re doing, and I’m trying to.
Was it an adjustment moving to California from the east coast?
Yes. I’d been living in Brooklyn for three years and I hadn’t driven a car for years. The weather’s great and I can’t complain. I think about the anything-can-happen electricity of New York. Then I go back I’m like, ‘How did I live here?’ My parents showed me photos this winter and I’m like, ‘Don’t miss it!’
Are you dating anyone?
I’m in a relationship but I don’t talk much about it. That part of my life I try to keep to myself.
That must be hard when your job is being accessible.
The audience is like CIA agents, they find out every little thing about my life. But I also think the audience is very respectful and very self-policing in a way. I haven’t really had experiences with haters or Internet trolls. People have been so kind and considerate.
What’s the no. 1 thing you look for in a guy?
I like a sense of silliness, someone that doesn’t take things seriously. When you look at someone and you think you have them pegged and then they surprise you with silliness, that’s so attractive to me. But a deal-breaker is someone who isn’t considerate.
As a social media maven, what are some of the surprising things you’ve learned?
I learned how much I like food photography. Eggs Benedict always looks so good on Instagram. I can’t even do Hollandaise sauce because the dairy doesn’t agree with my system but looking at the photos is just as good. I’ve also become obsessed with following way too many French bulldog accounts on Instagram. My dog is a sweet, cute, rescue boxer mix, but I love French bulldogs. They seem like cartoon dogs to me.
I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook anymore. I made the mistake of accepting all friendship requests and my page became something I didn’t recognize because I didn’t know who these people were. Twitter is the best for real-time news. Mamrie and I were shooting a video in my apartment and the whole building shook. We went on Twitter and found out there was an earthquake in Brooklyn. I find myself checking Snapchat more than Instagram. It’s becoming the dominating social media platform. You can have an actual real-time conversation with someone or send photos and video to each other with Snapchat.
How much time do you spend on social media every day?
Technically it’s my job, a 24-hour job, but I think if I left the business tomorrow I’d still be on social media because I enjoy it. I didn’t have the Internet until I was in high school so I do know about life before, so it’s interesting to me that this thing that I liked has become my job. I have no idea where it’s going, but I’m very curious to find out.
Photo by Brian Bowen Smith/E! Entertainment