Earlier this year, two nerds from YouTube took their massively successful UK stage show, The Amazing Tour Is Not On Fire (aka TATINOF), to America, where they ended up staging the final US performance at the very same theatre that's used for the annual Academy Awards ceremony. Yes, a stage that has been graced by the feet of Hollywood royalty became the setting for Phil Lester to chant "mount the llama" at Dan Howell.
What a time to be alive.
I was only introduced to Dan & Phil (Danisnotonfire and AmazingPhil, should you be unaware of their YouTube channels...) towards the end of last year, when my best friend excitedly declared that she'd found "the male version of us!" The timing wasn't great - I discovered two people I could enormously identify with and who made me laugh and kept me entertained no matter what mood I was in when I clicked that "play" button, just as I realised I'd missed out on their UK tour. They had played in my best friend's hometown, too. We were gutted.
But, despite having missed out on seeing TATINOF - and despite being rather older than the pair's general audience, at 30+ - I delved into their channels and, within months, I was writing on this very blog about how I had come to think that Dan & Phil were the cat's whiskers.
Fast forward to October 5th, when finally, those of us who missed out on the chance to see the show in person, were gifted with the release of TATINOF on YouTube Red (along with a "Making Of..." documentary). I waited patiently until October 8th, so my best friend and I could watch it together, with a massive bag of popcorn and a box of Malteasers. It's what the boys would want...
If you've not seen the show, this is the point at which things might get spoiler-tastic, so consider this your warning!
Okay, so... Wow. Like, seriously... Wow.
Let's face it, at this point in their careers, Dan and Phil have a massive audience. They know that no matter what they do, people are going to watch. Their live show could, therefore, have comfortably taken the form of the bare minimum. Perhaps a Q&A, maybe the odd funny sketch. But if you could think that these two would choose the "bare minimum" route, then I can only assume that you're reading this as someone with no idea who Dan and Phil are. Because this pair took the idea of doing the bare minimum, ripped it into shreds and created something massive, instead. And not only did they decide to create a fast-paced, action-packed, thoroughly entertaining stage show that would test their limits as performers and push them to learn new skills along the way, they also made the absolutely perfect choice to fill that show with in-jokes for their devoted fans and, even more crucially, to give the whole thing a vital message that would leave everyone watching feeling uplifted, cared about and encouraged. More of which, later.
The show's storyline might, to the uninitiated, seem slightly bizarre, but then, if there's one thing we fans have come to expect from Dan and Phil by now, it's a trip into a world that celebrates its own wonderful weirdness. And so, we just kind of accept the idea that Phil would decide to microwave his laptop to improve the battery life and that doing so would destroy the Internet and bring everything online out into reality. Why not?! And of course Dil - Dan and Phil's "son" from The Sims (their joint gaming channel is an incredibly entertaining rabbit hole to fall down...), would turn out to be behind the whole thing. WHY WOULDN'T HE BE?!
Critics too often like to look down on YouTubers as being people making an easy living by creating very simple content and basking in the adoration of their mainly teenage fans. Haters like to write off many famous YouTubers as being "talentless." The simple fact is that to become good at YouTube (and arguably, you have to be "good" at it, in order to become successful), you have to be prepared to spend hours filming and editing. You have to commit to the time it takes to turn a long piece of footage, with all its "ums" and "aahs," into something shorter, snappier and much more entertaining (believe me, this is a lesson I've learned since starting my own YouTube channel). You have to be willing to put yourself out there for scrutiny by the general public. You have to have an idea of what your audience wants and how to deliver it, consistently. These are skills that Dan and Phil have by the bucket-load. Not only are they incredibly aware of what their viewers want from them, they are able to ensure that the quality of their uploads remain at the same high level.
And now, they've proved that their skills extend way beyond YouTube. Talentless? Over the course of a ninety minute live show, these boys prove their ability to translate from screen to stage. They act. They sing. They dance. There's improvisation, so that parts of the show are different each time it's performed. Phil even learned magic tricks, for crying out loud! From start to finish, the evidence is clear that both Dan and Phil have invested time and effort into making this the best possible stage show it could be. They haven't shied away from learning new skills in order to improve it. They haven't taken the easy route. And for that, they should be applauded, because it pays off. Big time.
Be honest, we all quoted along and did the hand gesture, right? "My name is [Dan]."
From start to finish, TATINOF is an absolute treat for fans of this pair. If you have a favourite video, there's probably a reference to it. If you're fond of a particular in-joke, they're almost certainly going to make it. At the end of the ninety minutes, my mouth hurt from smiling so much. I laughed more than I had in ages. I clapped spontaneously just watching it through a screen. And yes, there was even a moment at which my eyes got a bit... Moist.
Because, beyond the glittery gold hats and the big song and dance routine at the end, beyond all the fan-service and in-jokes, there was a message to this show. And I don't just mean "hey guys, don't microwave your laptop."
Dan and Phil have, over the years, come to represent the nerdy kids. The weird kids. The people who are socially awkward. The ones who don't necessarily fit in. Whether or not it was intentional, this pair of "obnoxiously tall" guys from YouTube have come to mean something to those who worry that they're not "cool enough," or that their lives don't have a purpose. And they know it.
Maybe it could have been schmaltzy, had Dan and Phil themselves suddenly decided "hey, let's talk about how it's okay to be nerdy and that you don't have to change to fit in, or that just making people happy in some small way is a really important way to spend your life!" I mean, I wouldn't have thought so, but I'm sure there'd be critics who'd eye-roll at it. So, it was something of a touch of genius to have Dil - the Sim whose lives the boys control - be the one who imparts that message onto them - and by extension, the audience.
He's got some killer moves as well as some A+ life advice.
We should have known that two people so very aware of their audience and their influence would choose to use their stage show to put out such important messages. I'm just so proud that they did it in a way that's as delightfully whacky as we've come to expect from them.
So, when it came to Phil finally getting to burst into song (as he had attempted to, several times throughout the show, only to be thwarted by Dan), it should come as absolutely no surprise that the song he (and Dan) sang was about rejoicing in your online activities and the friends you've made through the Internet. It was a song all about being okay with your life and the person you are, even if society thinks you're weird. It was a song celebrating Dan, Phil and every single one of their fans. It even featured a tender nod to the fact that the pair themselves met online ("if it wasn't for the Internet, we never would have met").
As our favourite YouTubers disappeared back into their microwave (not a sentence I ever thought I'd be typing...), I had SO. MANY. FEELINGS.
Gratitude to these incredibly talented performers, for putting together a show that fully celebrates their creative output so far and which makes it obvious that they were thinking of their fans every step of the way.
Pride at just how far they've come (and how far I know they're capable of going).
Encouragement to be me, even though I know I'm weird and I think too much and I sometimes feel like a square peg in a world full of round holes.
Determination to carry on with my own YouTube channel and create something that could, perhaps one day, make people as happy as Dan and Phil's videos have made (and continue to make) me.
Joy at knowing that I wouldn't have met my best friend without the Internet, either (she's the Dan to my Phil) and I am so, so glad I did find her.
I can't wait to watch it again.
Thank you, Dan. Thank you, Phil.
Never stop being you.