Zac Alsop and Jamie Rawsthorne have one of the most loyal and dedicated fanbases of the UK YouTube scene. The Zac and Jay Show has over 600,000 subscribers: unsurprising, given the wide breadth of content available on their channel. They have snuck onto the BAFTA red carpet, thrown Europe’s “highest” party in a gondola, created a chat show on a street sofa, faked a model to the top of Fashion Week, spent 24 hours on the London Underground, and took a journey from Scotland to Lands’ End for 25 hours, amongst a host of other wild and crazy things. They’re not just amusing, but also passionate about great causes such as helping raise money for a man to convert shipping containers into homes for the homeless and talking about the importance of mental health.
They’re always ready to get their fans involved: whether it’s to join in on an Instagram-live talent show, or to help make social change, often having a heap of laughs along the way. FRONTRUNNER sat down with the creators of The Zac and Jay Show.
What’s your biggest fear? Mine are ghosts and spiders. What’s yours?
Zac: I could go deep with it or I could go [for an] irrational fear… I’m going to wait for Jamie to go.
Jamie: No, go deep!
Zac: The fear of being on my deathbed, like nearly dead, and looking back at a life which was just not very good. Having lived a whole life and having a load of regret…I feel like I’m leading the good life now, I’m having fun, I’m feeling quite fulfilled in what I do. There would have been people who grew up in a shit time, and then they got a factory job, they worked that until they were 70, then retired and died when they were 85. That is scary to me.
I love that I went for spiders and you went for ‘on my deathbed’. What about you Jamie?
I think that it’s if society loses all its norms and crumbles around us and we start being savages and robbing each other, stuff like that.
Zac: Two normal answers.
Jamie: It’s probably not a fear that I think about a lot, but it’s probably the most intense fear. I really don’t want that to happen.
Fair enough. So, Jaackmate called you ‘the YouTubers that sneak into places.’ Do you like being known for that? Which of your sneaking in videos were you the most scared or nervous to pull off?
Zac: I think we’re proud of it. I like to think that we’re pioneers in the space. We don’t do it as much now. I YouTubed it the other day just ‘sneaking in [videos]’ and there was so much, like so many more yellow vests, and all the stuff that we were doing back in like 2016… I think you’re always going to have that tagline and that’s the thing you’re most well-known for. And there’s not very much that you can do to change it other than do bigger and better stuff. People are calling us the YouTube’s Ant and Dec recently, which I’m not sure about.
One of my favourite videos was your London Fashion Week one. Paris Fashion Week didn’t quite work as well. How do you feel when content doesn’t go to plan?
Zac: I think that we’re always quite open to posting the failures. Like with the sneaking in stuff- it’s worked a stupid amount of times. There is no festival that hasn’t worked. But there have been instances where a video hasn’t worked. The Ed Sheeran one, where we wanted to sneak in to get him to sing [our] theme song- that didn’t work but it was still a very entertaining video- that’s one of our most viewed videos. I think we’re always open to sharing the shit that goes wrong because there’s humour in that as well. Whereas most YouTubers want to keep it as a highlight reel of the stuff that always works, but I don’t see the point in that really.
If someone had never seen your channel, what videos you would want them to go watch straight away, either that you’re really proud of or that really sums up who you are as a channel?
Jamie: There’d probably be different aspects. I think maybe one of the social [change] videos would be good to show them because I don’t think many YouTubers do that; like the shipping containers video- we showed a guy who turned shipping containers into homes for the homeless. I think we [helped] raise him eight grand in the end, [so] that would be nice to show them. And then a big viral one like the Maximus Bucharest one, or the one where we handed out letters [to ask to see inside the mansions of London].
I can’t believe that lady let you see inside her house.
Jamie: Neither could we. It was quite weird. She gave us a full tour of her house as soon as she got in, she just shouted at her husband ‘Bill! I’ve got two YouTubers here’, and he went ‘alright’, and didn’t even leave his computer.
Zac: He didn’t even look at us when we got inside the room, he was so blasé about it.
One of my favourite videos you made was when you tried to sell alpacas to the Sidemen. You collaborate a lot with other YouTubers, would you ever consider creating your own sidemen, and if so, who would be in it?
Zac: Ooh that’s a good question.
Jamie: I’d like an eclectic mix. I’d like Niko Omilana in. I’d like Max Fosh in.
Zac: We’d have to rob people from other YouTube groups though, that’s the thing.
Jamie: Bambino Becky-she’d be cool to have in there, she seems fun, Ciarán Carlin’s funny. Jaackmaate would be funny to have in a team. Just like a weird group, that’s what I’d want.
What draws you to high-end, professional worlds like sneaking into the BAFTAs, as prime spots for content?
Jamie: In my mind, what I quite like about our YouTube channel is we’re kind of showing people that you can do whatever you want and it’s a lot of fun. And a lot of these seemingly high barriers to these mansions or these exclusive events aren’t actually there, and if you’ve got a bit of gumption about you, you can go for it and you can still experience it and usually, you can do it in good faith. Like, you can be friends with all the people that are there, you can leave a good taste in the mouth and not a bad taste in the mouth as a result.
Zac: For me, it’s that intrigue- to be a fly on the wall at a high-profile event with your favourite celebrities or acting outside of the paparazzi or the press. I just find that quite fascinating. It also questions ‘who is anybody?’, everyone knows that celebrities are just normal people but with the press, things just get blown out of proportion and these things seem unreachable. I just think it’s quite funny to show that [with] literally just a bit of confidence and blagging…you can literally just make it into these places.
Off the back of that, if you could make that dream video – say you had all the resources, the money and the ability to do it – what would that be?
Zac: I’d like to go to the moon. If we’re talking like all the resources and money, that would be the best thing ever.
Jamie: That would be a good vid, that. ‘We went to the moon’, think of the thumbnail, as well. I think for me…it would be something for a big charity or a good cause-but that gets super viral and gets everyone talking and acting, and having a big impact somewhere, but also very entertaining and a laugh and authentic.
You’ve been estate agents for millionaires’ mansions, jetsetters with no cash, and many other things. Do you brainstorm a lot, or when you get an idea do you just run with it?
Zac: It’s kind of sporadic. Jay has these nights where he just can’t go to sleep and I have them every once in a blue moon where I just get an idea in my head and you start writing notes in your phone, next thing you know- you have a page full of bulked out ideas.
Jamie: [laughs] I set up meetings before I go to bed, and then have the meetings and forget why I even set them. I just rage message people before I go to bed.
When was that moment that you thought, ‘Yes, I can do this full time now, this is my career’?
Jamie: I was running this thing called Unique Insights, which was a software company, and we would predict which students were dropping out of university and what support they needed and sell that to universities in the UK. And then, we snuck onto the Olympic Ceremony bus around Manchester…the act [of sneaking in] went super viral and so did our names, I suppose. I had to go back to my business, because it wasn’t very good for business, and Zac continued on the Zac channel. How he got to persuading me- it was just more fun pretty much. One was selling software to universities for ten years and one was fucking around with my best mate having a load of fun…and making money. There’s a lot of business opportunities in YouTube which was key for me- I didn’t want to just have fun, I wanted to make something of myself.
[To Zac] Would you rather have KSI remember you or have the ban from the O2 lifted?
Zac: Ban from the O2 lifted.
Jamie: Yeah, it’s one of those things- ‘banned from the O2’ you kind of laugh it off in the moment. [But] It’s owned by a franchise, so there’s been a few occasions where he’s actually missed out….We got asked once by a brand, a marketing agency, to do some promotion for Nitro Circus, which is a motorbike brand. Travis Pestrana who runs it is like Zac’s childhood hero and I think this is when Zac found out he was actually banned from that venue as well; we were literally climbing the O2 with Zac’s childhood hero, legally as part of their marketing efforts. Zac was on cloud nine, we were having champagne at the top- it was sick. Then the security and the police were waiting for him when he got back and he was escorted off and told never to come again and asked to sign a waiver.
I feel like a touched a real nerve here, I’m so sorry.
Zac: It’s a sad story.
Jamie: It’s alright.
Surely it can’t last forever.
Zac: Of course it can! Sad story. But do you know what? It’s not that bad. So the only thing was [laughs] look you’ve started me off now…was the fact that nothing had been done at that venue before and we were being really civil with them. I always said with the security stuff, or with the festival stuff, if anyone had a problem enough to reach out to say ‘how did you do it? We want to learn’, [for] national security and keeping people safe at a venue -I’d way prefer to help them improve that, than [for] me to get another video out of it. So, I’ve always been open to that.
Have you set yourself goals for where you want to be in a year’s time?
Zac: Not like numerical or anything that can really be measured…
Jamie: Best goals are always like that, aren’t they? [laughs].
Zac: Yeah, not at all…
Jamie: Not measurable, no time span…
Zac: [laughs] It’s more about on the week to week; as long as we’re executing on big ideas that we know have viral potential then it’s going to happen a lot, and then the channel will grow and everything will grow as a result.
Jamie: I’ve been focussing more on the business side – we’re going to start launching our own clothing line and hopefully a few more bits, and we want to make that our number one revenue source. That would be a big thing for us, because we’ll be able to run the YouTube channel at its optimum level without compromising on what we have to cut out- calling all the shots, really.
Would you recommend to anyone to start a YouTube channel now in 2020 compared to when you started your channel?
Jamie: The majority of times I say no to people that say they want to be a YouTuber. I say ‘why do you want to be a YouTuber?’ It’s very work intensive, it’s very up and down, it’s very based on the algorithm- give it three years to become financially stable, five years to go really big. It’s a very unstable thing to do. It’s a lot of work. But I think it’s a really good opportunity to leapfrog to another space…if you want to be an actor, or you want to be on TV, and you’re applying to all your different places but no one is accepting you, create a YouTube channel.
Zac: [It seems] now the most wanted job is to be a YouTuber, it’s like the new famous. I don’t know whether that’s going to breed a whole new generation of Kim Kardashians, Paris Hiltons- trying to be famous for the sake of being famous- which is fine, but I just feel like that can be a unfulfilling, hollow existence, unless you’re truly enjoying the process.
Jamie: You can make videos to promote your business, you can make videos to promote yourself, you can make videos to launch things- that’s how it should be seen. I’m kind of getting advice from someone who’s just made so much money in the YouTube space- Grace Beverley…Now when you say ‘what do you do Grace? Are you a YouTuber, are you an Entrepreneur are you a Fitness Brand Owner, are you an app owner? You’re all of the above’. That’s a good reason to do YouTube.