The life and rise of Shane Dawson, a $12 million YouTuber with a history of offensive remarks who just dropped a documentary on Jeffree Star
Paige LeskinOct 3, 2019, 20:27 IST
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YouTube personality Shane Dawson has acquired more than 22 million subscribers in his over 10 years on the platform.
Dawson, 31, is known for his documentary-length YouTube series exploring conspiracy theories and the lives of other famous YouTubers. He's also been involved in controversies stemming from past remarks he's made and since apologized for as well as offensive characters he's performed.
Restaurant chain Chuck E. Cheese was forced to deny allegations earlier this year that it recycles uneaten pizza slices to serve to other customers, thanks to a YouTuber by the name of Shane Dawson.
The 31-year-old Dawson is essentially a YouTube veteran who has garnered more than 22 million subscribers in his decade of creating videos. His early comedic skits and parodies brought in a massive audience base who have stuck around to see Dawson evolve into creating hour-long documentaries about conspiracy theories and other YouTubers.
Dawson's fame has earned him an estimated net worth of around $12 million, as well as a book, a podcast, and numerous TV and film appearances. And then there were the multiple controversies (more on those later).
The YouTuber was born as Shane Yaw on July 19, 1988 in Long Beach, California.
As a kid, Dawson grew up with an alcoholic father and was bullied for being overweight in high school. At 18, he signed up for the once-popular weight-loss program Jenny Craig, through which he succeeded in losing weight. He soon after got a job working at a local Jenny Craig storefront, and was later promoted to manager.
At the same time, Dawson was going out on auditions for acting gigs, but he wasn't having much luck. In 2008, Dawson decided to launch a YouTube channel called "Shane Dawson TV." However, his YouTube content got him into trouble early on: After recording himself pole dancing while at work, Dawson and six other people (including his mother and brothers) were fired from their jobs.
The early days of Dawson's channel consisted of comedy sketches, video blogs and diaries, and impersonations of characters liked "Barb the Lesbian" and "Shanaynay" — who calls herself a "ghetto girl" — that are pretty problematic and draw on offensive stereotypes.
Dawson's first video to go truly viral was "Fred is Dead," a sketch comedy video from September 2008 in which Dawson kills the beloved 2000s-era YouTuber Fred (aka Lucas Cruikshank). The video has more than 25 million views today.
To pay the bills, Dawson picked up odd jobs — including working as a security guard at an aquarium — all while continuing to upload videos to his YouTube channel.
YouTube took notice of Dawson's growing popularity and invited him to join its partner program, which allowed him to make being a YouTuber a full-time, money-making job. By September 2011, Dawson's channel was the fifth most-subscribed to YouTube channel behind Ray William Johnson, Nigahiga, Smosh, and Machinima.
Dawson started dating fellow YouTuber Lisa Schwartz in 2011. The two dated for a few years and even lived together before splitting in 2014. "That period of time was quite dark," Dawson later said in a video with Schwartz about their relationship. "It was nice to have someone who knows what it felt like to have problems."
As Dawson continued to produce viral video hits, he harnessed his newfound fame to pursue other ventures. In 2013, Dawson launched the "Shane and Friends" podcast where he interviewed various YouTubers. However, the podcast stopped recording new content in 2017, and all episodes were deleted from the web after controversial comments Dawson had made on the show were dug up (more on that later).
Dawson also expanded into producing films and shows based off his real-life experiences. Dawson told Forbes in 2017 that "writing and directing is my thing," and it's something he's been pursuing ever since he was a kid.
Dawson's first foray into producing was a show called "Losin' It" about Dawson's life as a formerly overweight person. Although NBC bought the rights to the show in 2013, it was never produced.
The following year, Dawson produced the rom-com "Not Cool" as part of a Starz reality show called "The Chair" that pitted the YouTuber against another aspiring filmmaker to each use an $800,000 budget to make competing movies based on the same script. Dawson's "Not Cool" was declared the winner, despite a New York Times critic saying the movie was "so poorly executed and so unfunny that no one involved with it should ever be allowed to work in the movies again."
Dawson was forced to make his first public apology video in September 2014 after some older videos were dug up showing him using blackface to portray characters in his comedy sketches. Dawson admitted his actions were "ignorant," but said that "everyone knows I'm not a racist." He likely didn't know this would only be the first in a line of apology videos he would have to make throughout his controversial YouTube career.
Dawson has published two memoirs about his life in 2015 and 2016: "I Hate Myselfie: A Collection of Essays," followed by, "It Gets Worse: A Collection of Essays." Dawson told Variety he hoped to reach the older demographic "even if they find my YouTube videos annoying."
The YouTuber has also used the platform to share and discuss deeply personal matters with fans. Dawson opened up in 2014 about having body dysmorphia, a disorder in which you can't stop obsessing over perceived flaws in your appearance. "I’m talking about this because I know a lot of you guys out there might be dealing with the same type of thing and I want you to know that you’re not alone," Dawson said in his video.
Dawson also released a video on YouTube to publicly come out as bisexual in 2015. Dawson said that while he was "scared" to come out, there's no reason to "be afraid of who you are." Reactions from fans and the YouTube community were overwhelmingly supportive.
A little more than a year after coming out, Dawson announced he was dating fellow YouTuber Ryland Adams. In his first Instagram about Adams in October 2016, Dawson said Adams is "sweet, caring, and makes me so incredibly happy."
By 2018, Dawson's YouTube channel had switched gears dramatically. Dawson switched to multi-part series investigating conspiracy theories and documenting the lives of scandalous YouTubers, including Tana Mongeau, Jake Paul, and Eugenia Cooney.
Dawson's controversial comments from the past caught up to him in early 2018 when a clip from an old "Shane and Friends" podcast episode resurfaced. "Having sex with children, touching children or anything of that nature is terrible and you should not do it," Dawson says on the 2013 episode. "But ... here’s my thing. People have foot fetishes, people have fetishes of everything." After his comments went viral, Dawson was forced to make another apology video on his channel.
Criticism was again heaped on Dawson amidst his docuseries on YouTuber Jake Paul. One of the episodes heavily features conversation between Dawson and a therapist where they discuss sociopaths, and speculate whether Paul is one himself. People reamed Dawson for his facetious treatment of mental health, and Dawson later apologized to anyone who was offended.
Among the conspiracy theories that Dawson has investigated is a claim that kid's chain Chuck E. Cheese saves uneaten slices of pizza, and recycles these leftovers into pies served to new customers. After Dawson went to a Chuck E. Cheese himself and declared that the conspiracy theory is legit, the restaurant chain was forced to respond and call his viral claims "unequivocally false."
Dawson's rapt attention to conspiracy theories has started discussion about the role that YouTubers play in spreading disinformation on the platform. Additionally, YouTube has revised its policies this year to recommend fewer conspiracy theories, which could potentially have an adverse effect on content like Dawson's.
Dawson also caught heat for remarks he made on his podcast — yet again — in March. Dawson backtracked on the story of his "first sexual experience," which he said during a 2015 podcast involved activities with his cat. Dawson has insisted that the story was fabricated, and tweeted out: "It's embarrassing and I f---ing hate myself for it."
Just two days after apologizing for these cat remarks, Dawson proposed to Adams just as the couple celebrated their three-year anniversary. Some speculated that Dawson proposed in an attempt to draw attention away from the controversy regarding his cat comments.
On Tuesday, Dawson dropped the first episode of his latest docuseries, "The Beautiful World of Jeffree Star." The episode offers a glimpse into the life of beauty YouTuber Jeffree Star, which includes armed security guards, private jets, and shrieking fans.