British YouTuber Tom Ridgewell, known to the world as TomSka, has made a name for his simplistic brand of surreal comedy in the smash hit asdfmovie.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Tom after the utter madness of this year’s MCM London Comic Con to discuss internet fandom, crates of Red Bull, and the everyday life of a professional YouTuber…
Yours seemed to be one of the most popular tables at this year’s Comic Con. Amidst Game of Thrones and Marvel stars, how does it feel to have such a huge following?
Well, I can’t question people’s tastes (laughs) It’s surreal but normal for me now. Even though I am fully aware of just how bizarre it is, it’s sort of normality for me. I can very much acknowledge how incredibly strange it is. I’m always looking at myself from kind of a third person perspective. I went to my first Comic Con in 2010. First it was one table shared between three people, then it was one table each, then it was two tables, now I need three… The queue has been getting bigger and bigger over the years. It’s weird, but it’s totally not weird for me. It’s humbling though. I feel like it would be quite easy for me to stand at the front of my queue and be like “Yeah!!!”, but it’s intensely humbling, because when I make videos, and I look at the numbers, if a video gets 500,000 views in its first week then I think it’s failed. It has not done well by standards of my own channel. But then I’ll go to MCM and I’ll meet maybe a thousand people over the weekend, and that is overwhelming. You start to see 500,000 people completely differently because you can suddenly visually just how many people that actually is.
Looking at the immense range of different fans out there, what do you think the appeal of your work actually is?
I guess if I were trying to pitch it to other people, I’d describe it as “explosive comedy”. But what it really is is “internet comedy”, which is a very new breed of comedy, of which there are countless sub-genres, but that appeals to the sensibilities of people of the internet. Y’know, there’s always the difference between British humour, American humour, German humour… And then there is internet humour, which wouldn’t necessarily translate to TV for example, because it doesn’t adhere to that one sole element. Internet comedy is a much broader spectrum. It’s fast, it’s abrupt, it’s sarcastic, it’s explosive. It’s cherry-picked elements from all over the world in ungoverned space, not controlled by viewing figures or executives. It’s democratic. People are choosing what they want to watch as opposed to being told what they want to watch.
The thing about ASDF is that it’s such a simplified aesthetic that it is kind of borderless. It’s not pun-based. It’s not cultural. The jokes are as simplified and stripped down as possible and I think that’s why they work all over the world. All you need is subtitles or some dubbing. I never stop that when people do dubs or whatever, so it’ll get around.
Where do the ideas for the sketches come from?
The ideas come from a dozen different places. Ultimately they’re corruptions of tropes or established jokes, where I’ll try and break one element, and then that subversion of expectations is what gets the laughs. They’re so stripped down… there’s no backgrounds; the only costume is what’s necessary; there’s two characters, you put a hat on one, so that’s a police officer. So there’s no distractions. They’re just basic concepts that come from anywhere; listening to classical music… riding a bike… downing a pack of Red Bull… It’s always different. I’ve done Twitter-bombs where I tell people to just send me an adjective and a noun, and I receive thousands of tweets and just pick random ones. I draw mind-maps and just look for two words to hit each other like the Hadron Collider… It’s corruptions… It’s compounds… It’s a fucking mess…
You started YouTube back when both yourself and the channel were very young. How did your parents feel about the whole thing?
Well, I was fifteen, so I was old enough to make mistakes. I’m just glad YouTube didn’t exist five years earlier. I would’ve hated that…. It all started from being on forums and making little cartoons, then putting them up on NewGrounds and places like that. Then I steadily transitioned over to YouTube and just kept going. It went from one person watching – who was me – to the next year maybe ten people watching, and then gradually up to five hundred people. And then around 2008 I made ASDF, which was a combination of everything I’d learned and everything that I thought worked on the internet. A few months later I get my first cheque for like three hundred pounds from ad sense. My dad takes a photo of me holding that. They just watched it grow. Then during my second year of uni, I told them not to worry about sending me any lunch money; I was earning enough to not worry about that. There was never the “oh shit! I’m famous!” moment; it happened so slowly as opposed to a sudden influx of madness. It’s madness, but logically escalating madness. My parents have never seen me work, which is kind of strange. They’ve seen the videos, but they’ve never seen me, like, at a convention. ‘Cause that’s where it’d hit home. This kind of surreal world that it is.
So what is the average day in the life of a professional YouTuber?
Oh, it’s just tragic. It is exactly as repulsive as anyone with a real job would think it would be. I showed up at work today wearing crocs and a sleeveless shirt. I’m walking into my office building, which is full of real companies, and they’re all wearing suits, and you can hear the slap of my crocs coming down the corridor. I spent the first hour of my day watching YouTube videos. And then it’s like “yeah, I guess we should start thinking about writing some cartoons.” It’s so ridiculous… I grew up being told I’d never be able to get by doing the barest minimum in life, and that I couldn’t just keep finding the easy way out of situations, and I haven’t had my comeuppance yet… I’m still waiting for the day when it all goes horribly wrong, and the gods of just-ness go “No! This isn’t fair! There are people who work really hard, who wake up at 5am. Fuck you!” ‘cause I’m pretty sure I deserve it!
So what does the future hold for TomSka?
I just want to keep getting better at what I do. What YouTube, what having my own company, has allowed me to do, is have my own pace to become the person I want to be. I never wanted to enter an industry at the bottom and work my way up. I wanted to run in tandem with the traditional industry, and that’s what I’ve been doing this whole time. I plan on hitting the same milestones as someone in the traditional media, but on my own terms. By the age of twenty five, I wanted to be running my own animated series, and I’m doing that now. I’ve done so by steadily doing things for myself as opposed to working for a traditional media company, and that has allowed me some great pros, such as that freedom, but it also has cons such as not really having any control over the distribution other than just putting it on YouTube for free and hoping to get some money off it. So what I hope is that I get to make more sketches, and more cartoons, and hope that someone at some point hires me to make an ongoing cartoon or a sketch comedy show. But if they don’t, I just hope that I can keep doing it off my own dime and at least break even! I never got into this to try and climb a ladder, I just want to make cartoons. It’d be super cool if someone came along and said “Hey, here’s a million, make twenty six episodes of a show and we’ll put it on Cartoon Network!” But it’d also be fine if that didn’t happen. I just hope my luck doesn’t run out!
Check out Tom’s channel here