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Q&A: Digital Comedy Stars Dan Howell, Phil Lester on Making Their YouTube Red Tour Special and Documentary

Dan Howell and Phil Lester, the British comedy duo with a worldwide fanbase of nearly 10 million YouTube subscribers, are bringing their oddball antics and exuberant boyish vibe to YouTube Red subscribers with a special from their recent world tour, “The Amazing Tour Is Not On Fire.”

The 90-minute concert film was shot during their sold-out show at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood on June 23. In addition, YouTube Red will release a 61-minute documentary chronicling the tour. Their tour began in the U.K. in late 2015 and continued throughout the U.S. and Australia in 2016 — billed as the largest comedy tour ever by YouTube talent. The show includes “loads of audience interaction that is consensual,” according to Howell, and features a giant microwave oven on stage.

Howell, 25, has more than 6.1 million subscribers to his YouTube channel (danisnotonfire), while 29-year-old Lester’s AmazingPhil channel has 3.7 million. They’ve been posting YouTube videos since 2006, but first began collaborating in 2009 and subsequently hosted a popular entertainment show on BBC Radio 1 for three years.

The tour special and documentary, “Dan and Phil’s Story of TATINOF,” launch on YouTube Red on Wednesday, Oct. 5. YouTube Red, which costs $9.99 per month, is currently available in the U.S., Mexico, Australia and New Zealand, with plans for additional international expansion throughout 2016. (Users in dozens of other countries, including the U.K. and Canada, are able to purchase YouTube Red originals on either YouTube or Google Play, with more info here.)

Variety caught up with Dan and Phil in a recent interview:

What did you like best and least about touring?
Phil: The best for me was being able to see all of the new places around the world I’d have never visited otherwise. Lots of people see New York, but who goes to Kalamazoo?! That being said living on a tour bus to see all these new places got very cramped. I missed my couch!
Dan: For me, I liked having a purpose. Being an independent creator is a bit like being lost in a directionless void sometimes, so to have a role which is to perform a show every day was fun! That hardest part was juggling performing the show every night and running all our other projects simultaneously.

Who produced and wrote the live show?
Dan: We did! Like most YouTubers we’re used to having complete creative control over what we make. We pretty much had the entire show in our heads, then took our vision for the entire stage show and presented it to our crew who used their technical expertise to bring it to life.
Phil: “TATINOF” is really a celebration of the history of Dan and Phil on YouTube and the relationship with our audience, so only we could have made it!

What are some of the surprises in the documentary?
Dan: I think people will be surprised by what the “Dan and Phil stage show” is. Not only have we tried really hard to blow people’s minds with the production value as we turn our videos into live experiences, but there’s a few moments in the show that I don’t think anyone would expect us from us.
Phil: With the documentary I think people will mainly be shocked to see us going outside! Not even joking though, I think it really shows what a huge adventure the tour was and how many people were involved in making it possible — especially our incredibly supportive audience.

How did YouTube Red come to acquire the tour special and documentary?
Dan: We always knew we needed an official video of the show for everyone around the world who couldn’t see it in real life. I knew from the start we needed to chronicle the adventure too! That’s why I started filming our rehearsals on my phone just in case.
Phil: We decided to produce it ourselves and talk about where to put it afterwards, but when we were introduced to YouTube Red it made perfect sense. All our audience is already on YouTube, so why make them go anywhere else to watch it?
Dan: (YouTube) were incredibly supportive and made it bigger and better than we ever could ourselves.

What’s your next project going to be after the tour and documentary?
Dan:
A lot of sleeping! I might stock up on snacks and fully hibernate for the winter.
Phil:
Yes. Honestly we’ve worked so hard on the stage show and these movies over the last two years that we’re looking forward to not having a next “big project” for a while. Just making some YouTube videos!

What’s your ultimate career goal? Are you interested in doing scripted TV shows or movies?
Phil: There was never an “ultimate goal” when we started. All of today’s big YouTubers started off as just young people with a creative hobby; it was never going anywhere. I was making videos for a year before I had 100 subscribers!
Dan: Yes, looking at us now, who could know what’s happening next? It’s easy to forget sometimes that online video and social media is a brand new frontier that’s still being created and anything’s possible. All I can say is the future is open, exciting and we’re both very lucky to be a part of it.

Howell and Lester are managed by Marianne Turton at FlipSide Talent in the U.K. Their first book, “The Amazing Book Is Not on Fire (TABINOF)” was released in late 2015 and was a No. 1 New York Times Bestseller in the young adult hardcover list. In November 2016, they are also releasing a photo book, “Dan and Phil Go Outside,” which will include candid photos and stories from their tour.

Watch the trailer for “The Amazing Tour Is Not On Fire”:

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