It’s been almost five years since four Buzzfeed employees filmed an experiment in which they tried on ladies’ underwear from Victoria’s Secret. From this simple premise, an empire would be born as the onetime strangers would come to be known as the popular comedy troupe the Try Guys, launching a series of video challenges that included attempting UFC Fighting, swimming with sharks and undergoing labor pain simulation.
A year after splitting amicably from Buzzfeed and launching their own company, 2nd Try, the Try Guys just hit 6 million subscribers on YouTube, but aren’t limiting themselves to viral videos. Entering a phase they’ve dubbed “The Summer of Try,” the creators have launched a podcast, released a bestselling book and have embarked on a national live tour of 20 cities.
For the uninitiated, the Try Guys comprise four millennials who work seamlessly as a team, but also bring their own skillsets to the proceedings. Keith Habersberger, Ned Fulmer, Zach Kornfeld and Eugene Lee Yang were all producers behind the camera at Buzzfeed when they threw themselves together to make the original video with ladies’ underwear. None of them had met previously — though Habersberger and Fulmer came from improv backgrounds and estimate they had about 200 mutual Facebook friends.
The casting was mainly out of necessity. “At some point we had to use each other for videos and I started popping up,” says Yang, who originally had no performance aspirations. “I thought it was just something to pay the rent so I could make my indie feature.”
The group agrees that if someone had set out to cast an ensemble, things would not have worked out for them. “No one would cast us,” says Kornfeld with a laugh. “And in another world, I don’t know if we’d be friends. But we have a shared brain at this point.”
Their first collaboration was an instant hit with viewers. “We like to say we came up in the world’s largest and fastest focus group,” Kornfeld says. “The audience said, ‘Hey, this is a thing.’ It took on a life of its own.”
Because they began as producers, they had studied what connected with audiences; they could even tell what jokes people were going back and rewatching. The audience also became an important part of the feedback.
“We’ve listened to little things, like they said, ‘Oh, Zach is like a little turtle,’” recalls Habersberger, which prompted them to launch a series called “Game Time” where they play various games, all dressed as different animals. “It was an idea they gave us.”
While they flourished at Buzzfeed for four years, the choice was made to branch off on their own in June 2018 and now they find themselves leading a company that includes a staff of 14 employees, themselves included. (“With healthcare and a 401(k) plan!” Kornfeld notes.) The idea was to give more of their personal selves and expand the brand.
As viewers got to know them organically, personalities emerged and their audience became invested in their lives. Fulmer was the first of the group to get married and have a child, and the others began teasing him over how much he talks about his wife. Habersberger, who at one time was best-known for being the tallest member of the group, became known as a foodie who was open to trying experiences including eating the entire Taco Bell menu. Kornfeld has been very open about his health struggles with Ankylosing spondylitis (AS), an autoimmune disease that causes chronic pain, and has found that his openness with his struggle has inspired and empowered viewers.
Yang, who is Asian and recently came out as gay in a powerful performance video, says that audiences first got to know him as someone who doesn’t like babies. “One of the big benefits of having sort of been discovered in an online environment is that people get to know you because of the sheer fact of repetition,” says Yang. “What the internet got to know about me first, or very quickly, was that I wasn’t just the Asian guy or the gay guy, I was the guy who disliked babies. That was a great learning curve; they could see me as a friend or someone that they knew. I think the beauty of a lot of the stuff we do is, we transcended what people would first say. I think that’s where Try Guys really started shining, giving a full breadth of human experience.”
For their touring show, “Legends of the Internet,” they’ve boiled the worldwide web down to four facets that they each address: Habersberger is “food,” Fulmer is “love,” Kornfeld is “fun” and Yang is “gay.” The show, which Fulmer calls “a full-length rock-and-roll comedy extravaganza,” opened June 21 at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles and will tour the U.S. through July before heading on to Australia.
In addition to audience interaction and bringing some of their favorite games to the stage, the show is a full-on performance, complete with choreographed musical numbers and pyrotechnics. “We’ve found we really enjoy performing live and we have this really great cast dynamic and we found that it extends beyond the screen,” says Habersberger. “And when we meet our fans we don’t want it to be something simple, we want to be bringing a show and creating entertainment.”
In May they launched “The TryPod,” a weekly podcast that gives listeners a look behind the scenes of their adventures. Their book, “The Hidden Power of F*cking Up,” was released on June 18 and went to No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list under advice, how-to and miscellaneous. A blend of genuine self-help and humor, the book tasked each of them to do something outside their comfort zones.
“We challenged ourselves to do things that were opposite of us,” says Habersberger. “I led the health section and went vegan for two months and started exercising.”
Fulmer took on fashion. “We each attacked the thing we were worst at,” he quips.
As for the inevitable question if there’s anything they won’t try, nothing seems to be off the table. There are things they’ve definitely been hesitant to do but, says, Kornfeld, “The more awful an experience at the time, the happier my memories are of it. Some of the most terrifying things are really the things that have played the biggest role in shaping me.”
There is no end to possibilities. “We brainstorm and look at trending topics,” says Fulmer. “But in general we try to make content that relates to people’s passions and identities. So there’s never going to be enough ideas”
The one thing the Try Guys aren’t interested in is embarrassing or shaming someone else. They’ll gladly make fun of each other, but their humor tends to be educational and positive, something all too rare on the world wide web.
“We have such a wonderful and sweet fanbase,” says Kornfeld. “[In] all the toxicity of the internet, we have this weird oasis where all of our fans are supportive and sweet and caring and I think it’s because the content we make is at its core about understanding the people and the world around us. We’re not trying things to laugh at things, we’re not trying things to make fun of things. … We use comedy as a tool to talk about things we care about. I’ve always personally found that comedy is way better at getting to a deeper truth than being serious and emotional.”