The untold truth of Shane Dawson
Shane Dawson has figured out how to survive and thrive on YouTube, despite stardom on the platform being a rather fleeting thing. Dawson began sharing his divisive brand of comedy online while working as a security guard at a Long Beach aquarium, back before people got paid for their YouTube content. Luckily for Dawson, all that soon changed, as he became popular at just the right moment. “I started getting more views. Like 10,000, then 20,000, then when it got to 50,000 YouTube contacted me to become part of their partnership program, which was new at the time,” he told Forbes in 2017. “It slowly became my job. About a year later it was enough to move my brother and Mom out to Hollywood, which was actually Valley Village.”
Today, Dawson lives in an exclusive Hollywood community (via Metro), home to a number of mainstream celebs. More than 20 million people are subscribed to his YouTube channel, which saw a real resurgence in 2018. In an effort to shake things up, Dawson took on a more serious tone and started putting out his own documentaries on YouTube, a move that was described as game changing in the media. But this veteran YouTuber hasn’t always been on the right side of the headlines.
Dawson might be turning over a new leaf, but, no matter how hard he tries, he can’t erase what’s already been written. This is the untold truth of Shane Dawson.
Shane Dawson isn’t his real name
He isn’t afraid to use it today, but, back when he was first starting out, Dawson was told not to go by his real name if he ever wanted to make it in the entertainment industry. Speaking to AOL, the YouTube legend revealed that a former agent advised that he drop his “awful” name in favor of something a little easier on the ears. “My real name is Shane Yaw,” he said, adding that his “agent at the time said no one would want to see me because my name was awful, so I changed it, but it helped me create this other person.”
Having this “other person” allowed him to deal with the darker side of internet fame. The creator explained that keeping the Dawson and Yaw sides of him separate meant he could redirect the abuse he would receive, some of which got very personal. “When I get a bunch of hate comments, or people telling me, ‘Kill yourself!’ or ‘You’re ugly!’ or ‘You’re fat!’ or this and that, I don’t really process it because that’s for Shane Dawson, that’s not me,” he said. But why Dawson?
While many fans seem to believe that it stems from a love for Leonardo DiCaprio’s Titanic character Jack Dawson, others recall him discussing the topic on his podcast, reportedly confirming that he chose the name because he was a huge fan of the show Dawson’s Creek.
He got fired from Jenny Craig
Dawson made his first video when he was “seven or eight” years old, but, at the time, he was lacking confidence due to the fact that he was overweight. At the age of 18, he managed to get down to a more comfortable size with the help of the Jenny Craig program, and, before long, he made the transition from client to employee. “I needed a job, so I started working there and quickly got promoted and became a manager,” he told Forbes. However, Dawson’s relationship with the company soured after he used it as part of the setup for one of his outrageous sketches.
The YouTuber apparently found the fact that Valerie Bertinelli was the brand’s spokesperson pretty funny, considering her colorful past. Dawson imagined a scenario in which he was trying to sell the Jenny Craig diet to a bunch of elderly clients using passages from the actress’ tell-all book. “She talked about sex and drugs a ton in the book, so then I was like, ‘I want to do a video of me forcing my 80-year-old clients to read filthy passages from this book,'” Dawson said. “So I did that. I don’t think she liked it, I don’t think Jenny Craig liked it.”
He’s experienced real lows
Dawson joked about getting fired from Jenny Craig when he talked to Forbes in 2017, but, at the time, it was no laughing matter. It wasn’t only Dawson who lost his job — a total of six people (his mom and brother included) were let go because of his Valerie Bertinelli sketch. “It was dark,” he recalled. “I don’t like to throw around the ‘suicide’ word around lightly. But yeah. It was that.”
Dawson has made a number of videos on the topic of suicide over the years, but perhaps his best-known one is 2013’s “Dear Suicidal Teens.” He made the video after news of Paris Jackson’s attempt on her own life broke, imploring his younger viewers to never consider taking such a path and sharing that it’s a road he’s considered going down multiple times. “As most of you know, I had a very rough childhood, horrible,” he said. “As many times as I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I should end it,’ I didn’t. Because I knew that, ‘You know what, it sucks right now, but I’m gonna make it f***ing better.'”
The reaction to the video was overwhelmingly positive, with the message apparently getting through to many of fans. “You guys mean a lot to me and I’m here for you,” he tweeted. “Consider me your creepy big brother.”
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call or chat online with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Facing video backlash
Dawson has taken aim at fan girl culture in a number of his videos, but there was one in particular that many of his subscribers really didn’t appreciate. During one of his Halloween-themed sketches, a One Direction fan girl uses a knife to carve the name Harry Styles into her arm, and that scene apparently triggered some members of the YouTuber’s audience. Dawson took to Twitter to address the backlash, appearing to blame the offended people for not understanding the gag. “The joke in my vid you guys are freaking out about isn’t about ‘cutting,’ it’s a joke about obsessed fan girls,” he tweeted. “Sorry some of you missed that.”
Unsurprisingly, that apology wasn’t enough for many of Dawson’s fans. A few days later, he uploaded a video titled “Depression & Cutting” onto his channel, and he attempted to explain how he hadn’t actually been making fun of cutting like people were saying. “If I was, she’d be crying and cutting, whereas she was excited and she was carving — giving herself a homemade f***ing tattoo of Harry Styles in her arm,” Dawson said, adding, “I don’t want you guys to think I’m some insensitive jerk. I deal with things in a way that a lot of people don’t understand. … I deal with things with comedy.”
Is he profiting from depression?
Dawson was one of the YouTubers caught up in the BetterHelp scandal of 2018. He and Philip DeFranco have both talked about depression at length on their channels, which, in theory, made the online counseling service BetterHelp the perfect partner for them. When YouTubers plug the service, they include a link that, if used, will put money in their pockets. That’s usual practice with sponsorship, but the practice of BetterHelp has been raising some eyebrows.
According to The Atlantic, 86 users had filed complaints about the app with the Better Business Bureau by October 2018, and some even took to social media to tip people off about the company. One Twitter user called it a “scam” and claimed that YouTubers like Dawson were “capitalising [on your] depression.” According to Drama Alert host Keemstar, Dawson and DeFranco may have been getting “200 bucks for every depressed fan they can find.”
After checking the small print on the BetterHelp website, Polygon confirmed that users are not guaranteed to be matched with a qualified professional. “We do not control the quality of the Counselor Services and we do not determine whether any Counselor is qualified to provide any specific service as well as whether a Counselor is categorized correctly or matched correctly to you,” the terms and conditions reportedly read at the time.
He’s battled an eating disorder
For a while, Dawson recorded videos of himself eating new foods. He would pig out on everything from Panda Express to prison food, with the views usually hitting the millions. They were big earners for Dawson, but, one day, he just stopped making them. When a fan asked him about his lack of foodie vids in December 2017, the YouTuber revealed that performing food challenges was having an effect on his mental health. “Honestly, it triggered my eating disorder issues and bulimia and I wanted to stop having so much food around,” Dawson replied.
Dawson spoke about his eating disorder in more detail back in 2014, revealing that he had a “pretty severe case of body dysmorphia” in a candid video. The YouTuber explained that he had to have fifteen pounds of excess skin removed after he lost weight quickly, leaving him unable to move. “I was left with a lot of scars, and I couldn’t move for about a month and a half,” he said. “Because if I moved, the doctor said my body could split open because of all the stitches and s***. So I gained, like, 25 pounds or something because I couldn’t move, and then I was back where I started, and I was depressed.”
Dawson’s weight has been up and down in the years since, but we’re happy to say that he looked in good health in his first big project of 2019, “Conspiracy Theories with Shane Dawson.”
Those shocking jokes
In January 2018, YouTuber Logan Paul was facing a torrent of criticism from both the YouTube community and mainstream media for his now-infamous Suicide Forest video. While all that was going on, Shane Dawson became embroiled in a controversy of his own. He was accused of being a pedophile by a since-terminated YouTube channel called Pop Blast, which claimed to have proof, as reported by NME. This so-called proof was an audio recording of some jokes that Dawson had made on his podcast six years earlier, jokes that were in very bad taste.
In the audio clip, which was from an old episode of Shane and Friends, Dawson shared that he “went to Google” and pretended he was someone who was sexually interested in children “for a sec.” Ignoring the protests of his co-host, the YouTuber went on to say that he searched for images of babies. “First of all, I don’t understand why anyone would be turned on by that. But… they were sexy. I’m kidding.”
The shady Pop Blast channel was shut down by YouTube, but not before the owner uploaded what they claimed were receipts that proved Logan Paul’s manager Jeffrey Levin had paid for their video about Dawson to be made (via Metro). “I don’t believe Logan’s people had anything to do with it,” Dawson later said in a tweet. “It seems almost scripted. It’s all very fascinating. Gotta love the internet!”
How Dawson addressed those disturbing claims
Just like he’s always done whenever he oversteps the mark, Dawson took to YouTube to address everything head on. His video, “Regarding the rumors about me today,” was a little more passionate than your regular apology video, with the visibly rattled content creator clearly angry that the jokes had, in his opinion, been taken out of context. “I cannot believe that I am having to make this video,” he said, raising his voice. Denying the allegations Pop Blast had made, Dawson attempted to explain himself. “I am sorry that I used to make really s***ty f***ing jokes,” he said, adding, “I loved the feeling of making somebody shocked and laugh because they couldn’t believe what was coming out of my mouth.”
A few weeks later, Dawson appeared as a guest on the H3 podcast to discuss the matter further, telling husband and wife hosts Ethan and Hila Klein that being called a “pedophile” hurt him badly because he himself had been molested. “That word is so triggering,” he said. “I’ve been molested, it’s a long running thing in my family … I’ve done so many videos about child molesters in Hollywood, I’m very actively trying to shut that s*** down. So when it came back at me and people were calling me a pedophile — it’s the worst thing they could call me, literally the worst.”
Is he really a racist?
In 2014, British prankster Sam Pepper was caught up in a firestorm of hate after he released a reviled video in which he pinched the bottoms of unsuspecting women on the street, as reported by the BBC. The YouTube community came down on him hard, and Pepper was reportedly told he was no longer welcome at VidCon. But some YouTubers noticed what they perceived to be double standards. YouTuber and blogger Franchesca Ramsey pointed out that, while Pepper was being thrown under the bus for alleged sexist behavior, Shane Dawson had been getting away with racist content for years.
Dawson has used “blackface” comedy in his videos on multiple occasions, including during what The Washington Post described as an “uncomfortable segment” at VidCon 2012. The YouTuber reportedly invited teenage girls to join him onstage for what he dubbed “ghetto pranks,” which reportedly included “booty dances” and tasteless jokes about chicken.
“Sam was banned from Vidcon over ONE video,” Franchesca Ramsey said. “Shane has done his modern day minstrel show act AT VIDCON and faced no repercussions. It’d be nice if he’d acknowledge why these thing are problematic, apologize to his audience and stop doing them.” Ramsey was reportedly subjected to racist language and even death threats after calling Dawson out, with one person even threatening to call her job to try and get her fired.
His ‘blackface’ apology didn’t go down well
Ramsey asked Dawson to apologize for his racially insensitive content and he did just that, but not everyone was convinced that his apology was genuine. In his apology video, Dawson said that he painted his face black to play the likes of Chris Brown and Wendy Williams because it kept the integrity of the character, claiming that he had no idea of the historical use of “blackface” makeup. “First of all, I’m not racist,” he said, noting, “This video is me apologizing, because I understand why some people think that.” He continued, “I’m going to be honest, I didn’t really know what [blackface] was up until literally a month ago. I knew the term, but I didn’t quite know any of the historical background.”
After doing his research, the YouTuber admitted that wearing black makeup for the purposes of comedy was “cruel and horrible,” and he claimed to be heartbroken after reading all the tweets and blog posts about him. However, not everyone was buying it. “His 11-minute diatribe reads as a thinly-veiled attempt to look like the good guy, and doesn’t own up to what made his video racist in the first place,” read an article on Bustle. “He’s normalizing a phenomenon rooted in Jim Crow-era black oppression, and thus condoning and perpetuating cultural racism. Meh, sorry Shane. This apology doesn’t entirely cut it for me.”
His hit documentaries are deeply flawed
Shane Dawson was at a low ebb following the backlash he’d faced in early 2018, but, by the end of that year, he was back on top, thanks to an all new video format. Dawson began making documentaries about fellow YouTubers, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. “Shane Dawson’s new series of investigative documentaries has become YouTube’s Game of Thrones: appointment television for more than a billion people,” Polygon said, following the release of Dawson’s series on YouTube beauty guru Jeffree Star.
Dawson followed that up with a docu-series about controversial YouTube star Jake Paul, the first installment of which was viewed by 500,000 people in less than an hour, according to TubeFilter. At the time of this writing, “The Mind of Jake Paul” has been watched more than 24 million times, but many commentators have found it to be deeply flawed. The Verge took issue not only with Dawson’s attempts to diagnose Paul as a sociopath (“On a platform like YouTube, mental health stigma is primed to spread faster and more dangerously”), but the publication also criticized him for not pushing Paul hard enough about his racism scandal.
In 2017, Spanish YouTubers Ivan and Emilio Martinez claimed that they left Paul’s influencer group Team 10 because he would make fun of their heritage and use racist language, which, as noted by The Verge, was something Dawson failed to properly address.