It’s tough being a YouTube prankster like Ben Phillips. You have to invent fresh jokes, entertain the fans with ever-more outrageous stunts, and make sure your victim doesn’t see it coming week after week. But it’s even tougher being the Elliot Giles: Phillips’ half-brother and favourite victim. He’s been beaten up, glued, waxed, fed horrible food, and humiliated – and fans can’t get enough.
Phillips, 24, began his career on Vine while working in his mum’s shoe shop. His hilarious six-second clips went viral, and within six months he had more than a million followers.
When the Welsh duo visited Hong Kong for their stage show on October 1, Young Post caught up with Phillips to talk about plans for his next big prank plans, the food in Asia, and why it’s always “Sorry, bro!”
Did you ever expect such a big following in Asia?
Never! When I first started the videos, my philosophy was making them universal so you didn’t have to understand the language to get the videos. Our shows include a movie, and you can tell there are people in the audience who don’t quite understand the words, but what’s happening on the screen makes them cry with laughter. That for me is amazing.
How does video-based comedy transfer to the stage?
At first, our agents asked if we could do a theatrical tour. But we do pranks, which are very “there in the moment”. So we made a movie to go into cinemas [in Britain, the US and Australia]. While I was [filming], I made sure I was talking to the general audience as well as characters from the movie who would be sitting among the crowd. The audience wouldn’t know that they were there until they start talking back to the screen.
Do you ever see yourself moving into traditional TV or the film industry?
Social media is the biggest platform in the world right now – it’s in everyone’s pocket. Every five minutes of the day, you check your phone. TV and movies – these are big things I’m working on at the moment as well. But succeeding on social media was the first priority.
Have you tried chicken’s feet while you’ve been in Asia?
Oh my gosh! Yeah, we did. On the first night in Taiwan, they took us to this local restaurant. I thought there’d be crispy beef, lemon chicken – all the normal Chinese food you get back in [Britain]. There’s no such thing as that stuff here. I thought I was about to get a bit of crispy beef and then there was this chicken foot! It was disgusting. We went to McDonald's in the end.
Apart from that incident, has the food been good?
Oh yeah, there’s incredible food out here. But we were so tired coming off the plane, we needed something to eat. So, being British, we just went to McDonald’s straight away. When we got to Hong Kong, we saw all the restaurants shut at about 10pm, so we had to go and get McDonald's again last night.
Right now, I’m sitting in the hotel eating pizza. That’s not right! I should be eating crispy beef.
Is there anything else you’d like to achieve on YouTube?
At first, it was reaching a million views, then next thing I knew we had reached three million impressions, then five million views in a single month. When it started, my thing was “keep smiling” – I used to say that to people. And all of a sudden, that’s become “Sorry bro”.
And here in Asia, all I get is people saying, “Sorry bro!” to me all the time What it says to people is: it could be worse. No matter if you’re in debt, or you’ve got people chasing you, or if you’re ill or depressed, it could be worse: you could be Elliot. And people love seeing someone’s life being more miserable than theirs, but in a comedy way.
What plans have you got coming up for future pranks?
One of the next ones we’re doing is fake surprises with Elliot: telling him we’ll take him bungee jumping and blindfolding him on the way [there]. He thinks he’s bungeeing off some massive cliff, and all he’s doing is jumping off the garden wall into the pond.
With all this success in a relatively short period of time, how do you stay grounded?
Social media is a bit like TV in that people can get big-headed and start thinking, “This is it, I’m famous, I can have whatever I want!” The minute you get like that is the minute you’ve lost it, because you forget why
people were attracted to you on social media in the first place. [Fans are] drawn to your down-to-earth moral value. They feel like they could see you in the street and say, “Hey Ben, how’s it going?” or shout “Sorry bro!”
It’s important to remember to keep your feet on the ground.
Finally: you’ve got a chicken’s foot, a bin bag and a motorbike. What prank would you pull on Elliot?
That’s a random one! ... I would put Elliot in the bin bag, tie the bin bag to the motorbike, strap the chicken foot on the throttle, and say “Sorry bro!”