All Covered With Vines

One Year In, Vine Is the Millennials’ Answer to Saturday Night Live

The network is a boon to burgeoning comedians.
Nicholas Megalis turned his hit Gummy Money Vine into a full length song that climbed the iTunes charts. (Screengrab: Vine.co)

Nicholas Megalis turned his hit Gummy Money Vine into a full length song that climbed the iTunes charts. (Screengrab: Vine.co)

When Vine was launched on this day last year, many self–proclaimed social media experts scoffed. They assumed it would be used like a live–action Instagram, full of insufferable brunches, FOMO–inducing party pics, and narcissistic selfies.

But the network unexpectedly turned into a huge platform for burgeoning comedians. These “Vine celebs” were unknowns last year, and now make a living by being funny on the year–old network.

Vine wasn’t created expressly for comedy, but it’s obvious that most of its users are teens and 20somethings who are trying to make each other laugh. Users can check the most popular videos in a variety of categories at any time — art & experimental, cats, dogs, family and more. But comedy is the category that dominates the main popular page almost exclusively.

The network is brimming with goofballs. They create characters, devise storylines, do impressions, rattle off oneliners, and film each other pulling off Jackass–like stunts. In fact, the one thing you won’t see on the popular page is the genre that dominates television networks popular with young people, like MTV and Bravo: reality.

Aspiring reality stars might want to stick to Instagram, where photos of their meals and outfits will pull in tons of likes. On Vine, documentarystyle content never makes it to the popular page if it isn’t funny. The app has proven itself to be the millennial generation’s answer to Saturday Night Live which, incidentally, pulled in a paltry 322,000 12to17yearolds at its peak last year when One Direction performed. The episode had 6.677 million viewers total.

Vine, on the other hand, announced it had more than 40 million users last August. A spokesperson declined to share any additional metrics when we asked today. Vine also has an age limit, saying users must be over 17, but we all know how teens are when it comes to following rules. A quick perusal of the popular page proves that whoever’s in charge of enforcing the age restriction isn’t doing so with an iron fist.

Jerome Jarre talks loudly in public. (Screengrab: Vine.co)

Jerome Jarre talks loudly in public. (Screengrab: Vine.co)

Vine celeb Nicholas Megalis is probably the poster boy for crossover success. In just a year, he’s done more work outside the app than any other social video star we can think of. With his singsongy videos, he led the charge in follower counts for quite a while. When Betabeat caught up with him last August, he had more followers — 2.2 million — than anyone else on Vine, including Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga. At the time, the lifelong musician was exploring his options for diversification.

Shortly after, social media pro Gary Vaynerchuk partnered with well known Viner Jerome Jarre to create the first Vine advertising agency, GrapeStory. They partner corporations with influential Viners, who get paid to make Vines for the likes of Pepsi, Trident and Virgin Mobile. Mr. Megalis was one of the first Viners who signed on.

Mr. Megalis, who now has 3.5 million followers, added a few other lines to his résumé this year thanks to the social network. He debuted a music video on MTV.com; extended the Vine that put him on the map, “Gummy Money,” into a full song; and was able to move his guitardriven pop rock from SoundCloud and BandCamp to iTunes, which is a major upgrade. He’s also loaned his talents to MTV, creating Vines for the network on the VMA red carpet.

GrapeStory cofounder Mr. Jarre also transformed his life with the app. The French Viner became famous with his guerrilla comedy style. He used his frontfacing camera to record short clips of himself harassing strangers in New York City, often to hilarious effect. He gathered millions of followers, hooked up with Mr. Vaynerchuk, and became an entrepreneur.

Simone Shepherd leveraged her 2.1millionfollowerstrong Vine persona to score Saturday Night Live audition. Cody Johns got a paid gig Vining for NowThisNews. Meagan Cignoli is now Vining for brands full time, and Rudy Mancuso often makes sponsored Vines.

All of these celebs, and the dozens more who frequent Vine’s popular page, are young and funny, and getting paid for it. And their audience is huge.

barack obama vine

Everybody’s doing it. (Screengrab: Vine.co)

Of course, the app isn’t perfect. Vine recently beefed up its desktop website, but it’s still not easy to find a specific Viner through Google. And don’t even thinking about using the app to find an older Vine you want to revisit. You’ll have to scroll through a user’s entire catalog until you find it, because there’s no search option.

But we’re sure those features will come with time. Vine has shown it’s capable of improving its offerings without pivoting so far that it turn users off. Their addition of frontfacing camera compatibility and an easiertouse record function went over swimmingly with users.

Although this cottage industry of Vine bred comedians is flourishing, it’s anyone’s guess how the medium will evolve. Plenty of musicians and bands saw moderate success thanks to MySpace in the early 2000s, and that network is now just a thorn in the side of anyone who’s forgotten their password and can’t log in to delete a profile they haven’t accessed since 2006. But for now, Vine is a profitable breeding ground for young comedians whose only industry connections come through their iPhone’s 4G network.

It’s also providing a creative outlet to teens who would otherwise be diving into Walmart ball pits without a national audience, so that’s something. At least they aren’t sexting.

Follow Molly Mulshine on Twitter or via RSS. mmulshine@observer.com