Ethan Nestor, who grew up in Cape Elizabeth, performing at The Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota on March 29. Photo by Sara Fish Photography

Ethan Nestor says his career as a YouTube star began at least partly out of boredom.

He remembers as a teenager in Cape Elizabeth poking around on YouTube for fun things to watch. When he came across videos of people playing video games while narrating the action, he thought, “I can do that.” He and a friend, Andrew Harrington, were already doing the same thing for fun, so they began recording it for the YouTube audience as well.

A decade later, Nestor’s popular YouTube channel, CrankGameplays, has 2 million subscribers, and he is in the middle of headlining his first national tour. He brings his live show – which is very different from his videos – to Portland’s State Theatre on Friday.

“It very much stemmed from a place of boredom,” Nestor, 25, said of his YouTube beginnings. “Andrew and I started making videos, and I found that I really loved doing this, that I had a passion for it.”

Nestor’s passion has turned into a successful career that didn’t exist a generation ago, as a YouTube content producer. He started his own channel while in high school and soon after graduating was working in Los Angeles as editor for well-known You Tuber Markiplier, whose real name is Mark Fischbach. Nestor toured as a performer in live shows with Fischbach and developed a large and loyal fan base for his own channel, which earns him advertising revenue. He’s also a brand name, selling T-shirts, sweatshirts and other merchandise with the CrankGameplays logo.

Though he became known for playing and commenting on video games, Nestor’s videos have evolved over the years to include his takes on a huge variety of topics, from the absurdity of some social media posts to the skills needed to be a ventriloquist to natural wonders around the world. The sheer number of YouTube channels allows for all sorts of content older generations would not recognize as traditional TV or film fodder, but people watch Nestor and other YouTubers for the same reason anybody watches a sitcom, a movie or a stand-up comic – to be entertained.

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Ali Pearl, 23, of the central Maine town of Rome, has front row seats to Nestor’s show Friday and has been watching his videos since around the time he began posting nearly a decade ago. She said she’s not a particularly good video game player, but enjoys watching him play and finds him engaging and funny.

“He makes me laugh, and he makes me want to play those games,” said Pearl, a store manager who also is a photographer and artist. “He is outgoing, but down home and earthy, and I think that makes him stand out (among YouTubers). Some times people on You Tube change when they get famous, but I haven’t seen him change at all.”

The State Theatre booked Nestor based on the size of his audience and the fact that he was able to secure tour dates at major venues in cities like New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., without knowing he was from Cape Elizabeth, said Lauren Wayne, the State Theatre’s general manager. Nestor began the tour in March and is scheduled to play more than 30 cities through May.

Wayne said the State Theatre – best known for rock and pop music acts – has booked other YouTubers in recent years, and they have proven their audiences will pay to see them live. The State booked Trey Kennedy, a comedian and singer known for YouTube and TikTok videos, in March, and he almost sold the venue out, Wayne said. She said Wednesday that Nestor had already sold more than 800 tickets at $37.50 a piece for his show – out of about 1,300 available.

“I didn’t know a ton about him, but I saw he had 2 million subscribers, and that’s a pretty big number,” said Wayne. “It’s so great that this turned out to be a hometown show for him.”

Nestor’s channel this week was ranked at No. 1,125 for subscribers and No. 48,073 for video views out of more than 51 million YouTube channels, according to Social Blade, a website that tracks social media statistics and analytics.

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“A lot of You Tubers don’t seem real, you can tell they’re putting on an act. But his sense of humor and personality are genuine,” said Corey Trumann, 15, of South Portland, who is going to Friday’s show. “It doesn’t feel like he’s doing it just for the fame, he’s having fun.”

NATURALLY LIKABLE

Nestor’s videos include elements of stand-up comedy, social commentary and theater, and are squarely centered on his personality. In a video made about two months ago that garnered more than 219,000 views, Nestor asked viewers to send him “cringe-worthy” Tik Tok videos. As the videos played on the screen, Nestor reacted. He watched one where a man explained his theory on “dating math” – that if you divide your age by two and add 7, that’s the youngest person you can date.

“I don’t like that rule and I don’t like this guy,” Nestor responded. He called a clear pacifier in a baby’s mouth “cute,” and he reacted to a pink-haired woman reciting a rather aggressive emo rap by saying, “Everybody is entitled to their own opinions and joys in life.”

Other recent videos show him testing out toys he hoped would help his attention deficit disorder and playing the video game Bloodborne with an over-the-top British accent.

“If I ever do a tour in the U.K., I’m going to get bullied. Security will be like, ‘We can’t help you, you deserve this,’ ” because of the accent, he said.

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His live show is different from his videos, he says. Not wanting to give too much away, Nestor said it’s a one-man show, with him on stage, talking a lot about his relationship with his audience and the challenges of being a YouTube personality. He says the show will include comedy and theater elements.

A DESIRE TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT

“My audience has changed my life. But I wanted to do something different and do a show that would impress people even if they had never seen my videos,” said Nestor.

People who knew him growing up aren’t surprised with his success on YouTube, a very intimate medium where viewers can feel a strong personal connection to whoever they are watching.

Tim Ferrell, a Portland comedy and improv teacher, had Nestor in a class when Nestor was still in high school and said “he ran circles around the others,” mostly adults, yet always found a way to bring them into the scene.

“The rules of improv are just part of his way of thinking,” said Ferrell, who has taught improv in Portland for more than 20 years. “He’s very likable and engaging. You can’t teach likability. I’ve watched his videos over the years and never said, ‘I don’t get it,’ like I do with some (videos) on YouTube.”

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Nestor comes from a family of creators. His mother and father, Annie Darling and Mark Nestor, are both graphic designers, and Mark Nestor has a background in animation. His grandfather Peter Darling was a newspaper photographer, including at the Press Herald.

One of his earliest passions was gymnastics, something his parents signed him up for at an early age. He had attention deficit disorder, and gymnastics helped him focus and gave him an outlet for his energy, his mother said. He competed in gymnastics for some 10 years, into high school.

Even as a gymnast, Nestor’s parents began to see signs of the personality and an easiness in front of people that has been a large part of his YouTube success.

Ethan Nestor at the Pax East gaming convention in Boston in 2014. He got his start as a YouTube star by playing and riffing on video games. Now he’s touring theaters across the country. Photo by Mark Nestor

“The bigger the crowd, the better he performed (in gymnastics),” his mother said.

Nestor’s father said his son always enjoyed entertaining people and “being goofy,” but didn’t get involved with theater groups since so much of his time was devoted to gymnastics.

Nestor found an outlet for his urge to entertain while “messing around with dumb videos” with his friend Harrington. He started the template for CrankGameplays with Harrington, playing video games and glibly describing or commenting on the action. But soon he was doing them alone and posting them to YouTube, almost obsessively. He was competing in gymnastics at a high level at the same time.

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GYMNASTICS OR YOUTUBE

“He was spending maybe 40 or 50 an hours at the gym. His grades started to suffer, so we told him he’d have to choose between gymnastics and the videos,” said Mark Nestor. “He had talked about going to the Olympics, so I really thought he’d choose gymnastics.”

But he chose to make videos. After graduating from Cape Elizabeth High School in 2015, Nestor and his parents agreed he’d take a “gap year” to figure out some things. He worked at Salvage BBQ in Portland to earn money and worked on developing his video-making skills and honing his ability to present himself as engaging and likable on screen. By 2016, he had about 5,000 subscribers.

But then he got a call from Fischbach, whose Markiplier channel has more than 32 million subscribers. Fischbach had met Nestor at a gaming convention and was impressed with him. He offered Nestor a job working as one of his editors for his YouTube videos. Eventually, Nestor went on tour with Fischbach. Then the two launched a one-year temporary YouTube channel, Unus Annus (“one year” in Latin), with the goal of making one new video a day for a year and then erasing the whole thing. It had more than 4.5 million subscribers.

Around 2018, Nestor stopped working full-time for Fischbach to focus on his own channel. His subscribers are loyal and, at this point, like just about anything he does, Nestor said. That’s partly why he wanted to do this tour, to do different kinds of commentary and theater and see what audiences think of that. He figures if he throws something completely different at his fans, and they still like it, he’ll feel a strong sense of satisfaction.

As for what comes next, Nestor says he’s trying not to think about that. From his early days creating his own YouTube channel as a teen, he’s been driven and always thinking about the next challenge, so he’s trying to take a break from that.

“Not a lot of people get to do something like this, and I feel super, super lucky and grateful to be doing this,” said Nestor. “I’ve always been someone thinking about the next big thing I can do. I’m trying to not think about that too much but live right now and appreciate everything.”


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