Chances are if you enjoy any sort of comedic content on YouTube, especially in this last year, you’ve probably heard of Julie Nolke. Julie uploads weekly comedy sketches to her channel. Her cheeky sense of humor and relatability make her videos a joy to watch for a wide range of audiences.
At first glance, it appears Julie Nolke began accumulating a large number of views on her videos a long time ago. Looking through her library of content, she has videos that go back as far as five years ago. Many of these videos have hundreds of thousands of views on them.
However, only in the last year or so did she accumulate these hundreds of thousands — and millions — of views. So, what happened? In 2020, early into the pandemic, Julie uploaded a video titled “Explaining the Pandemic to my Past Self.” The video caught like wildfire and currently has over 18 million views.
After this, Julie’s channel started to explode. Before posting the video, Julie had a little over 50K subscribers. In a matter of 6 months or so, Julie reached over 700,000 subscribers. She currently has over 850K subs.
We chatted with Julie Nolke and asked her about her journey on YouTube and what she’s done over the past 5 years on the platform.
Video Views: 96,682,247
Channel Type: Comedy
USER CREATED: Oct 3rd, 2011
Leading up to YouTube
Julie Nolke is originally from Calgary, a city in Alberta, Canada. She wanted to pursue acting, but Calgary just wasn’t the place. “There’s not a huge art scene there and I always knew I wanted to be an artist. So I moved to Toronto to go to post-secondary as an actor,” she says.
Once Julie finished university in Toronto, she thought she would have no trouble finding gigs. “When I graduated, I assumed I was going to be famous, or I was going to book acting jobs right away or writing jobs right away,” she says.
But that wasn’t the case. In fact, Julie could hardly find any work at all.
“When I say I wasn’t working as an actor, I wasn’t working. I booked maybe some commercials and some theater stuff. But then I couldn’t afford acting classes and I was working two jobs at the time.”
“I still now can’t book a thing to save my life,” she admits.
Julie’s start on YouTube
Despite not finding any work, Julie Nolke continued to practice and sharpen her skills as an actor and writer. She did this through YouTube. Her earliest upload dates back to May of 2015. The work dedicated to the channel served a purpose as Julie was “…waiting for these gatekeepers to tell me that I was good enough to be in this industry.”
A place for practice
So, Julie’s initial goal when starting her YouTube channel was to get better as an actor and a writer. As a visual platform, YouTube was the perfect place for Julie to get herself out there and progress.
“The YouTube channel originally served as a place to practice, practice different characters, practice being in front of the camera. And I also wanted it to live as a portfolio,” she states. By practicing on YouTube, Julie was prepping herself for her “big break.” She wanted to sharpen her tools so she could be ready for the TV and film industries.
“Maybe I’m going to sharpen my writing and then maybe I’m going to use this. Maybe I could send this to agents or maybe I could build up a repertoire and then people will see this and go ‘Oh yeah, she could play all those different characters,'” she states.
As time went on, Julie dedicated more time and attention to her work on YouTube. She thought her sketches were “kinda good” and had some potential.
When we asked her what got her interested in doing comedy specifically, she said she did a lot of sketch comedy and improv in high school. She also attributes her interests in comedy to her parents, who she says are funny people. “I guess I must be a funny person,” she laughs. Comedy is a great way to let off steam and create.
YouTube is also a great platform for comedic content. “My skills in comedy work in tandem with the platform,” she says.
Getting recognition in Canada
Her worked on YouTube has brought her some opportunities. “There was a job I booked, thankfully, as a result of one of my sketches.” However, creators working on platforms such as YouTube have a bit of a harder time getting recognition in Canada.
“Canada is a little bit more behind in terms of acknowledging online talent as being as valid as a traditional film and TV star. The US is quite a bit more ahead and you see that with the Liza Koshy’s and the Lilly Singh’s,” she says.
“But I do think it’s starting to get traction. It’s just the beginning.”
A style shift
When Julie Nolke first started on YouTube, her style was a little different compared to what it is now. We asked her what prompted this change. When she started her channel, she wasn’t sure what voice or style she wanted to emulate on the platform.
“I think when I started, I didn’t really have a voice. I think I was just trying to stab in the dark and see what worked.”
One reason her style shifted over time comes from her growth and development as an actor and writer.
“First off, I got better over time, that’s the main way of how things changed. I got better as an actor. I got better as a writer, a sketch comedy writer, a character writer,” she says.
“More importantly, I think there was a really pivotal change where I was able to develop my voice and I realized that what I really wanted to do was to make content that was from a female perspective but wasn’t specifically for females. So I wanted to be able to talk about life from the lens of being a millennial female but have it resonate with a wider audience. I think every time I go into a new sketch, that’s kind of at the back of my mind.”
How do I speak from my genuine voice and have it relate to a larger community?
The explosion of Julie’s channel
We asked Julie Nolke when her channel started to see a lot of growth.
“I’ve been doing YouTube for about six years now, but only recently has it started to pick up. I had a video go viral last year in April, and that seemed to be what caused the avalanche of views and subscribers and things really took off from one video.”
Before the viral video
Before that viral video, Julie managed to gain a good amount of followers.
“When I first started the YouTube channel I was able to get it to about 50,000 subscribers, which is quite significant still in my books — and then it really stagnated.”
So, what kind of videos was Julie creating in the early days of her channel? Well, it might come as surprise if you haven’t looked back to some of her old videos, but she used to implement cooking into her content.
A dash of cooking
“When I first started my YouTube channel, there was a sketch comedy element to every one of my videos and then a cooking element because I was really passionate about cooking. While it was very niche…that worked for me to a point,” she explains.
She was getting opportunities to be a cooking host when really she wanted to be an actor and writer. She reached a point where she had to cut the cooking element from her videos.
“So I had to stop doing the cooking videos and when that happened I was at 50,000 subscribers and I had a total stop on growth altogether. I stayed at 50k for a year with no growth and virtually no views.”
A stagnant, but beneficial year
However, despite this stagnant period of her YouTube channel, she really nailed down her skills and grew more confident as a writer, actor and creator.
“During that year, I was kind of creating these sketches in a vacuum because the algorithm was totally penalizing my channel so nobody was seeing anything. But it also gave me the freedom to fail, so I was able to develop all these sketches and get quite good at them in a quick period of time.”
The result of her viral video
When first looking at her channel, videos that go as far back as five years have hundreds of thousands of views. We were under the impression that she’s been getting a large number of views for a long time. But that isn’t the case. People were going back and watching her old videos.
Once her video “Explaining the Pandemic to My Past Self” went viral in April of 2020, she had plenty of content for viewers to go back and watch. “The reason that [the channel] continued to grow is that I had this entire library of content behind that video that nobody had seen…People went backward to watch stuff, like this time last year — no word of a lie — most of my videos had under a thousand views.”
Julie Nolke spent a year dedicating herself to creating videos and improving her skills, despite the fact she had no views. She accepted this reality because she knew she was getting better as an actor, writer and creator. However, it was a great feeling to have people go back and watch her old videos.
“It’s really surreal. Way back when you know a year ago, I was happy and I was fine with making content that no one was seeing because I had this mission of getting better. I had all these goals in mind, so it was okay that I was making content in a vacuum. But in my heart, of course, you want people to see it. You’re working so hard, you’re developing these characters, you’re telling these stories and you just want to be able to share them.”
Creating a sketch
So, what does it take to make a sketch? We asked Julie Nolke what her process typically looks like.
“The most difficult part and the part I spend the most time on is coming up with the idea. You want to come up with the seed of your idea and then you want to have a perspective on it….that I usually sit on upward of weeks. I’ll have notes written down in my phone or I’ll jot down things in my notebook that I might want to come back to as I kind of develop and think more about what’s the angle I’m going to come at this thing with.”
Take her viral pandemic video, for example. For the pandemic video, the seed of the idea was the pandemic. Then she had to come up with a perspective. What angle would she take? She decided to come at it from the perspective of her future self.
Once she has the lightbulb moment and nails down her approach, it usually takes her 45 minutes to write it up. As an actor, you learn to memorize quickly, so she typically memorizes a 6-page script in a cool 15 minutes.
Working as a team
When it comes to creating Julie’s efforts, it requires a bit of a team effort. Julie does the most important parts of the work — obviously! But when it comes to filming her sketches, she has some help.
Her husband — who is a director — films her videos for her. They’ve become really efficient over the years to meet the fast-paced demand of YouTube. “In order to have longevity on YouTube, you have to make things fast and efficient, otherwise you’re never gonna consistently do it.”
She recently hired an editor. Before that, she did all of the editing herself. Hiring an editor has made things easier, but she was hesitant to give up the edit. “As the writer, editor, creator, whatever it is. You’re so invested in it, and you know exactly how you want the final product to look and feel. To give up the edit is kind of like giving up the cherry on top.”
She had a humbling moment, however, and acknowledged she’s not the best editor. Hiring a professional editor to work on her videos helps make them that much better. “If I can surround myself with really talented people who are really good at what they do, then I can get the best possible product.”
She loves to collab
If you look at Julie’s channel, there are a several collabs with other creators. Recently, Julie collaborated with fellow Canadian Peter McKinnon. McKinnon started creating content for YouTube around the same time as Julie, back in 2015. He currently has over 5 million subscribers and over 400 million views on his channel.
When McKinnon reached out to Julie to do a collab, she was ecstatic. He’s someone she has looked up to for years, so collaborating with him was a big deal for her.
“What is this life even?! This is insane, I could die right now,” she laughed, reminiscing on the first call she had with him.
So, we asked her what she looks for in potential collaborations.
“I’m so new to all this that I’m not even sure,” she laughs. When it comes down to it, she’s open to working with a lot of people. She isn’t selective with collabs in terms of numbers and followers. She just wants to work with people she likes or looks up to.
“I’ve spent so many years as a small YouTube channel that no part of me is working for the numbers because I’ve proven to myself that I can make videos and continue to make videos without anybody watching. I don’t really have any skin in the game in terms of chasing the views dragon. It’s more about what do I want to make and if people like it they like it — and if not, who cares? I’ll go back to only a thousand views per video and be just as happy.”
Looking to the future
With all of this success and growth Julie Nolke has seen in the last year, where does she go from here? We asked her what her goals are moving forward.
“My goals are to continue to make content that I like. I would like to make bigger content for the YouTube channel if I could. I just want to maintain, I enjoy it so much, there’s no reason to stop. I have so many ideas and now that people are watching, it’s almost like there’s a revived inspiration for YouTube.”
She’s been on the platform for a while, but she doesn’t feel burnt out. She feels energized and ready to go. She would also like to do more collabs because she enjoys them. Outside of YouTube, she wants to write in more writing rooms and get more acting jobs.
Advice for aspiring creators
Julie’s journey and recent success on YouTube serve as a great example to aspiring creators. We asked her what advice she would give to anyone trying to create content online.
“Come at your content with a perspective. You’re the only one who can bring your original voice to the type of content you want to make. If we’re talking about comedy content — yeah, there’s a ton of comedy content online — but there’s not your style, there’s not your voice, your face. Your pizzaz, whatever you can add to it.”
It’s also important to enjoy the content you are creating! You don’t want to get caught up in creating content just because it’s trending or you think you’ll get more views.
“You’re gonna find more enjoyment out of making stuff if it’s strictly the stuff that you like making that has your own spin on it.”