“All art is communication of the artist’s ideas, sounds, thoughts; without that no one will support the artist.” — Lionel Hampton
Since the inception of the Arts section, we have written extensively about works of art. Through what we process, see, hear — our writers have dissected these elements of these works in order to bring you the finest we have in arts criticism. Before there were arts, however, there were artists. These individuals put pens to paper, frames to film, stanzas to song, all in an effort to be understood. Here at the Arts section, we hear them. This series centers on the artists we adore and how they have inspired us.
The year is 2018. I’m in high school and getting way too into the habit of watching YouTube videos while I play video games. The dual-stimulation method works wonders for clearing my mind; I’m as light as a feather, rendered unaware of the horrors of having a body. All I need to focus on is the voice of the video in my ears and the objective of the game in front of me. I had reached a dead end a while ago, though. None of my go-to creators were giving me the spark of joy they once did. The videos were becoming white noise, rather than methods of entertainment, and my habit began to feel hollow as opposed to fulfilling. I needed a creator who broke the mold, who understood my need for zaniness.
Later that year, my boyfriend and I are on a date as usual — the evening is cooling down and we’re sitting together in his room as he plays Team Fortress 2. A comfortable silence floats between us as we listen to the characters’ wacky voice lines, my head resting on his shoulder. I can’t remember exactly why it happened, but after a moment, he pulled out his phone to show me a video.
“Do you know Jerma?” he asked. I was clueless, unaware of the seismic shift this video would cause within me.
The video he showed me was titled “A Tale of Two Jermas.” It begins with a man, the Jerma985, seated in a fairly small, messy room. In a seemingly agitated tone, he asks the audience (which at the initial time of recording were watching live on Twitch), “Okay, so here, you want some perfect, perfect pushups?” Within 30 seconds, he is on the ground attempting to impress the live chat. “Alright, watch this motherfuckers. Watch this,” he says, and displays 10 relatively average pushups. By no means is it impressive, but he stands up and boasts about this feat, as if his live audience assumed he couldn’t do even one. I was fascinated.
The antics with his live chat continue — almost immediately after the push-up fiasco, he reads a comment in which someone calls his hair “candy floss.” In a joking tone, he replies, “I hope that person gets banned permanently from the channel.” Fascinating. Even later in the video, he goes on a tangent about how easy it would be to freak out people from ancient times. He shows a Dunkin’ Donuts to-go cup to the camera, saying “This is all you’d need … and they’d like, start scratching at you.” How did he even get to this subject? I’m thrilled. It’s hilarious. I don’t know why, but I suddenly think nobody has ever understood my brain as well as this random man. His ideas are fast-moving, his humor is often dry and confusing, and it all works so beautifully.
I laugh for a thousand reasons when I watch Jerma. I laugh because I’m confused, I laugh because he makes a funny joke, I laugh because his live chat is telling him to do something ridiculous. In the world of Jerma985, zaniness is the norm.
In “A Tale of Two Jermas’ ” titular dramatic progression, Jerma comes up with the idea to create a double of his camera and audio in order to talk to himself. On the screen, there are now two Jermas — one being the present Jerma, and one delayed five seconds behind him. He messes around with this self-talk dynamic for a while, culminating in a fake fight between him and his reflected self. By the end of the video, he is jumping off of tables back-and-forth in an effort to stage “jumping off the top rope” to topple down on his reflection. I’d never seen anything like it; I wanted to watch Jerma every day for the rest of my life. He didn’t need a video game to highlight his comedic abilities like other streamers did; he just sat in this room, alone with his live viewers in chat, and talked.
Jeremy Elbertson, best known as Jerma985 or simply Jerma, began making YouTube content in 2011. From 2011 to 2016, he focused primarily on gameplay of Team Fortress 2 and had a fairly small but dedicated audience. It was around 2012 that my boyfriend started watching him, hence his reminder of Jerma while playing the game. Jerma carries such a legacy with Team Fortress 2 that YouTuber Tyler McVicker, better known as Valve News Network, named one of their characters, the Scout, after him. After spending years on YouTube, Jerma transitioned to live-streaming platform Twitch in 2016. Since then, he has been known for his unconventional streams that heavily involve audience participation. This transition has been incredible for his career: He now sits at 1.4 million followers on Twitch.
I continued to watch Jerma nearly every day in the depths of the pandemic. I left his videos on while I did schoolwork, artwork or played video games, and his rapid-fire odd thoughts infinitely helped me in my own creativity. So often when I intended to have a video of his in the background, I ended up dropping my other tasks to devote my full attention to him. What I loved particularly was the special and strange dynamic between Jerma and his live chat. A frequent joke within his fan community is the starting quote, “No, chat, I’m not going to do (insert something completely outrageous and not humanly possible).” The origins of this joke is Jerma’s own willingness to attempt almost anything on stream — the punchline is always him convincing himself to do it.
One particular favorite bit of mine is Jerma’s $2.5 billion debt to his livestream viewers — yes, it sounds crazy, but stay with me on this. During a 2020 livestream, Jerma randomly made a bet with his chat while playing the game “Noita” that he could kill an enemy in the game in one shot. If he lost, he promised to give away 500 million gifted subs to the chat (equating to 2.495 billion U.S. dollars). And lose he did, catastrophically so. Obviously, Jerma did not have the funds to pay off this debt, so he instead made a compromise with his viewers to pay it off by doing various dares and tasks assigned by the chat. Some of these proposed tasks include eating a gallon of mayonnaise on stream, speaking only with funny noises and faces for thirty minutes and reading Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” to viewers without messing up.
I was never a Twitch user, but I made an account specifically for Jerma’s channel so I could take part in these shenanigans. How couldn’t I? It was hilarious to propose these odd tasks and see what he would do. He was a master of cultivating these odd and fun moments. Though his chatters rag on him, it is knowingly ironic, done out of love for his comedy. This community aspect brought new levels to my viewership experience, making me feel less alone in a time when, as we know, loneliness was ever-present.
This fake debt wasn’t even the coolest of his immersive chat experiences. In August of 2021, Jerma presented “The Jerma985 Dollhouse” on Twitch, arguably transforming the possibilities of the platform as a whole. Modeled after the life simulation game The Sims, “The Jerma985 Dollhouse” was a three-day live series in which the audience got to raise Jerma like a Sim. This was a high-production stream with a fully built house, a large cast of characters and a stream extension with which audiences got to make decisions for Jerma. We got to decide how he interacted with other characters, what he would eat for the day, what he wore, what furniture he placed in his home and more. He even hired a film crew to run production, build the house and ensure quality behind the scenes.
It was the event of a lifetime; I remember on the final day of the stream, I was scheduled to work, so I hid in the back office at any moment I could find to watch what would happen next. Never in my life had I seen that much effort and creativity put into a silly little idea. I couldn’t let it go ignored — in my eyes, my single view counted for the future of Twitch. Jerma was changing the landscape of possibilities, introducing huge interactive projects to the masses. It was breathtaking and, of course, hilarious. It resonated with audiences, reaching a peak concurrent viewership of more than 600,000 users. At the end of the final day, Jerma proposed that the chat “delete the game’s save file,” thus ending the Sims-style game and the livestream. A voting poll appeared in the extension, giving us a time limit to make a decision. This was the end, wasn’t it? Yet in a moment of defiance, the chat refused — time and time again, we voted “no.” We didn’t want things to end. Jerma had let us into this wonderful, wacky world, and we wanted to stay there (or, perhaps, we wanted to mess with him by spamming “no”). We voted “no” until nearly the entire cast of characters came on screen, begging us to end the file. In a nearly tearful moment, we finally voted “yes,” and the cast hugged and high-fived. The credits rolled. My life was altered. In a final scene, the entire cast and crew gave us a bow and Jerma thanked them for their hard work.
I may laugh at Jerma’s odd antics, we may poke fun at him in a chat, but I am in total admiration of the work he does. He makes the mundanities of life whimsical; he doesn’t even need to play a video game for me to find him entertaining. The most memorable moments I have of him are not when he is gaming, but when he is eating a shoe and trying not to laugh at screaming and farting sound effects. He can make the mere act of sitting in front of a camera the most hilarious and interactive thing I have ever seen, and I strive for that level of whimsy. Every day, I carry a little bit of that absurdity with me to try and make life less serious. If Jerma can make anything funny, then so can I.
Daily Arts Writer Katelyn Sliwinski can be reached at email@example.com.