At 9:30 a.m. I was watching a Twitch stream and anxiously debating whether or not I should ask my favorite YouTuber-slash-Twitch-streamer, PJ Liguori, better known as KickThePJ, if I could have permission to write a piece about him. I didn’t think they’d say no, but I felt oddly morally obligated to ask before I begin. So I steeled my resolve and hammered my request into the chat box. It took a moment, but Liguori eventually read the question and answered, “You’re very welcome to write about me if you like … Just know I am a closed book — you will find nothing. You won’t even find my opinion about jam on the internet.” And that was all I needed: permission and a strange joke to begin.
Many people know Liguori, who uses he/they pronouns, by his screen name and YouTube channel, KickThePJ. Their YouTube career dates back to 2008, but his popularity rose in the early 2010s as a filmmaker and member of The Fantastic Foursome, a group of British YouTubers consisting of himself, Dan Howell, Phil Lester and Chris Kendall. As an avid watcher of the likes of Dan and Phil, it was only a matter of time before I stumbled across Liguori’s channel around 2013. My earliest memory of their work is “Lullaby³,” a short film about a character who can’t sleep and struggles to differentiate between “the real and the invented.” That turned into an obsession with “Smokey Saloon,” where a man fights monsters in his attic, and “Oscar’s Hotel,” the one about a hotel for monsters run by humans. The latter is perhaps Liguori’s most well-known work. Soon I was watching his “Slurp” Q&As, music, art and VR dates with a clown as well, but the short films were ever-present in the background, always driving my love for Liguori’s channel.
There are always a few things that come to mind when thinking of KickThePJ films: props made of cardboard and other household materials, the ingenious use of light and sound and the especially off-the-wall characters supported by high-quality writing. Their creativity is unlike anything I’ve seen before or have seen since. Liguori’s films and everyday social media presence are underlined by a sense of the fantastic, and he has a unique way of endowing everything he creates with whimsy. I put it all down to their masterful storytelling; their Instagram bio reads “story teller, yo,” which is entirely accurate.
Liguori’s wacky sense of humor and absolute disregard for the boundaries of real life in his writing make his films come to life. In fact, most of their work is rooted in something real — a hotel, a salon, an attic — but turned on its head with the employment of monsters, dreams or delightfully nonsensical characters.
Take the aforementioned “Oscar’s Hotel”: Oliver, the nephew of the hotel’s namesake, the 174-year-old Oscar, goes to visit his uncle’s establishment. While there, Oscar accidentally lets an evil monster into the hotel. Oscar, Oliver and a creature called Fuzz must defeat the monster, but they wind up enjoying toast with it at the end of the film instead. We start with something we know, a hotel, and layer by imaginative layer build it out to be a wild monster-hunting adventure. My synopsis does not do the film justice, but come on! This came from someone’s brain. Liguori’s ability to unleash and trust his imagination into crafting an award-winning short film and web series has fascinated me for years, and it’s what constantly brings me back to their channel.
As a writer, Liguori and their work have always been the pinnacle of creativity for me. In my youth, my experience with storytelling was exclusive to franchises like “Harry Potter,” “Eragon” or “The Lord of the Rings.” All these are fictional and mystical in their own right but nothing quite as fantastical and strange as Liguori’s stories about hair salons open only to monsters at night. I had inadvertently been told that everything one wrote had to make perfect sense and connect in neat lines. Liguori, however, introduced me to the possibility that things could be nonsensical. Stories could be silly and ridiculous and sometimes defy logic, but they could be good that way. He manages to simultaneously combine and juxtapose the abnormal and normal, and with that in mind, I learned to unlock untapped creativity in my writing that I continue to employ to its fullest.
As of writing this article, I am happy to say that I have written a number of short stories inspired by Liguori’s films, and they have all gone down as a treat both with myself and readers. While there is no harm in writing within the bounds of reality, I didn’t realize until I began consuming Liguori’s work just how locked in I had been by convention. Now, when I sit down to write a story, I am less fearful of running with whatever my own imagination gives me. I find that others feel the same way — when I receive critiques from a professor on a strange story about monsters or aliens, they seem equally as excited as I am about it and far more open to my own whimsy than I thought they would be.
I’ve grown to think of my method of storytelling as quite similar to how Liguori is known for using cardboard to build sets and props: I have a very basic material, my own skill, that acts as the foundation of almost everything I do. This material is abundant and often overlooked but all it needs is a little creativity. A little paint, a little rejection of reality and a whole lot of glue, and suddenly that piece of cardboard is a spaceship or a giant video game controller. According to Liguori, cardboard is “the most reliable resource I know. It can, and has, and will stand the test of time.” Funny — I think the same way about storytelling. Once I believed that all I had was a very plain, common material, but now, thanks to the work of one British filmmaker, I have learned to turn it into the one resource that will bring life to any and all of my most imaginative moments.
Daily Arts Writer Maddie Agne can be reached at email@example.com.