From “What’s up, fuckers?” to “I don’t know,” Grace Helbig has become the queen of multi-media since her earliest YouTube days eight years ago. Now, she is a New York Times best-selling writer of a self-help book for millennials, “Grace’s Guide: The Art of Pretending to Be a Grown-up;” she has a top-rated audio-video podcast, “Not too Deep”; and she is the one-woman production team for It’s Grace, her YouTube channel with over 2 million subscribers. She has experimented with new media, film, improvisational and stand-up comedy, screenwriting – and now, she will with television.
“The Grace Helbig Show”
Fridays at 10:30 p.m.
“The Internet’s awkward older sister” takes her quirky sense of humor to the small screen, where she has been given her own talk show on the E! network. Grace is now the only woman on late-night television since Chelsea Handler stepped down, in what she describes as a “curious introvert’s nighttime talk show #notsexual.” She has always predicted that the Internet and television will eventually enter a happy marriage while still retaining their independent identities – and her show now merges the two in “a beautiful sandwich.” “The Grace Helbig Show” is the epitome of everything Grace herself is – a preservation, yet magnification of her idiotic-idiosyncratic personality.
The show is set in a Los Angeles home akin to Grace’s real-life residence where she shoots her web videos. Unlike all other late-night shows, her decision to do without a live audience reflects her Internet-introversion, or as she puts it, “TGI-Fuck going out, we’re staying in where we’re safe from physical and emotional dangers.” Though her lack of a live audience may seem to create greater distance between herself and her viewers, she uses social media instead as a virtual connection to her audience. What new media (and especially vlogging) is all about is creating a realistic, though virtual, sense of reality and acquaintanceship, which she emulates in her new TV show. Grace chooses not to alienate herself as a “celebrity” with fans. Rather, her show emits a homey vibe more like a Friday night hang-out among best friends. With late-night shows like Seth Meyers or Jimmy Fallon, even at their live tapings, the audience feels more aloof than ever before.
Grace begins the show with a “Let’s Browse” segment where she covers the week’s pop culture news – talking sports and all things relatable in her typical frenetic fashion, where she does not try to hide her lack of true knowledge about the topics. Even when interviewing celebrities, she strives to learn about the mundane quirks that draw them closer to us, instead of promoting their fame to isolate them further from viewers.
Unlike other talk shows that attempt to create seamlessness by trying to hide their teleprompters and crew members, “The Grace Helbig Show” is very conscious of itself. As Grace stated in an interview with USA Today, “There’s no trying to hide that there’s a crew involved. I (want) the fourth wall to be destroyed. I want the audience to feel like they’re on set; they know the director, they know the camera guy, they know the boom operator’s favorite type of deodorant.” On YouTube, Grace is a one-woman production team – directing, writing, starring and editing all of her own content with complete control. However, even though she now must work with a creative team, the show is still inherently so Grace. Grace typically improvises all of her content in her web videos – and though she may be following a slightly more structured script on her show, she still manages to seem like her free-form, spontaneous self. In her YouTube videos, much of her humor comes from her editing style, and the show follows suit with erratic jump cuts and purposeful hyper-dramatic sound effects.
On YouTube, Grace is famous for her hilarious “collabs” with other YouTubers – and her show is merely an extension of the natural chemistry and brilliant comedic timing she exudes. As her first guest, she brought Aisha Tyler who is nowhere near any type of A-list, but still a talented, highly-respected actress-comedienne. Even though they spoke about Tyler’s podcast and work, their conversation was far more casual and personal, never falling into the sort of free advertisement most late-night shows often provide for guests. Grace later introduces another YouTube personality like herself, the German DJ, Flula, whom she enlists to create an eccentric theme song for her show. During his segment, they even leave the usual set to shoot in his car – a refreshing change of scenery from the stagnant couch space usual talk shows stick to. It also is especially exciting to see a guest list of underrated celebrities in an amalgam with new media stars.
Unfortunately, though the show tries very hard to preserve Grace just the way she is, because she is on television for a much wider audience, she is not able to fully be her awkward, unrestrained, uncensored self by dropping an “eat shit” at any random moment. The semi-scripted nature of the show becomes more apparent when she interviews her real-life best friend and fellow YouTuber, Mamrie Hart, host of You Deserve a Drink. There is a subtle, yet slightly uncomfortable sense of tension as they work through clearly rehearsed segments of prepared information to laugh on cue. Especially during their segment “Deal,” when they watch YouTube videos together as they normally would on a live Friday night YouTube livestream, it’s hard to believe or imagine them preparing themselves to laugh at content they have already seen and prepared. For the small screen, Grace is forced to become, in part, someone poised and trained for the camera – a persona that highly contradicts her usual discombobulated personality.
On YouTube, we love Grace because she isn’t grace-ful; she wears the same groutfit for a week in a row without showering, yet she still produces hilarious content that makes us hurl in laughter. We feel comfortable curling up with her while we stay in on a Friday night in our pajamas because she is always on social media, tweeting that she is doing the same. But now, because we have a look behind the scenes, we see that a three-woman team dolls her up in lavish garments and jewelry far more expensive than the items she vlogs about buying on sale at Forever 21. Her hair and make-up are too perfect for the Grace we know to care about. If the purpose of the show is to stay in with her on a Friday night like she says, viewers wouldn’t feel as “at home” in her “house” as they would with the Grace they do know.
Finally, Grace signs off her first episode with a compilation video of clips her viewers have created – just another way she incorporates the audience so well. While Grace’s foremost aims are to maintain her own creative style over all else, she still wishes to work with her viewers, from their suggestions for set décor to guest lists and even content ideas. As she told Entertainment Weekly in an interview, “That’s kind of what social media is for — it’s a two-way conversation. I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t continue that conversation with (the viewers).”
Television and new media are always looking to expand in unprecedented directions, and for the sake of being slightly more revolutionary, at least Grace is trying something new even if it’s not perfect. Just as Grace signs off all her YouTube videos with her tagline, “I don’t know,” she doesn’t know exactly what her show will become, but she aims to bring her audience along as lab assistants. Just as she has experimented with a variety of media in her rise to recognition in Hollywood, she has a beautiful freedom to just experiment with this cross-hybrid of mediums on her new show.
After all, her sole goal is just to “make something that doesn’t suck.” And for her high aspirations, that is exactly why we love Grace.