SXSWi Recap: User-Generated Chuckles at the CNN Grill

By Bob Marshall 

In case you missed the rumor mill today, Austin is buzzing with the news of CNN’s acquisition of social media and tech journal, Mashable. Of course, just because everyone from Reuters to The New York Times is predicting the sale doesn’t mean that anything’s changed at the SXSW CNN Grill, where the show went on for the fourth consecutive day.

Brooke Baldwin, anchor of CNN Newsroom, sat down with two young Internet celebrities to discuss the world of viral Internet comedy. Kevin Wu, best known online as “KevJumba,” spoke of his move from MMORPG’s to online video. After his parents shut down his World of Warcraft account, Wu moved to the online stage to, as he put it, “make friends.” “Friends” of his have included the likes of NBA star Jeremy Linas well as Chicago-based singer-songwriter, Richard Marx. Kevin’s online popularity has led him to become a YouTube partner, profiting off of the site’s revenue-sharing system it has in place with viral sensations.

Also featured on the panel was Issa Rae, best known for her web series, “Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl.”  Rae began her rise to online comedy stardom as a student at Stanford University with a series called “Dorm Diaries,” focusing on what’s it’s like to be a black student at Stanford. Now Rae is setting her sights higher, saying, “I want to make a difference in the world.” With her Kickstarter campaign to raise capital for season two of “Misadventures of an Awkward Girl,” Rae raised over $56,000 in just 30 days, well exceeding her initial $30,000 goal. Recently, her videos have included cameos from the likes of Emmy-winning writer, rapper and star of NBC’s Community, Donald Glover.

Despite web popularity, Rae and Wu are finding it hard to break into mainstream media, predominantly because their racially charged humor isn’t all that appealing to traditional broadcast channels who find comfortability in “safe” content. Despite that hurdle, both are dedicated to using their popularity and celebrity contacts to continue their comedy. So, advertisers, if you’re looking for “hip” online sensations with a rabid fanbase to endorse one of your products or star in some viral content, look no further.