What if theorizing about Harry Potter and Star Wars could be your full time job? Youtubers J and Ben Carlin have made this dream a reality with their Youtube channel, Super Carlin Brothers. With over 1.5 million subscribers, the channel releases two videos per week on topics spanning from the theory that all of the Pixar are movies are connected to trivia contests between the two brothers.
Nerds and Beyond sat down with J and Ben to ask them about the channel, their careers, and all things fandom.
Nerds and Beyond: What made you start a youtube channel?
J: I guess it started way back in 2009. I was in college at Virginia Tech. I was into retro video games and I stumbled across this guy called The Angry Video Game Nerd. I thought he was fascinating and I was watching all of his stuff. I came home one day and showed the channel to our younger brother, Tyler, because he was pretty into video games. I asked him, “Have you heard of this guy?” And not only had he heard of him, but then he showed me all these other ones and I was like, “What is this world…”
J: He explained the subscribe button to me on Youtube and later that night I went on and subscribed to a bunch of random channels and about a month later I realized I was already a mass communication major so I was doing video editing and on-camera things, and I thought, “I think I can do this.” I started a channel then, which is different from the one we do now, and I did it all throughout college. I had a blast with it and all of my friends thought it was fun and told me to keep doing it. But then I graduated, and got a “real job,” and Youtube took a back seat for a while. Until one day, Ben was graduating college and needed a roommate, so I told him, “Ok, I will be your roommate, but I have this idea for a channel called Super Carlin Brothers and you have to do it with me.” and you were like, “Ok!”
Ben: I don’t think I had any idea what I was agreeing to, but we did the Vlogbrothers Brotherhood 2.0 style for our first years. We did five videos a week going back and forth with the whole gambit of it.
N&B: But in the same house?
Ben: Yeah, in the same house. (laughs)
J: Unbeknownst to anyone else
Ben: That was our big reveal at the end of Year One – that we had been sitting in the same room the whole time. And that was the first time we got the taste of comment after comment of people saying, “Woah, mind blown!” The first time I sat down to film a video, I had no idea how to start or where to start. It took three or four times before I really started to figure out what I was doing, and it took an entire day to produce one really bad three minute video.
J: That’s ok, you made it.
Ben: We made it.
J: We didn’t set out to do fandom stuff at the beginning. It was somewhere in the middle of year two we stumbled across The Pixar Theory and that took off. From there we slowly learned that any time we made a video that was about Star Wars or Disney or Pixar or Harry Potter, those videos all seemed to do way better. So eventually we said, “what if we just talked about these things.” We weren’t trying to betray where we came from, at the end of the day that was our original idea, but it was totally the right move.
J: That was sort of the turning point. From there it just exploded.
Nerds and Beyond: Was the reason why you made that shift just because those fandom videos were doing better, or was there anything else that made you decide to make more of that content rather than vlogs or “lifestyle” videos?
J: It was kind of two things. First, we made the Pixar Theory video and a lot of people were subscribing to the channel because of that but then none of our new videos had anything to do with it. So we had 60,000 subscribers but only 2,000 views per video because people would subscribe, they’d watch the next thing we would post, and say, “Oh, that’s not really what I’m interested in.” But then anytime we would post fandom content it would be much more successful, so there’s that aspect of it. And then on top of that, I don’t think we knew how much we actually knew about these fandoms. When we were growing up, our mom had one of those mini vans with a DVD player in it. And Disney movies would be on repeat in there. So we would watch Finding Nemo over and over and over or The Incredibles. And to us that was just our regular childhood. But now I don’t think we have realized how much extra knowledge we have about it. And that people might find that interesting. So we didn’t even recognize until later that we were expert-y in the field.
Ben: I think that’s exactly it. Now, when we make a video weighing in on something like Harry Potter, we have enough of a reputation where we feel like there is some value to our weigh-in because we’ve been making videos for so long. But in the beginning, it was very much this thing of like, “Who cares what I think? We have no say.” Now it’s really cool that whenever a trailer comes out people will start messaging and tweeting us and saying, “Oh my god, I can’t wait to see what you guys think about the new Solo trailer or the new Incredibles 2 trailer.”
Nerds and Beyond: On the topic of theory/explanation videos, do you decide on the end conclusion and then look through the source material to find the evidence, or do you see things coming together and think, “Maybe that would lead to this?”
J: Kind of both ways. Sometimes we stumble across a fact that we think, “Oh, I wonder if I could then draw this point to this point.” And then we might go back and fill in the other supporting evidence. Sometimes we think one thing is cool and we start researching it and realize, “Oh my god, we’ve got all this information that seems to be pointing us towards this.”
Ben: It is growing rarer that we come up with an idea or a theory and have to spend a whole bunch of time figuring out ways to support it. It seems more often that we are starting with the supporting evidence and extrapolating from there, like, “What would be a reasonable conclusion based on this information.” I think recently we made a video about why Ron [Weasley] was so bad at magic, and the bit of information we came across was that the hand-me-down wand that Ron had was just so poorly equipped specifically to be a hand me down wand. From there we said, “Let’s find all of the little fun facts about Ron being bad at magic.”
Nerds and Beyond: When you post these theories, do you hope that the creators will see them or do you want them to stay in the fandom lore?
J: It’s always great when they see them, but at the same time they almost are always appearing on the scene to tell us just how very wrong we are. It really happened twice – With our video about “Toy Story Zero” and our video about Dumbledore’s Horcrux, which J.K. Rowling responded to by tweeting, “The fact that anyone could believe this upsets me.” I was like, Ouch. So we got the attention of JK Rowling, but… (laughs)
Ben: We were having a conversation yesterday because The Film Theorists put up a video talking about whether the theories that people write are ruining the movies themselves. You do start to wonder if the people writing these movies are aware enough of your theories to where they are like, “I don’t want to write your theories and make them correct so I will write anything else other than what the theory is.” And that is an interesting thought to me, that there would be any chance that we (the internet theory mindset) is putting so much pressure on writers for sequels of movies to live up to. Because how can you really be shocking if everyone has already thought of all of the shocking things you could reveal.
Nerds and Beyond: The first theory video that launched all of this was The Pixar Theory, so how did you come across The Pixar Theory and decide “This should be in video form!”
J: That was in the middle of Year Two, and a couple of things happened all at once. First, at the time, coming up with a new video topic every single week was the hardest part of running the channel, and even sometimes still is. We had had a snow day and we had watched Brave and Up back to back (it was a great day) and I was looking up the easter eggs I could have looked for in the movies. Then I talked to Tyler and he said, “Well, have you heard of this Pixar Theory thing?” and I was like, “Whaaat?” So he sent me the link and I read the whole thing and I was like, “OH. MY. GOD.” I thought it was the coolest thing ever. And I immediately said, “Well, I know what my video for Tuesday is!”
Ben: I don’t think we had any idea it was going to explode, and it was pretty crazy. But all the credit for the theory has to go to Jon Negroni. Maybe in some way we helped to popularize it, but we did not invent the Pixar Theory.
Nerds and Beyond: For most people, being nerdy is a side hobby and they have a “real job.” Now that SCB is so big, what is it like to have this be your career?
J: It’s super fun. When we started making videos, it was sort of a vague pipe dream. Even when I imagined it being successful enough to be a full time job, it was a version where I was barely making enough money and living at home. I never imagined having an office, or having brand deals, or having an employee. It is surreal and the ultimate dream job.
Ben: Even when we hit 100,000 subscribers I remember someone sent us an elaborate drawing of our channel mascot, the grizzly eagle shark, and I said, “If we ever hit 1 million subscribers, I will get this tattooed on me.”
N&B: So did you?
Ben: Nooo. Because I was speaking facetiously, it was like “That won’t happen. That would be like suggesting that I could go to the moon next year.” And then we hit 1 million subscribers – that was probably the most surreal moment of my life. And of course, you don’t hit it overnight. What was so crazy about a million was that we were in the 900,000s for long enough that we were acclimated to the idea. But when we saw the counter tick over, it was euphoric. It was really, really fun. And then we saw our AdSense revenue increasing, and it was slowly reaching the point where it was outcompeting our day jobs. That was just so unreal.
Nerds and Beyond: J, your relationship with Beth had a lot of Harry Potter in its origins. Can you talk a bit about how not just your professional life but also your personal life has a fandom-ness to it?
J: I remember going to the Deathly Hallows Barnes and Noble midnight book party, and that was one of the things we did our first summer together. We grew up reading Harry Potter in real time and it was always one of the things we could always bond over – for my birthday for seven years in a row she got me the books on CD. We just did a photoshoot with our infant son, Luke, and you might think with a name like Luke we would have a lot of Star Wars things – but instead we decked him out in Gryffindor gear.
N&B: So be honest, he is not named after Luke Skywalker?
J: Not named after Luke Skywalker.
Ben: That was a battle he was always going to be fighting, given what we do.
Nerds and Beyond On the channel you guys cover Harry Potter, Star Wars, Disney/Pixar, and superheroes. Are there any fandoms that you are a part of that you don’t as much cover on the channel?
Ben: Well, you’re pretty big into Pokemon.
J: Oh yeah, I’m big into Pokemon – so we have a gaming channel where I do Pokemon stuff. We’re pretty big into Game of Thrones, but GOT is not very family friendly and our channel is very family friendly. We made a video about Stranger Things which was half Stranger Things half Marvel, I mean I would do more Stranger Things…
Ben: Yeah, I have not caught the Stranger Things bug. There’s one other people keep asking about… oh, Avatar the Last Airbender!
J: I would love to do videos about that.
Ben: When I was doing the Pixar Fast Facts, I finished Pixar and then I did Harry Potter and then I did Star Wars and then I did Hunger Games, and those all did pretty well. And then I did one on Batman, and it just flatlined. We realized, “There are boundaries to the Venn diagram of nerd-doms. Whereas it seemed like everybody who was Pixar was also going to be Harry Potter and a little bit of Hunger Games and Star Wars but all of those overlapping circles don’t share as much with comic book circles. So that was interesting when we were testing the waters.
Nerds and Beyond: Given that you guys are part of a lot of fandoms but you also happen to be at the center of a fandom, what do you see as the power of fandom?
J: The power of fandom is the community that forms around it. It’s just such a way for people to connect over anything. On our Patreon page, one of the reward levels is that you can go on our Discord server which is just like a big chatroom and it is so much fun.
Ben: It is extremely cool. We’ve gotten to meet so many people and gotten to know them a lot better, and so many of them have become friends with each other to the point where many of them have traveled across the country to hang out with one another. We had one person in Minnesota, one person in Kentucky, and one person in Texas who all flew to Minnesota to vacation for a week together. It has been really amazingly cool to see all of these people come together. In the beginning the idea behind the server was, “You can chat with the Super Carlin Brothers!” and that was the draw. Now we can brag out the Discord because of the people in the Discord. They are what make it so great, not us. We chime in and interact for a part of it but they’ve developed really cool friendships that maybe wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
Nerds and Beyond: We talked about you Fast Fact series, so now let’s do the Super Carlin Brothers Fast Facts – quick fandom favorites, least favorites, etc.
N&B: Hogwarts House?
J & Ben: Slytherin.
Ben: Although it is more Slytherin and in parentheses Hufflepuff because it has become this running gag – everyone is determined for me to be a Hufflepuff, but I’m pretty much a Slytherin.
N&B: Light saber color?
N&B: Favorite magical creature?
N&B: Favorite Harry Potter Character?
J: Newt Scamander? Or, oh oh oh Dobby. Or Lockhart.
Ben: Yeah, we very much love Lockhart.
J: He is just so stupid!
Ben: But the other one that I’ve come to love at the moment because I’m relistening to Deathly Hallows is Kreacher. When he makes the switch from being this hater of our heroes to being all grateful to them and making them delicious soups and stuff.
N&B: Favorite/Least Favorite Harry Potter Book/Movie?
J: Deathly Hallows for book, Fantastic Beats for movie.
Ben: Goblet of Fire for book, Fantastic Beasts for movie.
N&B: Favorite pixar moment?
J: Oh… that’s a hard one. I love the moment in Toy Story 3 when Andy is giving Bonnie the toys and he doesn’t know Woody is in the box. He picks Woody up and Bonnie goes to reach for him and Andy pulls away for a second – I love that moment. I also love the moment in Monster’s University where Mike and Sully are sitting by the lake in the human world.
Ben: That’s one of my favorite images, when they’re by the lake. I feel like one of mine might be when Walle’s hand closes on Eve at the end after he’s sort of been reprogrammed and he comes back there… uh… No Capes!
J: NO CAPES! (laughs) Where’s my SUPERSUIT? (Laughs again.) Just the whole Incredibles movie.
N&B: Favorite underrated Disney movie?
J: Emperor’s New Groove.
Ben: Oh, yeah. That was one of those that was stuck in our mom’s DVD player forever. We just watched it over and over.
J: That’s a Carlin family classic. Like the whole family loves The Emperor’s New Groove.
N&B: Favorite Disney song?
J: Oh goodness. Probably “Be a Man” from Mulan. And then I love “You’re Welcome” and “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana.
Ben: Moana had great music. I mean of course, Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the music. I’m trying to think of the song from Tangled that I love so much when they’re in the boat… “I See the Light.” That’s a good one.
N&B: Light side or dark side?
J: Do you mean which do we identify or which do we prefer?
N&B: I’ll leave that up to you.
J&Ben: G-Rey… (laugh)
Ben: I have a monster crush on Daisy Riddley.
J: Oh man, who doesn’t? But I’m gonna say dark side. The characters are just more interesting.
N&B: Porgs or Ewoks?
Ben: I think I’m gonna have to go Ewoks.
J: I don’t dislike Ewoks so probably Ewoks. They actually do things, Porgs are just there.
N&B: Star Wars prequels, original trilogy, or new trilogy?
J: I’m gonna say original trilogy, but The Force Awakens is my favorite Star Wars movie.
Ben: I can agree with that.
N&B: How many times would you guess you have read the Harry Potter series?
J: 50… I have no idea.
Ben: I probably read 1-4 between 40-50 times. 5,6,7, maybe 20.
N&B: Is that because you just don’t like them as much?
Ben: No no no. I was a crazy crazy crazy fan – my walls and toys and everything as a kid were all Harry Potter everything. I’m not sure when or where it happened, but at some point in high school I was not keeping track as well with the more complex nature of the final books as they were getting into the hallows and horcruxes and such. So as I was reading I was afraid that without going back and rereading everything so that it was fresh I was going to give myself a spoiler and then not enjoy it to its fullest. So I think with Deathly Hallows I got to Bill and Fleur’s wedding within a few days of the book coming out. But then I was like, “I don’t remember… who is Mundungus Fletcher?” The names weren’t meaning as much to me as I knew they were supposed to be and so I think I just sort of fell off a little bit. But that being said now when I reread the books a lot of the time I start with five because I’ve read 1-4 so many times. So I think I’m probably catching up.
N&B: J, one of your running gags on social media is that you always say your favorite mug is the one that currently has coffee in it. Do you have an actual favorite mug?
J: I have two at home, one is completely white with an illustration of Mickey Mouse on it and the other is blue and it has Pikachu on it. And then the two at the office – I’m actually drinking out of one of them today – one is a Butterbeer mug and one is a Slytherin tankard.
N&B: And finally, what are you looking forward to in 2018?
J: Big ones include Solo movie, Incredibles 2, and Fantastic Beasts 2 – those are the ones at the top of my list.
Ben: On top of that we are doing a meet up with our audience in June which I am super excited about. So we’re doing one for Incredibles 2 and potentially one in November for Fantastic Beasts where we’re actually going to travel to a big city and do a big group meet up – watch the movie, take pictures, do a meet and greet after, and it’s gonna be great. Whenever we get a good opportunity to meet a lot of those people at once that’s just really a fun, exciting moment.