YouTube Sensation Toddy Smith Is Keeping It Real on and Off-Screen
Written By: Dash Finley
Photographed By: Travis McCoy
Styled By: Teresita Madrigal
Groomed By: Lexi Kleyla Toddy Smith
It’s just past 8 a.m. in a slightly muggy studio space in Downtown LA, but Toddy Smith is ready to roll. Both literally, insofar as his seemingly boundless supply of energy, and figuratively, since he’s strolled in holding a Canon XF100 Camcorder.
Then again, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that the 28-year-old Smith has made a name for himself as a prolific content creator, boasting over one million subscribers on YouTube and 2.4 million followers on Instagram. Smith’s fans respond in droves to his content, which runs the gamut from sincere video diaries and slice-of-life travel vlogs to irreverent comedy bits—all delivered with a 20-gigawatt smile and a sense of candid authenticity. But despite his rapid ascent up the new-media ladder, today offers Smith a chance to take on the most tested of old-media rituals: the photo shoot.
Before long, a thrum of activity ensues as wardrobe, hair, grooming and lighting are all set up simultaneously. Flashy outfits from upmarket designers like Gucci, William Lei and Menlo House are paraded out and probingly considered. Amidst the maelstrom, however, Smith seems serenely composed. Perhaps the soaring trajectory of his career has prepared Smith for this moment, or perhaps he’s comforted by the presence of long-time friend Darren Nuzzo, who’s looking around the set in slightly more wide-eyed fashion. Nuzzo’s known Smith since they were both just two creatively-inclined kids attending Edison High School in their scenic hometown of Huntington Beach. Then, after graduation, Smith began splitting his time between attending college near Orange County and working as a bartender at numerous SoCal nightspots.
There, Smith says, “I got my start…making videos on Vine with my friend Scotty [Sire]. We would get off our shift bartending and then just go home and make stupid stuff together.” But for the young audience on Vine—the then-nascent six-second video app—these videos were anything but stupid, and Smith had soon amassed over 330,000 followers on the platform.
On Oct. 27, 2016, cataclysm struck when Vine’s parent company, Twitter, tanked the financially unstable app, disabling all uploads permanently. “[One minute] I was living in a house in LA with four other Viners, which was fun…then Vine died, and everyone panicked,” recalls Smith. “At first, they were all trying to make Facebook videos. Then, people were realizing they could make money off YouTube videos, so I started getting into that as well, and I found this passion for making [longer-form] content.”
On YouTube, Smith found his footing and hit his stride, building a new audience brick-by-brick. Nevertheless, Smith largely eschewed the need to embody an over-the-top character to garner views. Instead, he connects with viewers by giving them time to become acquainted with his naturally buoyant personality. The majority of Smith’s most popular videos do not rely heavily on scripts or structure; he instead employs a naturalistic véritė style, that depicts their subject in his natural habitat—whether it be it at home or on the road, hanging out or light-heartedly goofing around with a host of fellow YouTube creators such as Jason Nash, Matt King and Jeff Wittek. “I am funny in real life, but when I make videos, I try to capture what’s actually happening with me and my friends,” states Smith. “It’s slower-paced than a typical vlog that’s just cut-cut-cut… I’m not a stand-up comedian. When [the humor] happens, it happens, but if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’m not trying to force it. I want people to feel something when they watch my videos and to really experience the emotion that I’m feeling at that time.” In regards to the full breadth of his content, Smith can perceive a definite progression on display. “It’s like growing up with us over the last few years,” he remarks. “[It’s] the evolution of ourselves.”
Back in real-time at the studio, Smith brings this ethos to life, gamely making his way through the gamut of outdated technology over the course of the shoot—twirling the cord of an old landline phone around himself and mugging while yelling into a chunky ’90s cell. Smith is particularly taken by a series featuring a purple blazer inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. “I’m gonna post that one to Instagram when we’re done here!” he quips. But, never does he light up more than when paired for a shot with his old pal Nuzzo, both clad in ensembles that conjure to mind a ’70s cop show duo. When someone jokes that Nuzzo is the brains and Smith is the brawn, he self-deprecatingly chuckles along and strikes a Starsky & Hutch-style pose, employing his skill at taking a punchline to its logical endgame. “I’m trying to enjoy [it all],” he says with a grin. “But with each step I make, I say, I’m not gonna be happy until this next thing is achieved. And then when it is, I start thinking, what’s next?”
As it turns out, what’s next for Smith and Nuzzo is no prime-time mystery—the pair recently wrote a book together, titled “I’ll Give You a Dollar If You Consider This Art.” This latest effort, which came out in October, is a source of great pride for Smith, who sees it as a natural next step. “Before [the videos], I started writing short stories a number of years ago, and that’s where I truly found my passion for making stuff,” he says. “The creative process behind the book started years ago, when Darren and I were both experiencing different things in our lives, and we started putting them into action on the page. We were both going to school at the time, and we would talk about creating this, but we never thought it would really happen… So it’s been an ongoing process for some time. We have this email chain that started and sparked everything… We would send work back and forth, edit each other’s stuff and it all just grew from there.”
Much like Smith’s diverse output on YouTube, “I’ll Give You a Dollar…” is a kitchen-sink compendium consisting of poems, comics, short stories, diary entries and philosophical treatises. “Now we’re creating art in this new media world where everyone’s putting content out on these different platforms, from YouTube to Instagram, to Reddit, to Twitter,” says Nuzzo. “So we didn’t just sit down and say, ‘Let’s write a novel.’ We said, ‘Maybe we’ll start writing a novel for five days, then maybe three poems, and we’ll do comics for a week…’ It took us a while to embrace that we were so diverse and could take on a variety of different genres.”
Smith agrees wholeheartedly, stating, “It’s how people consume media now. Everything is very quick. It flows nicely how we set this up because everyone today, myself included, has a very short attention span… But the book also shows a different side of myself and what I’m capable of. The stories are fiction, but they come from a non-fictional place about my life and Darren’s life. When [fans] read it, they’ll experience what we have over the course of our lives. It captures a human connection between two people.”
No one can say for sure where said life-course will take Smith next. But as he flashes that perfect smile while standing atop an old tube TV in his slick leather drivers like a conquering hero, it feels like the smart man’s bet would be up, up and away.
If you ask Smith, however, he remains ever-pragmatic about the future, joking about how the next generation of consumers seems to be moving over to new platforms like TikTok. In facing the winds of change, Smith knows he must also grow with the times. “When I think about the young kids who are watching me now, I remember that they’re going to get older too,” he remarks with a sly grin. “And one day, they will be the people in charge—the casting directors and company heads. Hopefully, they’ll remember me then, too.”
Toddy Smith Toddy Smith