Video blogger learns YouTube stardom has a price

John Holden
John Holden, a video blogger who grew up in Bemidji, recently had one of his videos featured on YouTube. In the last two weeks the video has been played more than 700,000 times.
Image courtesy of

John Holden knows his work isn't for everyone. The songs he wrote for the rock band he led in high school aren't what you'd call Top-40 material.

Take this 30-second ditty:

"They came in the night, and they stole my bike. Then they threw it in the river. Went to the police. They said, 'We don't care.' Then they threw me in the river. And I found my bike!"

So, it's really not that great of a leap from what John Holden was doing then to what he's been doing for the last year and a half: a video blog.

"It's kind of like performing in a stadium full of idiots."

It's profane and outrageous -- his fans would say hilarious -- and most of it simply can't be played on the radio.

Until recently, Holden's weekly video postings enjoyed only a tiny cult following.

Then Brad O'Farrell stepped in.

He's on YouTubes' volunteer Community Council, and he nominated one of Holden's videos to be featured on the Web site's front page.

"I was like, 'You guys probably aren't going to feature him,'" O'Farrell says, "because it's not the kind of stuff they usually promote."

And what kind of stuff do they usually promote?

"Cats," O'Farrell replies. "And like, not things that are so disturbing and controversial."

But O'Farrell likes John Holden's work. He says it's well-written and creative, and for whatever the reason, YouTube went along with his suggestion.

That means that for two days this month, a John Holden video was one of the first things you'd see when you visited YouTube.

The video O'Farrell chose is actually a response to another video Holden found on YouTube. It features a shaggy, bearded guy, who looks like a hippie, yelling into the camera. He swears, cursing God.

The hippie
A frame from the video John Holden excerpted in his featured YouTube video. The man in the picture contributes to YouTube under the name "sadvipran."
Image courtesy of

"God, [expletive], you're an empty eyeball!"

Then John comes on singing. Like the song from high school, the words are kind of hard to make out.

To help you get the joke, Holden provides closed captioning: "If God is an eyeball, I guess he can't hear our prayers. He's got no ears."

And then there's some more swearing.

It goes back and forth like that. Clips from the hippie's video interspersed with clips of Holden making fun of him.

Hippie: "Smell is particles floating through the air being consumed by your olfactory senses."

Holden: "But sound is just little hairs and vibrations."

Hippie: "Hold off on sound."

Holden: "What about touch?"

And so forth. Holden says in a normal week, about 100 people would watch one of his videos. In the last two weeks, "If God is an Eyeball" has played more than 700,000 times.

People have done more than watch. On YouTube, you can leave comments, and John Holden got a lot of them.

"Your inbox just fills up as soon as it gets featured," he says. "Thousands of messages flood in."

There have been 2,400 comments so far. Some people really liked it, but most of them didn't.

Here's a sampling, (swear words removed:)

"I hope you die and burn in Hell, you maggots. You disgust me and the world."

"Your video is not good. In other words it stinks. Making fun of God is not funny."

"People like this should not be given a mike."

"Keep your daytime jobs, if you actually have one."

Holden had braced himself for a negative response.

"That's what generally happens on the front page, people hate stuff really hard. I think it's mostly teenagers watching, that's what I imagine. I imagine it's this huge crowd of teenagers. It's kind of like performing in a stadium full of idiots."

But some of the messages really got to him, like "Why are you picking on that old hippie?"

"Those ones I feel like, yah, why did I do that?" he says.

John Holden doesn't think he should do videos like that anymore.

"Now that I'm kind of a YouTube star, I might come off as a real jerk if I pick on people. I thought it was funny, and I thought I got away with it and I thought people appreciated it when it was just really small. But now, I'm a little bit worried."

John Holden describes the whole experience as "painful." He never wants to be up on the front page again. But he hopes that little segment of the YouTube viewing public that liked what they saw will keep watching him.

Another one of his recent videos has already drawn close to 100,000 viewings.