Let me start by pointing out their weaknesses: their videos lack artistry.
They can’t act and they have all-right visual effects, cinematography and editing… and that’s the extend of my criticism. Despite the uninspiring visuals, their videos have solid substance. More solid than people give them credit for.
Back then, Dan and Phil -or Phan as they are often affectionately called by their fans- were often compared with Smosh when the latter were mostly just Anthony and Ian; some people insisted the comparison was 100% accurate to the bone. But, apart from being popular Youtube duos, there is nothing similar about them.
Even though there are a handful of Smosh videos that I truly love (like Anthony is Dating a Fan, which I consider somewhat surreal, and The Haunting, which is ambiguous and strongly emphasised on fear of the unknown), I think their humour is too forced and simplistic most of the time (at least, that was how they were when I last watched them years ago). Phan, on the other hand, have made lots of puns, accidental double entendres, non-sequiturs and, the best of all, wits.
Puns require mastery of the language and sincere playfulness. The unintentional risque innuendos convince me they are just normal human beings who make innocent mistakes. The nonsensical humour indicates some level of admirable non-conformity. Wits are essentially the results of intelligence having a sense of humour. Oh, and I should mention a large number of Phan’s jokes were unfiltered; they were made on the spot and derived from their genuine personal quirks. And those are just some of the reasons why I love them.
Their phandom is still strong to this day. But, from time to time, I encountered comments made by former fans who stopped watching them because their videos barely change. From the surface, that seems to the case. From the surface.
I actually believe their videos have changed significantly. Not visually, but substantially. In order to discuss that, I have to separate them as two individuals. Let me start with Phil.
Unsurprisingly, his very first video is unedited and tediously-paced. When he started making videos on a more regular basis, the pacing was still unremarkable despite the editing. It always took him some time to go straight to the point. Nowadays, he still does that sometimes… which I don’t mind at all.
Back then (in some videos, at least), the fillers he inserted between the intros and the main topics were uninteresting. Nowadays, the fillers are a lot more interesting and may even subtly compliment the main topics. His editing is also a factor; while his older videos felt tiringly slow, his newer ones have significantly steadier and more absorbing flow. But, Phil’s evolution seems less momentous when you compare it with Dan’s.
The content of his videos is more or less the same as his best friend’s: the retelling of life mishaps. While Phil treats his stories as tales of goofs, Dan has a different approach. A more personal approach.
In the earlier years, he treated his stories as if their sole purpose was to make him look #relatable. Gradually, he became more self-aware; contemplation regarding how he lived his life slowly materialised. Of course, ‘contemplative-ness’ can be shallow and high-sounding. Thankfully, he is never associated with any of those adjectives.
He never pretends his thoughts are more profound and authentic than they really are. He downplays his own intelligence. He is also not a cultured snob, being open about his enjoyment of pop culture. The personal stories he tells indicate how far from well-adjusted his life is. Also, unlike Phil, Dan’s videos are more solemn overall.
‘Daniel and Depression’ is one of my favourite Youtube videos. He talks about his personal struggle with depression while performing his trademark funny skits tastefully. Darkness and light. Poignant and humorous. I have a soft spot for such emotional equilibrium.
I should mention younger Dan was not humorously sophisticated. As much as I am able to enjoy crass jokes at times, everyone can create more refined ones if we just try. Dan tried and, with the amount of wits he has made, I believe he is successful regarding this. While Phil’s humour was never crass, it also gets wittier as his career progresses.
Now, back to Dan and Phil as a duo. Even though they have been collaborating since 2009, it wasn’t until 2014 when they made a shared channel: Dan and Phil Games.
When I first heard about the announcement, I was not immediately excited. I mean, they were not the first non-gaming Youtubers who jumped to the Let’s Play bandwagon. Well, their first video made me hooked and I still love their shared channel to this day.
Unlike many Youtubers, they don’t follow trends willy-nilly. When I watch other content creators doing trending Youtube challenges, the results are often bland and monotone. Phan don’t always do them. But, when they do, the results are fun to watch.
Instead of relying on the trends to generate clicks, they prefer to rely on their personalities. They also make sure they don’t fake the enjoyment; considering how much they love video games (and Phil made his own computer game when he was fourteen), their gaming channel’s creation is also driven by passion, is not entirely profit-oriented and is not about being in fashion. Their idealism is still in charge. One can clearly see it in the editing.
In many Let’s Play videos, the Youtubers’ faces (when shown) are restricted to one corner of the frame and mostly stay there throughout the gameplays. Phan, on the other hand, constantly show their faces in full frames, usually in the intro of each video and when they are immersed in their own conversations (which may or may not have anything to do with the games). This system asserts Phan, not the games, as the stars.
Okay, if you frame it that way, it does reek of self-conceitedness. But, we often fail to acknowledge how channels’ long-term success are not entirely reliant on genres and fads, how the personalities behind the videos are as crucial, if not more! Being plastic may award you quick fame and fortune. But, it also promises you quick downfall.
Their gaming live streams also intrigue me. I am shocked to see how similar they are to the videos that have gone through the post-production stage. If I don’t pay attention the word ‘Streamed’ in the description, I wouldn’t know they were broadcasted live! The pacing of the live streams and the edited videos aren’t starkly different, with the former being only slightly slower. Phan’s mannerism in both formats is also identical.
The fact that their unfiltered live broadcasts encapsulate atmosphere similar to their polished videos show how good they are as hosts. Even though I was initially shocked by this, I realise I shouldn’t be so. After years being Youtubers and not-so-short stint as radio DJs for the BBC, it would be deplorable of them if they don’t develop the skills.
It also shows their sincerity as beloved Youtubers. Their on-screen personas turn out to be their real selves, not characters. Their relatability is not manufactured, it is authentic! Phil is indeed prone to make accidental double entendres (one must not forget ‘lady door’ and ‘female exit’), Dan is indeed an aggressive screamer when under duress. Even though I detest likening idols to your best friends, I also cannot blame anyone from being clouded by such sentiment.
Now, it’s time for potentially-mined conjectures.
Every person’s transformation, to some degrees, is driven by his/her personality and Phan are no exception. But, my so-called analyses of their personalities are… well… almost entirely unfounded.
I have seen comments stating how Phil has become more confident and I agree with them. Others may have better evidences for this claim. Not me. My main one is his collab video with Connor Franta which he seemed at ease; compared that to Dan’s collab with Connor which was awkward. But, it is one and relatively old video. The rest of my evidences are just my gut feelings.
When it comes to Dan’s transformation, he seems to become less insecure by the years. Again, my evidences are mostly my gut feelings. I cannot tangibly prove the cockiness and crassness shown in his earlier videos were meant to compensate his sense of insecurity. But, I have one evidence which many of my fellow fans can visibly see: his hair.
Fans, including me, love his wavy hair, affectionately known as ‘hobbit hair’. We think he is more good-looking with it. But, he seemed to hate it. For many years, most of his on-camera appearances embodied it in the straightened form. To our delight, he ends up embracing the natural waviness, albeit the journey to get rid of his synthetic hair is very sluggish. Self-acceptance, no matter how trivial it is, warms my cold, cynical heart. Well, to some extend.
I also have to point out that, to my knowledge, Phan have never publicly expressed disenchantment about the state of their careers. Among major Youtubers, this is an anomaly. Personally, I have two hypotheses which may or may not explain its existence:
It is either Phan are extremely private who filter every personal info they want to share, stricter than the US government vets refugees (yes, I just went there)….
They are sincerely happy about their careers. Maybe their pickiness about which trends to follow, their insistence to retain some level of idealism, prevent them from losing their passions. Maybe they are one of those entertainers who successfully balance out the idealistic and moneymaking facets of their occupations. Just maybe.
God, I should stop this essay soon. It was meant to validate and rethink my impassioned admiration for two of my favourite idols. Obviously, being a fanboy, my desire for validation wins. Oh, well.
Oh, and one more thing before I conclude it:
In the beginning, I tried to make Phan look good by throwing Smosh, a Youtube channel I am not a fan of, under the bus. Admittedly, it seems unfair and unethical. But, I did that not because I am big Smosh hater, but because I want to take a piss on the people who superficially compare both pairs.
When you insist two individuals are similar just because of their skin-deep attributes, then you should expect spiteful reactions! If Phan are the same as Smosh, then they are also the same as PrankvsPrank, ASAPScience and Rhett & Link! I mean, they are also Youtube duos!
Like, come on! You have to be one proud nitwit if you see profoundness in trivial resemblances! In fact, your confined focus to outward appearances show how illiterate you are about the Youtubers you are supposedly critiquing!
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