Journalist Adrian Cusack reviews “How did we get here?” the new documentary film Jacksepticeye which was recently released on Apple TV and iTunes:
Almost ten years ago, in a remote cabin in Ballycumber, Sean McLoughlin created a YouTube account and started uploading videos. He had just gone through what he describes as the most difficult years of his life.
“Nothing in my life will ever get as dark as this time,” he says. “It was extreme isolation, extreme loneliness.”
On his YouTube channel, under the handle Jacksepticeye, Sean filmed himself playing, commenting and reacting to video games.
“At the time, I was hugely dependent on that[YouTube]audience to get through my days, because they were the only people I had to talk to. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t drive, so even though I had a job I couldn’t access it.
“There was no opportunity to make new friends. Everyone in Ballycumber is slightly older than me so there was no one to hang out with.”
What could not have been predicted in those early days was that Sean’s YouTube videos would be hugely successful around the world.
Over 28 million people are now subscribed to his channel, which has helped make the 32-year-old very wealthy. A recent irish time interview introduced him as “Jacksepticeye, Offaly’s millionaire YouTuber”.
Now based in England, he is adored by legions of young fans across the US and Europe. Shane Lowry is his only rival for the title of Offaly’s most famous person, yet the demographics and global spread of his fanbase mean he could probably walk down the street in several Irish towns unrecognized.
The story of how the charismatic Cloghan native became an online superstar is explored in his new authorized documentary, How did we come here?
The 80-minute film was released internationally on February 28, as a paid livestream event on the Moment House platform. It has since been made available through Apple TV and iTunes, breaking into the top 10 on the iTunes streaming chart in mid-March.
How did we come here? revolves around a comedy-style show of the same name that Sean undertook at 30 venues across the US and Europe in 2017 and 2018.
Onstage footage of him telling jokes and stories in concert halls is intercut with reflections on his upbringing as he revisits old haunts in Cloghan, Ballycumber and Athlone, where he attended college and lived for several years as his YouTube channel exploded. in popularity.
He grew up as the youngest of a family of five, with two older brothers and two older sisters. “Talking in my family was like an Olympic sport – and I was going for gold!” he says.
His mother Florrie, his brothers Malcolm and Simon, and his sister Susan, are all interviewed in the film, and family struggles over the years are touched upon. Sean says his two brothers overcame serious difficulties with alcohol.
Simon explains that his younger brother was determined to follow a different path. “Sean has seen a lot of things that I’ve been through and bad things that I’ve done. He’s never walked the same path as me. He’s always had a strong head on his shoulders,” says Simon.
The film shows Sean telling stories on stage about serving as an altar boy in Cloghan and a New Year’s Eve ritual in which turf was burned on pitchforks during a parade through the village. “Before, I thought it was normal,” he says.
He is filmed returning to the house where he grew up in Cloghan, now the local veterinary clinic, and then to the hut in Ballycumber where his family moved to when he was 18.
He studied music production in college, but dropped out early and speaks movingly of being unsure of his purpose in life.
“We never talked about mental health in Ireland when I was little. It’s much better, but at the time it was really difficult to talk to anyone about it,” he recalls.
When he was at his lowest, YouTube gave him a sense of direction. “Essentially, it was a release because he would have gone crazy,” says his brother, Malcolm. “I think he forgot about the outside world. He was so immersed in this thing, it was like this little secret he could find back home.”
YouTube success completely changed Sean’s life “because I literally had nothing, and then this thing happens that really makes me want to work and makes me happy and passionate about something.”
In 2014, when he had attracted 60,000 subscribers to his channel, he moved from Ballycumber to a flat in Athlone.
There he worked tirelessly on his videos – posting two every day – and by 2017 his subscriber count had reached “mid-teens”.
Standing outside his old flat by the River Shannon in Athlone, he says it was a place where he “worked all day on YouTube, never took a break or went out, only to get groceries”.
Malcolm says Sean was “working 15 hour days” at the time, “and even when I wanted to see him, at home, I had to make an appointment”.
Directed by Tucker Prescott, the film is captivating and beautifully shot. While Sean seems to have a genuine and endearing affection for his fans, not every scene in the documentary works.
One of the stories on his show ridicules former RTE journalist Ciaran Mullooly for arranging an interview with him and then not showing up at the agreed time because he was reporting on the floods that were happening in Athens.
Sean mocks the reporter’s accent, saying Mullooly had praised him before the interview but “then ditched me to do a story about the fucking rain”.
The story is told with an air of smugness that seems quite shocking and uncharacteristic of the down-to-earth individual elsewhere in the film.
The wealth and fame his success on YouTube earned is only vaguely hinted at, though a story is included of when young fans first recognized him in public while shopping at Tesco in Athlone.
It’s clear that Sean is a talented communicator whose videos resonate with young people seeking connection and community online, but it would have been interesting for the film to examine in more detail what made Jacksepticeye’s videos capture the imagination of so many people.
As for what lies ahead, Sean says part of that involves continuing to figure out who he is as an individual. “I’m excited to do this in my early 30s,” he says.