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Lucas Cruikshank, 15 / FEE Entertainment
When Lucas Cruikshank received a video camera for his 12th birthday, he did what any kid his age would do: make inane skits and post them on YouTube. “I never really thought anything of it,” Cruikshank recalls. “Maybe I’d make a couple of people laugh. Maybe not even any.”
Indeed, few people laughed at his first batch of videos, most of which featured friends and family members. But when he uploaded his first video starring Fred, Cruikshank’s impersonation of a frenetic 6-year-old, the laughter became deafening. Cruikshank’s Fred videos-38 of them so far, made over three “seasons”-have been viewed 285 million times and counting.
The huge playcounts on YouTube generate tens of thousands of dollars a month, and have made the young Nebraskan the highest-earning partner in YouTube’s ad-sharing program, according to the video site. Among his sponsors: big media companies like Nintendo and 20th Century Fox, as well as a host of smaller advertisers. A new deal with GR Branding to sell licensed Fred merchandise-T-shirts, buttons, key chains-will add to that. In April, Fred became the first YouTuber to surpass 1 million subscribers.
Fred’s signature quality: a shrill voice that can only be described as a chipmunk under severe duress. Lucas comes up with the ideas, operates the camera, and does all the editing himself. “I can get a Fred video done in less than half a day,” he says “It doesn’t take up my whole life or anything.”
He recently signed with Hollywood’s United Talent Agency-home to such stars as Miley Cyrus, Johnny Depp, and Seth Rogen-and tapped the powerful law firm Ziffren, Brittenham and Branca to handle his legal affairs. “Obviously, I don’t want to do Fred forever, so they’re working on the offline side of it,” Cruikshank explains.