Conversation with Deva Dalporto, Founder of MyLifeSuckers
On Not Feeding Trolls & Saying Yes to Yourself
November 8, 2017
1. What is your business?
MyLifeSuckers is a collection of internet-based humor videos created for parents and children that I write and perform. I make money mainly through sponsorships with major brands like Clorox, Frito-Lay, and Cheerios. I recently posted a Keurig-sponsored video with a pony in my house that went viral (meaning millions of views). I make a small amount of advertising revenue from Facebook and YouTube, but the sponsors are the real way to monetize online video.
I first started my career as an actor in Los Angeles. After I had kids, I was still acting, but I gave it up after having a terrible experience with a forgotten breast pump on a film shoot. Then I became a writer for Nickelodeon, starting when my daughter was 11 months old. I worked there for nearly seven years. It was a great mom job because I worked 28 hours a week remotely from my house, and I could work around my kids’ schedules. I would work when my kids napped or after they went to bed. But then I developed an autoimmune disorder called Hashimototo’s, so I went on medical leave from my job. While I was on medical leave, my husband got me a video camera so I could fulfill my former actress dreams, but I wasn’t very gracious about it. I felt pressured and stressed that I had to make something with it.
One day, however, I got an idea to do a parody video based on the Ylvis song, “What Does the Fox Say.” My parody was called “What Does the Kid Say” and instead of the noises a fox makes, I made a video about what kinds of noises kids make. Like “Waaa-waaaa-waaaa” and “Wipe my butt!” My husband and I taught ourselves how to use the video camera and how to use iMovie to edit. When we were done, my husband thought it was cute and said we should put it on YouTube so our friends and family could see it. Once we did that, the video went viral. I think the video ended up getting over 10 million views collectively.
Going viral can be great, but it also has a downside. It was kind of a terrifying experience to go from being a private mom before I posted the video to having press calling, getting death threats, haters, and all of this crazy attention. My husband happened to be out of town when the video went viral and, it was actually really scary. I didn’t sleep for three days. It was an intense experience.
After everything died down, I started to see a kernel of an idea to combine my love of writing, acting, and improv comedy into one endeavor. So, a few weeks later, I made another video, called “Let it Go–Mom Parody” and that video went viral too. It was bigger from a media attention perspective. After two big hits, I had a “holy cow” moment, and I thought I could dedicate my time to creating these videos. Had I known then what I know now about having a YouTube channel, I would have hit the ground a little harder. When I first started, I was making a video every 6 weeks, but now I post two to three videos every week.
About a year after the first video went viral, I got an inquiry from my first sponsor. It was the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility. They asked if I did sponsored videos, but the idea of producing something for someone else made me nervous. The foundation wanted me to do a funny video about drinking and driving. I just couldn’t envision that, so I told them no. Eventually, I came around when I had an idea to do a version of “Jingle Bells” called the “Holidays are Hell.” The idea was to connect the stressful nature of the holiday to parents drinking more and, unfortunately, driving with their kids in the car. Since then, I’ve worked with dozens of companies in that format.
I signed with United Talent Agency about a year ago, and they help me with sponsored content and other opportunities. I feel very lucky to have such a high-quality agent. Twenty years ago when I was trying to be an actress, I never would have believed that I’d one day end up with an agent of that caliber.
2. What obstacles did you face in getting started and thinking of yourself as an expert in a new setting?
Death threats and the negative side of being a public figure. There is an intense dark underbelly when you are a personality on the internet. I get millions of wonderful, beautiful comments, but I also get negative comments and Sanctimommy comments. I posted a video this morning about how my house looks after the weekend, and of course, I got a comment along the lines of, “My children would never create messes like that.” I wanted to say, “Uh—wrong channel! I am not a perfect mom!”
I have had to go to the police before with some of the death and rape threats. I think that women on the internet are targets. Women are targets in the world in general, so it is just an amplification of how we are treated and perceived. YouTube has put in place some new protections that capture abusive language in a filter. Those protections help, and so does time. When the first video went viral, I was terrified. Now, the haters don’t affect me at all. And there is so much more good than bad. Magnitudes more.
3. Was there ever a particularly tough time that in retrospect was a priceless learning moment?
Learn to tune out the vitriol is a big one. The other thing I would say is that I was one of the first people to do this mom humor video on the internet, and the toughest thing for me was feeling copied. It took a while for me to get to a place to accept that there is room for everyone, and you are your own unique person. Just do your own spin on things because you are the only you. There is always room for new ideas and new people.
4. Were your family and friends helpful or obstacles in launching your business? How so?
My husband has been endlessly supportive, even though I had to fire him as the camera guy because he’s an engineer and doesn’t quite have an artistic eye. My videos have my friends and family in them, so they are an integral part of my success. My friend Jacquie has been endless supportive and is a huge part of MyLifeSuckers. Everyone in the videos are either family members or friends. I couldn’t do this without them.
5. Were there any partnerships or advice that were particularly helpful?
My friend Jill Smokler from my Nickelodeon days founded Scary Mommy, and she gave me great advice when I was getting really hateful comments. She said, “Never respond.” I follow her advice to not feed the trolls. I am never going to prove to them that I am worthy. I thank the nice comments and ignore the trolls.
Jenn Man, from People I Want to Punch in the Throat, approached me when my first video went viral. She had a similar experience of instant internet celebrity and was looking to give me advice and support. She really taught me that all boats rise together and that when you support each other you can do great things. I have taken that to heart, and I try to highlight great women in the mom comedy space on my social media.
6. What are some successes you have had with your business that make you proud?
I actually had to go into therapy when all of this was happening because I was having a hard time owning the success. I think this can be a typically female thing: we do tremendously powerful things and have a hard time taking the credit. I actually had to do work on myself because I would think, “Why aren’t I feeling more proud of this thing I created? I need to own it. I’ve gotten hundreds of millions of views over the past few years, and people are fans of my work.” Self-esteem and deserving issues have always been a huge issue for me.
But now I am getting better at seeing how far I have come and feeling proud. Recently, a news anchor said, “You did all of this from your little kitchen.” Yeah, I did do all of this from my little kitchen. Pretty cool.
7. Is your business impacted or helped by government regulations?
With parody videos, there are huge copyright issues and Fair Use issues. If something is a true parody, as long as you are not using the original track and recreating the music, you are allowed to make fun of it. My stuff is more derivative than true parody, so it is a murky gray area. For the most part, all of the record companies have been really awesome. I did have one video that I was asked to take off Facebook and put only on YouTube so the record company could monetize it on that platform.
When I first started, I didn’t make a penny because the music companies took every cent of the advertising revenue. YouTube has recently started to do a revenue sharing with the groups that own the music rights and the parody writers, so I get a little pinch of the ad revs.
8. What would be your biggest piece of advice you would give to yourself ten years ago?
Before all of this, back when I was trying to be an actress, YouTube didn’t exist. I wish I had started creating my own stuff anyway instead of waiting around for people to give me an opportunity. For years I heard “No, no, no” just tons of rejection. “You’re not pretty enough” or “You’re too tall” or “Not funny enough.” All the reasons they could say no to me in these audition rooms. The internet gave me the opportunity to say yes to myself. And I’ve been able to bring my creativity direct to the consumer, and they love it!
9. What was the best and worst piece of advice you have received as you were starting your business?
I had a lack of advice. I didn’t know anyone who was making YouTube videos. I am an old mom, not some hip 18-year-old internet savvy person. I was so frustrated at the beginning because it was such an opaque industry. It would have been helpful to know that you are supposed to post weekly. I had no idea. I could have built it so much faster had I known some best practices. I was creating these videos that were reaching millions of people but didn’t know what to do with it. I actually didn’t know you could subscribe to a YouTube channel until I released my “I Just Need Some Space” video, eight months into posting videos. Oh my god, you have to ask for subscribers? I have years of videos with no call-to-action.
10. What are your hopes for your business for the next five years?
I am exploring videos featuring other moms. I was just in Southern California taping a video with some moms I met on a Banana Boat commercial. It was fun to bring some new, young talent onto the channel.
I’ve written a TV show pilot idea that I would love to get going. Having been in the Hollywood scene for ten years, I have no illusions about it happening though. It is a long shot. But I also now realize that I could just do the show myself on the internet. So that is an option.
In the future, I want to put out my own album, but that takes time. I need to get breathing room to work on it. Eventually, I would like to also write a humor parenting book.
But mostly, I’m not planning. I’m just seeing where this all takes me.
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Conversation date: September 25, 2017
Photo credit: Aaron Fagerstrom Photography