Max Fosh is an English YouTuber, content creator, and comedian, famed for his numerous stunts, such as pranking an entire country by turning Gatwick Airport into Luton, hatching a fish from supermarket caviar, or legally becoming his parent’s favourite child. I talked to Max about his life as a YouTuber, his creative process, and his unfulfilled desire to waterski behind a cruise ship.
First off, you’ve completed a lot of really fantastic stunts that have racked up a lot of views and have gone pretty viral. What’s been your personal favourite video, which are you proudest of, and which was the most enjoyable to film?
My personal favourite video would probably be [the one we shot in] Iceland, when I cooked a ready meal at an active volcano, because we had spent two years monitoring volcanoes to see when we could go. In terms of being able to film, it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life – just going and cooking something in a volcano really late at night. It was unlike anything I’d ever done before. In terms of the video structure, for myself and the team (my editor Aziz and producer Molly), it was the best bit of work that we’ve done.
Given how popular your stunts have been so far, do you feel a lot of pressure to constantly one-up yourself when it comes to video ideas?
Of course, that is always going to be an issue, but it’s kind of trying to look at each individual video and each individual upload as its own video, rather than trying to one-up myself. But it is definitely difficult; it’s definitely something that we think about. But, once we press publish, it’s almost out of our hands as to how well the video does. We have a structure about how we come up with ideas, and if it fits the various criteria that we have in the office as to what makes a good video, then we just post it.
Do you ever have any ideas that you aren’t able to carry out, or haven’t turned out the way you wanted? How do you deal with failure if it does happen?
Yeah, of course. We’ve been trying to waterski behind a cruise ship for about four years, and it always just falls through last minute. That is just part and parcel of the job – there are video ideas that are great on paper but logistically are very difficult, and the only way to get over that is to just keep uploading!
What are the benefits and drawbacks of doing YouTube full-time? If you’re making a living off of your videos, how important is viewer engagement? Does the way payment works on YouTube mean you have to make videos people want to see, versus what you want to make?
Benefits are obvious – I get to be my own boss, I get to professionally do very fun and silly things, and my job has taken me all around the world. It’s now got to a place where, with the audience size that we’ve got, it pays pretty well and is able to sustain myself and two to three others completely full-time, which is great.
Viewer engagement, of course, is important, but ultimately I think YouTube is all about authenticity, and audiences can see when you’re being authentic and when you’re not. They resonate with authenticity, and that comes through with the kind of videos that you make. There’ve been a few videos that I’ve done because I know, “okay, I need to get a check in this month”, but often I’m just making the videos that I really want to make because that’s the most sustainable model.
Who are the coolest people you’ve had the opportunity to work with during your career? And do you find that, as a YouTuber, your closest friends tend to be other content creators? How have these friendships helped you with your creative process – do you influence each other and help each other out with ideas?
I think I’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible people, but the people who I’ve found to be the coolest people, and have been most excited to have the opportunity to work with, are people who mainly do YouTube behind the scenes – so managers of certain YouTube groups or smaller creators. Off the top of my head, Jordan Schwarzenberger, who runs the Sidemen, and Victor Bengtsson, who also helps manage the Sidemen, are some of the most impressive people I’ve ever worked with. And, in terms of creators, I’ve really enjoyed working with Colin and Samir, who are like the YouTube gurus in the space, and they are so well-informed and intelligent.
In terms of YouTubers as my close friends, I kind of got into this relatively late in terms of my age – I started at university and, only when I was going full time was I around twenty-five, which seems very young, is very young, but from YouTube circles isn’t. I know that a lot of other people have grown up making YouTube videos and so their entire network are other creators. All of my closest friends are from uni and have nothing to do with YouTube, and do very different jobs – I’m really grateful for that, because it means you can completely separate work from your personal life. I’ve got an office now, and I work nine-till-five, ten-till-six like most people, and when I leave the office, I’ve left the office. That’s been a very healthy adaptation.
I do have some good YouTube friends – I’ve got Zac Alsop, Will Lenney, or Cal McGinley or Callux, and we talk to each other a lot and share ideas – even share the amount brands are paying us, because it’s a good way of being transparent. We have a group chat [in] which we send each other titles of videos and say, “what do you think of this? Is this a good idea?”. That spark is super useful.
How long does it take for you to complete a project from idea to upload? How much work goes on behind the scenes for you to make videos?
We normally have ideation days with comedy writers, there’s often about five or six of us in a room, and we – over the amount of time that I’ve been doing this – have come up with a structure as to how a Max Fosh video gets made. We have ideation days and we’ll hopefully come up with a number of titles. I’ve got a Google Doc with about 400 titles in it, some of them literally just titles – we don’t think they’d ever be able to be made, but it’s good to have those ideas. Then, we set out the story structure of it – “okay, what are the beats?” – and then we just go out and film. So, on average, a project probably takes three weeks if everything goes smoothly.
What was the moment for you that you knew this could be your career? Like your “Mum I’ve made it” moment?
I really don’t know about the “Look Mum I’ve made it”; I think probably when I first got paid from YouTube – it was probably about £2.50, but it was the moment when I realised, “oh god, I’ve been making videos for three years and I’ve finally got something physical to show for it”. I actually got the money out and had it in front of me, and even though it was such a small amount, it was a representation of, “okay, this is a possibility.”
The goalposts are always changing – there’s something called ‘hedonic adaptation’ that I talk about a lot with some YouTube mates, which is when you get used to numbers. So when you’re starting and you think, “wow, if I hit a million views on a video, I will be so happy and I will never complain about views ever again”, and now I’m at the point where if I don’t get a million views in 48 hours, I’m grumpy. I think that’s definitely a drawback of YouTube – the goalposts are always shifting.
If you could go back to yourself when you were first starting out, what would you tell yourself? Would you have done anything differently?
Genuinely wouldn’t have done anything differently if I could go back and talk to my old self. I think that I spent a long time making videos in one niche, which was the interview styles, and actually COVID was something that really helped me, because it meant that I couldn’t make any more of those videos – I had to pivot, and I had to pivot hard.
That’s when I went into the more storytelling aspect of things. That was super scary, but it was necessary and I had many months when I felt very lost and didn’t know what I was doing.
So, no. I wouldn’t change anything. But for anyone who is starting YouTube, I would say, keep uploading. Just press publish. Your first 100 videos are going to be rubbish, they’re not going to get views, but every single time you post, try and make it 1% better. Over time, you will start to formulate your own niche, you’ll start to understand what you’re good at, what you’re bad at – I think that’s the most important thing. A lot of people try to make YouTube videos with video one to be a banger, and it just unfortunately does not work.
When looking at the future of your channel, do you see it still being based on YouTube? Do you think that the growth of short-form content such as TikTok and YouTube shorts has been detrimental or beneficial to content creators such as yourself? And do you still see the appeal of traditional media jobs, such as the one you wanted at Radio 1?
Yeah, absolutely. I think short-form (that’s a whole different kettle of fish) has its place, and I’ve just been able to adapt to short-form, I think quite successfully – we’ve had some good numbers on shorts. I’ve been able to adapt quite successfully to shorts and been able to bring more people to the wider Max Fosh ecosystem. As long as I’m in front of people and people are aware of my work, then that’s all I can ask for.
The future, I don’t know what it holds for me. But I’m just trying to become the most well-rounded entertainer that I can. With Youtube, I’m learning storytelling and I’m learning written comedy. I did a stand-up tour last year, and I’m hoping to do another one next year – that one is all about live performance, how you think on your feet, how quick you can be.
So, I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m trying to be the sort of person where, if I go into any room, I will tick a lot of boxes.
And, yeah, if Radio 1 comes calling – I mean they’re not, but if they did – I would have to have a long think about it. I think radio is a fantastic medium where you are a part of someone’s daily routine, and in terms of community building and world building and connection with your audience, that is the most valuable thing you could do. I think Greg James with the breakfast show on Radio 1, or anyone with a breakfast show, has enormous power over their audience, because you wake up to them every single morning, you listen to them at the same time every morning, they become ingrained in what you do and therefore who you are.
That would be an interesting conversation. But I would not want to forego any of my YouTube stuff at all, because I think that’s super important and that’s my identity.
And finally, what is the funniest or most bizarre experience you’ve had while filming a video that hasn’t made it onto YouTube?
I think probably, one of the funniest or most bizarre videos was when I broke into the UK security convention, which is a convention with lots of people from MI5 and the CIA and the police talking about how secure they are. I walked in with a badge that said ‘Rob Banks’ and I was a completely different person for the sneak in. But, weirdly, I kept getting recognised by members of the conference, so I’d walk around and they’d be like, “alright Max! What are you up to? What are you doing here?”, and I just had to keep telling them, “no, my name’s Rob!”
Favourite career moment?
Scoring during the Sidemen charity match or performing at the London Palladium during my stand-up show.
Weirdest or funniest fan interaction?
A lot of people think that when I’ve got a camera I’m suddenly the BBC, and a few people have thought it was a live BBC broadcast.
Go-to karaoke track?
Let Me Entertain You – Robbie Williams
If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Pasta pesto, because I’m a basic b*tch and I haven’t left university in my mind.
Have you ever been to Bridge in Oxford?
I’ve stood outside Bridge – I think I played Pictionary outside Bridge a long time ago with a camera.
Favourite place you’ve travelled to for work?
Who did you look up to when you were first starting out?
Casey Neistat and Bo Burnham
How is Max Fish doing?
I think he’s alright. I think he’s living in his pond, he’s having a good time.
Taylor or Kanye?
Dream video idea?
I think at this point, I would love to water-ski behind a cruise ship.