Square-jawed, wide-necked cellar dweller Helen Horbath looks nothing like her creator, comic actor/writer/producer Laura Clery, but it’s Helen’s relentless pursuit of her crush, Stephen (in real life, Clery’s husband, the musician and film composer Stephen Hilton), that’s helped make Clery a Facebook star, alongside her multiplying menagerie of other equally clueless characters.
And it’s Facebook (and its subsidiary Instagram) where Clery plans to stay, even as she continues to work on an array of new ventures across a range of media, including a Laura Clery podcast, a book for Simon & Schuster, and a pilot for a new series on Facebook’s new premium-video initiative.
“I make my living off Facebook,” Clery said. “I have ads on all my videos. I’m very happy.”
Clery considered trying to carve out a spot on YouTube, but thought better of it because, “I thought that YouTube was very saturated (with influencers). I could put a video on Facebook and get 30,000 views. I thought followers are a form of currency. It turns out I was right.”
Ultimately, it’s about focus.
“I think for a while, I was thinking, ‘I have to grow my YouTube,'” Clery said. “What I’ve realized is that everyone has their platform. Marc Maron has his podcast. He’s not stressing about his Twitter following. Everybody has mastered their one platform. For me, it’s Facebook.”
Clery also has secured an increasing number of brand-sponsorship deals, even for lumpy, foul-mouthed Helen, who did a “fab, fit, fun” unboxing video for a beauty brand. Other deals, for other characters, have come from brands such as Audible and TNT’s soapy drama Claws. She’s even getting inquiries about her podcast, now about 30 episodes old, but for now, she’s concentrating on growing the audience there, rather than monetizing it, she said.
Help Helen Smash, Clery’s hit show, is created using a Snapchat AR lens that distorts her face and neck. Helen’s thick-necked cluelessness has attracted an overwhelmingly young, female audience, according to Tubular Labs, which tracks and analyzes more than 4 billion online videos across the major social-media platforms. Nearly 53 percent of the audience is female, between 18 and 34, a hot demographic for advertisers.
Clery’s big viral moment came more than a year ago, when she recorded Helen pitching a relentless string of seriously awful/funny pickup lines in an attempt to flirt with “Stephen.” Further videos of Helen’s gross disregard for Stephen’s personal boundaries only boosted her popularity.
“The more disgusted he got, the more I had to do it,” Clery said. “They went so viral. That really took me over 2 million, 3 million followers.”
Clery’s biggest hit so far has been an inane paean to potatoes, of all things, by another of her characters, the vapid Internet singer Ivy. The video, called “Mmmmm Potatoes,” details Ivy’s love of her favorite tuber, and has attracted more than 66 million views since it was posted on July 11.
More amusing than the minute-long song may have been the seemingly straight-faced response by viewers and media to her satirical character’s song parody. Many wondered, to quote one post, whether Clery/May was “dumb or just high,” a question even celebrities such as Tommy Lee and George Lopez seemed to ask as they reposted the video.
Publications as far away as India wrote about it, though few seemed to understand Clery was making fun of an entire subspecies of self-absorbed Internet celebrities, instead of being one from their clueless ranks. Much of Clery’s humor, in fact, trades in the deadpan, clueless earnestness of her various characters as they make their way through life.
Overall, 71 percent of the Helen show’s audience is female, and 81 percent of the audience is based in the United States, according to Tubular. Viewers in Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada each comprise another 3 percent of Helen’s followers.
More importantly, according to Tubular Helen’s views took off sharply in June, from 14.3 million to 102.8 million. In July, a month later, views continued to grow, to just short of 120 million, as Helen continues to, well, smash.
Now Clery has 3.5 million Facebook fans and another 1.5 million on Instagram, but only a relatively small presence on YouTube (about 267,000 subscribers), Twitter (about 11,000 followers), and other outlets. The Help Helen Smash page on Facebook has 3.1 million followers of its own and is one of the site’s bigger hits, enough that Facebook featured Clery at its booth on the Community exhibition hall floor during this year’s VidCon.
Clery’s own presence across Facebook, Instagram and YouTube is more evenly balanced demographically and internationally, according to Tubular. In fact, the Laura Clery accounts across YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are actually 51 percent male, and 70.6 percent between 18 and 34 in age. Fewer than three-fourths of Clery’s direct audience is in the U.S., another 16 percent in the U.K., Canada and Australia.
All that said, Tubular statistics suggest Clery might want to reconsider her relative indifference to YouTube, where she has remarkably high fan engagement with her videos.
One Tubular metric, ER30, says Clery’s YouTube videos have 3.8 times the engagement of an average video within the first 30 days of posting; her Facebook and Instagram videos actually get lower-than-average engagement, though on across much broader audiences.
Clery turned to Internet video after years as an actress and a brief, disastrous attempt at standup: “I did my first open-mike night at the Comedy Store, which was a horrible idea,” Clery said. “I should have started somewhere out in the deep (San Fernando) Valley where no one would see me. I did three minutes. I was terrible. The guy after me said, and I’ll never forget it, ‘Looks, she’s a 10; Comedy, she’s a 2.’”
After collaborating with fellow actress Porsche Thomas on “Hungry,” a web series about two over-the-hill models in their 20s trying to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives, Clery got hooked on the idea of creating, and owning, her own content. It was a sentiment her husband shared. He had a lucrative but limited niche performing with Oscar winner Hans Zimmer on dozens of film music projects such as Ocean’s 11 and Quantum of Solace.
Together, the couple invested a year in creating content of their own. Eventually, it started to pay off, thanks to the unlikely flirtation of one Helen Horbath with a dude clearly out of her league. Now, she’s not heading back to traditional Hollywood or standup comedy any time soon.
“I was either grandiose or comatose,” Clery said of her time before becoming a Facebook star. “But then I saw the way things were changing. I don’t even have a TV anymore. I think it’s just rolling with the times.”