A small earthquake served as Los Angeles resident Keith Habersberger’s alarm clock on the morning of his keynote speech for the School of Communication’s COM Week 2021. However, he didn’t let that stop him from sharing his stories with a group of 50 Illinois State students and faculty members as he kicked off the annual professional development event with an hourlong Q&A session April 5 over Zoom.
Habersberger, a 2008 Illinois State alum, is a member of The Try Guys, an award-winning YouTube comedy series that has amassed more than 7 million subscribers and is set to debut on traditional TV on the Food Network. Habersberger also founded the comedy band Lewberger, which was a finalist in NBC’s Bring the Funny in 2019.
Habersberger originally met his friends and current business partners Ned Fulmer, Eugene Lee Yang, and Zach Kornfeld in 2014 while working at BuzzFeed. The Try Guys’ viral videos consist of them “trying” new things, like baking a pizza without a recipe. Habersberger also has a miniseries called “Eat the Menu,” where he goes to restaurants such as Taco Bell and eats every item on the menu at one time.
Habersberger said one “Eat the Menu” experience stood out from the rest.
“The worst one was Jack in the Box, for the record. That one really was tough. I thought I was going to die. It wasn’t because it was a Jack in the Box video; it was just because there was too much of it.”
The Try Guys have become so popular that they have accumulated millions of followers on social media and started a successful merchandise line. They also made Behind the Try: A Try Guys Documentary, hosted the 2018 Streamy awards, and embarked on a nationwide tour “Legends of the Internet” in 2019.
Habersberger described his experience on tour as exhausting but fulfilling, and made note of an important and somewhat comical lesson he learned on the first day.
“It seems very cool to be on a tour bus, like that rock and roll image, but really it’s kind of terrible,” said Habersberger. “You’re sleeping in what I would describe as a coffin, so it’s not very comfortable and you have to sleep with your feet facing the front so if the bus is in an accident, you don’t break your neck.”
Since parting ways with Buzzfeed in 2018, The Try Guys has formed the independent production company 2nd Try LLC. Habersberger never anticipated being a business owner when he started his career but enjoys the freedoms and the challenges it offers. Many of the questions posed to Habersberger involved what it’s like to run a business, in a global pandemic no less.
“We switched to shooting remotely, which meant the four of us were shooting ourselves at home,” said Habersberger. “We developed some ways to do some shoots that had very low contact or we would get tested to do the occasional shoots we would do together, and we would only ever do those when infection rates were very low.”
Habersberger also provided some tips for students regarding interviewing, marketing strategies, the best ways to connect with an audience, and how to view the idea of a “dream job.”
“The root of my dream is that I want to make people laugh, professionally,” said Habersberger. “You shouldn’t think of your career trajectory as a line, but I think you should look at it like a tree, and as long as you’re going to branches that go up and they feel like they’re the root of your dream and you’re going toward what you want, it’s not as important what title you have getting there.”
Perhaps the most important advice of all was his approach to failure: The obstacles he faced along his path proved to be valuable by helping him become the successful person he is today.
“There’s no direct way to success. Everybody’s success story is totally different. There’s no one way to do what you want to do forever. There’s a lot of time. I wouldn’t put the pressure on yourself to succeed by 25—I didn’t,” said Habersberger. “Surround yourself with people you like, and a good community, and try stuff, and say yes to opportunities.”
Habersberger credited his time in the School of Theatre and Dance and with the registered student organization (RSO) Improv Mafia as pivotal in shaping who he is as a comedian, performer, and person. He made many lifelong friendships at Illinois State and grew personally as well as academically and professionally.
“College is about getting educated, but it’s also about growing as a person,” said Habersberger. “You can make mistakes. You can learn things. You can change your mind about what you want to do.”