In their First YouTube video together in seven years, Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla summoned a demon to score Taylor Swift tickets.
The skit was mildly absurd, infused with pop culture references, and most importantly, wacky as hell—all hallmarks of classic Smosh comedy.
“We approached the net from this place of excitement and passion, saying, ‘Let’s see how much we can make each other laugh,'” Padilla told businessroundups.org in an interview at VidCon. “It was exactly the same feeling I felt when we were making things in those earliest days.”
Padilla spoke of Smosh’s early videos with an admiration few creators have for their former selves. While many may find their early writing unrefined or embarrassing, Padilla and Hecox lean on the unabashed playfulness that made Smosh so viral.
“I think that’s really at the heart of that magical feeling of looking at ourselves,” Padilla continued. “It doesn’t matter if it was silly or childish or creepy because it made you laugh and it made you feel real.”
The sketch heralds a new era for Smosh, a brand as old as YouTube itself. Hecox and Padilla acquired Smosh this month, more than a decade after they first sold the company, setting the precedent for creators to own and define their content’s legacy. While former parent company Mythical Entertainment retains a minority stake in the brand, Smosh becomes an independent entity for the first time in years. It’s a rare win for creators in the fast-changing social media landscape.
“If Anthony and I had no control over this, another company could just have rights to our content and use our images in any way they want, and I find that frightening,” Hecox said. “I think about this whole process. I understand and respect the idea of owning your art and your image.”
Hecox and Padilla, who were childhood friends, started posting videos together in 2005, marking the early days of YouTube with comedy skits and vlogs. Smosh and its various spin-off channels were wildly popular, and the duo continued to produce content after selling the brand to Defy Media in 2011. Smosh was the most subscribed channel on YouTube three times from 2005 to 2013, height, a powerhouse of content.
But the volume of output was unsustainable, and between app launches, sitcoms, and constant skits, the friendship between Hecox and Padilla—the foundation of the Smosh brand—fell apart. Since they lived together at the time, there was no escaping the work. The friends “operated out of fear,” Hecox said, often avoiding conflict so as not to jeopardize their business partnership. Padilla said they were “spread thinly” among the huge amount of projects he directed under pressure from Defy Media, which urged Smosh employees to post more content, mostly regardless of quality.
“I completely lost the passion, and Ian and I had grown apart, a little bit because of the content, but also mostly because we didn’t know how to communicate, and we never took the time to talk about our emotions. or something like that,” Padilla said. “Every discussion, every conversation we had was about Smosh and about the company.”
“We had to let that friendship die,” Hecox added. “There wasn’t even much left.”
Padilla said he was dissatisfied for years leading up to his departure from Smosh in 2017. The split shocked viewers beyond just Smosh fans — after all, the brand’s entire identity revolved around Hecox and Padilla as best friends. Staffed by a team of writers and cast members, the brand continued to produce content without Padilla.
A year later, Defy Media shut down, leaving Smosh “homeless.” Hecox said he was upset by the fact that so many of the other companies bidding for Smosh in the aftermath only wanted the brand for their content library. Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal, known as the YouTubers Rhett and Link, eventually acquired Smosh in early 2019.
Hecox said he trusted McLaughlin and Neal because, like Smosh, they built Mythical Entertainment as two friends creating content together. If Smosh had been acquired by another company, he said, he doubts the brand would be anything more than a content library today.
“If Rhett and Link weren’t the ones who took over Smosh after Defy collapsed, I don’t think I would still be here,” Hecox said. “And one of the things that Rhett and Link were very firm about was that if they were going to take over Smosh, they wanted the reassurance that I would stay, because they just get it. They understand that the value of having a channel is not in the subscribers, but in the people who are part of it.”
The fact that Smosh was acquired by other creators — not some ignorant corporation or ever-expanding media conglomerate — allowed it to flourish for the first time in years. McLaughlin and Neal were relatively hands-off, Hecox said, allowing the brand to redefine its identity because they weren’t pressured to become a content factory.
In the years since he left Smosh, Padilla has rebranded himself as the modern day talk show host. In his interview series “I spent a day with,” Padilla has spoken to furries, the faceless streamer Corpse Husband, school shooting survivors, and others who found solace online for not conforming to the social norm. His way of asking questions – direct, empathetic and graceful – has been praised by viewers as a rare example of discussing taboo topics without being voyeuristic.
Padilla said he was able to refine the more serious side of himself through his interview series, but he lacked the creative fulfillment that writing comedy provided. After seeing clips of old Smosh videos “on TikTok” about a year ago, he went down a rabbit hole to revisit himself and Hecox.
“Having been separated from it for so many years, I was able to approach it as kind of a new viewer, and found that there was a certain period of about five years where I really felt this sense of magic that I got excited about,” Padilla said . “I just became a fan. I felt like watching other stuff on YouTube didn’t really satisfy me in a weird way.
He and Hecox got back together last year through mutual friends and were able to hang out without making any substance for the first time since their teens. Both creators attribute their newfound friendship to coming of age and going into therapy. Padilla said he had learned to let go of the grudges he had harbored in the years leading up to his departure. Shortly after they reconnected, Padilla began dreaming of re-acquiring Smosh with Hecox, drafting business plans months before Hecox floated the idea. He kept quiet about it, he said, because he never thought it would be a possibility.
While the brand’s other channels, including Smosh Pit and Smosh Games, continued to thrive under Mythical Entertainment’s tutelage, Hecox said the main channel was “struggling to find a voice.”
“Whenever we released a skit or a certain type of video, it never resonated with the audience as a whole,” Hecox said of Padilla’s absence. “It was always very broad. For years it felt like we were fighting against the current.”
Hecox wanted to bring the channel back to its roots: sketch comedy. But that wouldn’t be possible, he said, without Padilla. He began buying back Smosh in December, and Padilla immediately began a detailed explanation of his plans.
But Hecox was “extremely skeptical” of their ability to write after so many years together. They set a date to test their chemistry, which Hecox doubted still existed.
“I wasn’t too excited about it,” Hecox laughed. “I wanted to try it out, and soon it felt like we were falling right back in. We laughed a lot and threw crazy things, literally rolling on the floor.
During the years apart, Hecox and Padilla separately honed their writing skills. Their collaborative sessions have proven they can play off each other’s strengths in a way they struggled with years ago, Hecox said.
“When we meet, it feels like we’re firing on all cylinders.”
“When we meet, it feels like we’re firing on all cylinders. Ian is kind of like the sun,” Padilla said. “Where he just throws out all these ideas, and I feel like I’m a magnifying glass focusing and moving to create that fire. That’s where the passion is. Concentrating all our energy and creating magic.”
Hecox said when he approached McLaughlin and Neal about re-acquiring Smosh, they were immediately on board. They “always wanted Anthony to come back,” he said, and were thrilled that the pair wanted to work together again.
“We acquired Smosh 4 years ago in the first maker-to-maker acquisition of its kind – a huge moment in Mythical history,” McLaughlin and Neal announced on Twitter. “We couldn’t think of a better outcome for our investment than selling Smosh back to the other iconic duo of internet friends. It’s another groundbreaking first in the creator economy and a confirmation of our belief that creator entrepreneurs will play a major role in the future of entertainment.”
Aside from returning to their particular brand of sketch comedy, Hecox and Padilla see a member-funded future for Smosh. They want their content to be “all killer, no filler” – both their desire to create and their newfound friendship can only continue if they aren’t creatively weary. Their focus will be on producing “quality content” with limited output and creating bonus content for members behind a Patreon-style paywall. They didn’t have the tools to make sustainable money when they first sold Smosh, Hecox said, but they plan to avoid making the same mistakes they did 10 years ago.
“In comedy, you can’t be expected to write multiple original sketches every month. That’s insane,” Hecox said. “We want to look at this in a sustainable way. We’re not doing this sketch comedy for six months. We want to do this for 10, 15, 20 years.”
While Mythical has a minority stake in the company, Hecox said McLaughlin and Neal will be more like their allies, but he and Padilla will be in control.
Hecox and Padilla also plan to take a different approach to their relationship.
“We’ll probably mention our feelings more than once every six years,” Hecox joked.
“For me, I really want to focus on communicating and making sure we get time to laugh with each other and talk about things that aren’t just strictly Smosh,” Padilla added. “Once things have fallen into place a little better. And hopefully take some vacations together that don’t revolve around work.