Inside Olan Rogers’ Journey from YouTube to ‘Final Space’

Final Space cartoon

Olan Rogers on his career milestones from BalloonShop to his own YouTube channel to ‘Final Space’ and beyond.

Before 2018, odds were if you knew the name Olan Rogers, you knew it from any of the multimillion-hit YouTube videos featured on his namesake channel. “Ghost in the Stalls / STORY” — arguably the most widely known of Rogers’ many anecdotes, about a misadventure in the bathroom of a Target — is a common go-to in referencing his work, made all the more famous by GIFs featuring Rogers crouched over his own knees, whispering, “It’s a Monday.”

Whether you’re uninitiated to the Tennessee-born YouTuber or you’re among his many die-hard fans since his earliest work with his first YouTube channel, BalloonShop, you may be familiar with the animated series Final Space, which Rogers created and stars in. The show premiered on TBS in February and aired its season finale on April 30. TBS quickly announced the show’s renewal for a second season, ensuring that Rogers’ time in television is far from over.

Breaking into network television is an impressive feat, but few fans knew Rogers’ television ambitions when he started building his reputation as one of the first major YouTube sketch comedians in 2005. The milestone of producing a major network series is not only one of Rogers’ lifelong goals but also that of many YouTubers trying to make a name beyond the platform.

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Olan Rogers remains widely known for stories, such as “Ghost in the Stalls / STORY.” Via YouTube

“It’s kind of like everything I did on YouTube — from my own channel to BalloonShop to way back when — every video that I’ve ever done has kind of been a practice for trying to get into TV,” Rogers told Crixeo. “So I think I look back on BalloonShop and on my own channel and think, ‘Man if I didn’t do that, I probably would’ve not been ready for such a big undertaking with TV.’”

Using time and expectation as unique storytelling vehicles, each episode of Final Space begins with Gary Goodspeed in the future, floating in the wreckage of his ship, the Galaxy One. In these openings, H.U.E. (the ship’s artificial intelligence voiced by Tom Kenny) consoles Gary during his last 10 minutes of oxygen — one minute per episode — before the story depicts the journey of how Gary met this fate, and his crew: Insanity Avoidance Companion robot KVN (Fred Armisen), ex-Infinity Guard Engineer Quinn (Tika Sumpter), feline humanoid ex-villain Avocato (Coty Galloway) and Avocato’s rescued son Little Cato (Steven Yeun). Gary leads the litany of punny-named characters to protect a small, innocent-seeming green blob of destructive power named Mooncake (also Rogers) from being enslaved by the Lord Commander (David Tennant). 

Spoilers ahead! The plot leads viewers to expect a misdirection, but the final conflict many thought to be a scapegoat turns out to be entirely true: Mooncake is captured and his power is used to open the time/space breach to Final Space. Earth is dragged into the breach by the colossal hand of a Titan (the big-bads controlling the Lord Commander) as Gary Goodspeed drifts into the void, until the literal last moment of the finale as a light — presumably a rescue ship — shines on his body. The fate of his friends? Unknown as fans await season 2.

“The thing is, I remember I told multiple people as the show was being made, ‘We’re making a sad cartoon,’” said Rogers on why he loved the finale. “It’s a pretty heartbreaking cartoon, and it kind of tricks you a little bit like, ‘Oh, this is going to be Futurama,’ and it’s not. It kind of sideswipes you, and you’re like ‘Whoa, what the freak? Did they really just do that? What the hell!’ It was fun to kind of trick people a little bit and I think, speaking of the finale, that’s the way I wanted to end it — something where I haven’t seen that in a cartoon — where nobody wins. It’s just an absolute failure, you know? You failed. I took it from the Proof of Concept, which was Gary starts at the end of the theoretical series, then he fails, and there’s something about just a character failing that’s kind of heartbreaking, but also you appreciate them a little more, you know, because they’re human. They didn’t just magically pull a victory out of their butt. It’s real, and that’s one of the things that we wanted to kind of really do with the season finale.… We wanted genuine human emotion and we wanted to really tug at your heartstrings. So I’m still proud of the finale and I think that’s what the show is. All the other episodes are kind of leading up to what the show actually is.” End of spoilers.

Final Space originated as a low-budget series called Gary Space on Rogers’ own channel in 2010. The pilot, which released in 2016, captured the interest of one of Rogers’ longtime influences, Conan O’Brien, who watched it with his children.  On December 2, 2016, Rogers announced TBS had picked up the show, and O’Brien joined David Sacks as an executive producer on the team, even briefly contributing his voice talents as the character Clarence.

Long before Rogers’ vision was backed, however, and even before the success of his own channel, the trio of himself and his high school friends Thomas Gore and Joss Pursley made up the cast of BalloonShop while the three attended the University of Memphis together. Though their no-budget videos garnered few immediate followers, the outlandish dialogue and action of each episode brought the channel into the spotlight in the years following, even influencing other channels, such as Game Grumps and YouTube comedians yet to be.

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The original BalloonShop trio of Thomas Gore, left, Olan Rogers and Joss Pursley in a typical sketch for their video “Old, Old Update.” Via YouTube

“I never really think of it at the time, but I was like, every video I was kind of getting a little bit better at this and that and this,” said Rogers, “and then I felt like BalloonShop was just me honing my comedic voice, and then my channel was kind of honing my directorial voice along with the dramatic and the special effects. I did all these video series, like “Last Scene,” “New Prime,” “Pop Rocket,” “Star Wars,” and I was really trying to make a video and a story out of nothing at all.”

Storytelling, both literal and figurative, became the hook of Rogers’ own channel, which at the time of this writing has amassed over 974,000 subscribers. While he continued uploading intermittent sketches alongside Gore, the most popular videos on his channel are of simply Rogers enthusiastically retelling extremely personal and often embarrassing stories from his childhood through high school years.

Though Rogers said that both he and Gore have lost touch with Pursley, who’s been pursuing a career as a designer in California, Gore has continued to write and to star alongside Rogers and his faithful cat Starscream. Rogers and Gore share a comedy dynamic like fire and water: Rogers’ boisterous hyperbole, as seen in the character of Gary Goodspeed in Final Space, contrasts perfectly with Gore’s casually intimidating absurdism. After more than a decade, Gore remains essential as a writer and a friend in Rogers’ comedy campaign.

“I think with Thomas, ever since BalloonShop, we’ve kind of had such a natural rapport,” said Rogers, while keeping a tight lid on their future projects. “We just write really good together, and being that he’s kind of been my friend for so long, it just makes it so much easier to kind of be in the same mind when you write, because you’re just like, we know what each of us finds funny.”

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Olan Rogers, left, and Thomas Gore in one of Rogers’ favorite sketches from his own channel, “Family Pizza / SKETCH.” Via YouTube

One of the additional appeals of Rogers’ channel has always been his general resistance to monetization in the face of what he refers to as the ‘AdPocalypse.’ Today YouTube creators who stand where Rogers once stood face higher standards for monetizing their channels, one of many reasons Rogers, in his advice to YouTube creators, said he believes it’s about using the time there wisely on a platform that isn’t going to last forever.

“My dad always taught me, ‘Look, nothing’s going to last,’” he said. “You always have to go into business and everything, like, paranoid, almost, that it’s not going to last. What’s your plan above that? You know what I mean? You have to start planning for the next thing while you’re doing that one thing. If I was going to give any advice to YouTubers, I would just say just be planning ahead, and kind of use that time wisely to perfect a craft, so if YouTube isn’t cutting it out for you, hey, you’ve perfected a craft in something. Special effects — maybe you just do good after effects. Maybe it’s writing — maybe you’re just honing that. But if you’re just becoming literally a personality or something based on your looks, it’s just not going to last, you know? So I always tell people to perfect a craft, a skill. That’s probably the best advice I’ll give.” end

 

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