A tweet and a day later, I walk into study room 407 to Andrew Hales resting his head on the tabletop. “Just getting a little rest,” Hales says as he looks up.
As we speak about his experiences filming around Utah and around the globe, he is smiling ear to ear while recalling those memories. I wouldn’t call his demeanor awkward or shy, but calm like a fall Californian beach. He doesn’t seem to have a care in the world.
Hales has made a name for himself, especially around UVU campus. His YouTube channel, LAHWF—an acronym for “Losing All Hope Was Freedom” from “Fight Club”— is based around taking advantage of unsuspecting students around college campuses. His brand of humor brings out the awkward situations anyone can relate to.
Approaching 100 videos, Hales’ has reached a staggering 1.4 million subscribers with 157 million total video views. His fairly innocent pranks have gone viral and some have been based around our own campus.
Although Andrew calls Utah his home for now, he grew up in multiple places. His father’s job as a pharmaceutical salesman moved him and his family from New York to New Hampshire and eventually to Bountiful.
In high school Andrew was a shy kid, which is similar to how he is now. “I never spoke up in class. Participation points were always hard for me,” Hales says. “I had close-knit friends but I was never ‘popular.’ I’ll never be comfortable in social settings.”
Hales’ own discomfort is the face of his videos, but not necessarily who he is. He grew in love with the skateboard culture during his high school years. Accompanying this clique, he also enjoyed early forms of trickery like MTV’s “Jackass,” “Punk’d” and even “Candid Camera.”
2005’s launch of YouTube marked Hales’ initial inspiration to become a YouTuber and modern version of Bam Margera and Ashton Kutcher. “I’ve always thought it would be fun to be a popular YouTuber,” Hales says. In 2012, Hales took that plunge. With a swipe of his credit card, he was the proud owner of a brand new Canon Rebel T2i and ready to make a name for himself.
Having an entrepreneurial spirit, Hales dropped out of UVU to pursue his own fiscal endeavors and to dodge further tuition expenses.
His first video, “Almost Picking Up Chicks,” spread like any other viral video would and established his brand of awkward humor. A week later he posted “NO-NOT-YOU-ING at UVU,” which also got picked up by WorldStarHipHop.com where it gained him 200,000 views and 20,000 subscribers. From there, his channel gained serious traction.
With any kind of profession, there are highs and lows. Hales’ leading downfall is getting up the initial courage every week to carry on his antics. “A lot of it has to do with energy,” he says. “Like if I drink a Red Bull or take Adderall it really helps me get out of my shell.”
Yet, Hales isn’t his only worst enemy
Within 10 minutes of filming on UVU campus, a police officer, who saw his “Sweeping Girls Off Their Feet” video with other Utah YouTube star, Stuart Edge, escorted Hales and his cameraman off campus with the threat of giving a sexual assault charge if they were to film there again. “We’ve heard rumors of some feminist group at BYU forming petitions to press some kind of charge. Nothing ever happened though,” Hales says with a laugh.
Other than the occasional getting tackled in the snow for running off with a stranger’s phone, this is the extent of the contentions of filming week after week.
He has had pleasant experiences in his filming as well. Two videos in particular were based on generosity and the spirit of giving. One in particular was filmed around Thanksgiving where he was sponsored by energy supplement company, GungHo, to pay for random family’s groceries at the Pleasant Grove Macey’s. “We paid for a lot of groceries before we got a good reaction,” Hales says. “A lot of it had to do with the cashier who told [the customers] about it. The other cashiers weren’t excited… We almost gave up on the idea.” Luckily, they went back for another night of shooting where the Macey’s employee was more enthusiastic about the generosity than those before.
One downfall of being stationed around a campus comes easy recognition, which spoils takes. With Hales’ heightened popularity, he has been globetrotting with his brand of awkward as near as Colorado and Idaho, and as far as China, Amsterdam, Hawaii, New York, Los Angeles, Italy, London and Miami.
Surprisingly, Hales doesn’t see cultural differences when carrying out similar tricks in various parts of the world. “Awkward is a universal language,” he says.
With his traveling, he’s also been able to collaborate with other online pranksters such as Stuart Edge and Vitaly Zdorovetskiy, two personalities with completely different thought-processes of candid humor.
With a dense history of videos, Hales isn’t ready to stop just yet, especially in YouTube’s booming industry. “It’s definitely a living. I can definitely raise a family from it. The income has been rising since I first began. It’s been great,” Hales says. He shows me a list on his iPhone where he has a never-ending scroll of ideas.
He is only one of the ranks of YouTube stars who make a substantial living from pranking others. Speaking of this niche of the online video craze, Hales says, “’Prank’ is click-bait word to put in the title. I’m not sure if it will ever die out. There is an element of unpredictability with doing things in public and messing with strangers. They’re also controversial. It gives people something to talk about.”
Despite the day-in and day-out living of filming and uploading, Hales doesn’t want to rest on only the views of his past videos, even if he is still making money from them. He plans on making videos every week for the next year. Afterwards, he would like to return to UVU for a degree in either film or digital media then move onto bigger projects like documentaries and movies.
With his new fame in the online sphere comes a change in his friend dynamics. “My really close friends will get annoyed by my arrogant energy and my YouTube talk. For the most part I try to stay down-to-earth,” Hales says.
And that’s what he tries with his videos on a weekly basis. With the case of many of his videos, it shows a slice of life in the most absurd situation. He strives to show others a small part of themselves. Hales doesn’t take the easy way out by hiring people to give the audience an outrageous reaction. “We want it to be authentic and not staged.”