Falling down the YouTube rabbit hole

The world of humorous yet educational storytelling online

The past week there have been so many tragic stories in the news, and our days have been filled with darkness and sorrow. To lighten things up, I stirred up the Story Cauldron to find a few quirky storytellers who use YouTube to teach us interesting and often random facts.

As anyone who’s been on the Internet for five minutes is surely aware, YouTube can be a dumpster fire of epic proportions. But there are also many people who use the power of video for good, entertaining us while providing us with new and unusual knowledge. Good storytelling can make learning fun, and make us stick around for more.

Here are a few of my favorite YouTube sources of triviality and frivolity for your enjoyment.

Ze Frank

Popular web personality, narrator, and all-around zany guy, Ze Frank launched his “True Facts” series, hilarious mini-documentaries about animals, back in 2012. Since that time, he has popped up in various incarnations over the years, using his unique voice and cadence to share bizarre facts about the natural world with millions of people, often with a bit of a naughty edge to them. He has narrated so many things over the years that it’s hard to imagine anyone who has spent time on the Internet wouldn’t recognize his voice immediately. (You may know him from his cat diaries).

Beware: his YouTube channel can be quite addicting.

For now, here are some True Facts about giraffes that will teach you far more than you ever thought you needed to know about these extra tall mammals.

Crash Course and the Green Brothers

It’s hard to go anywhere without eventually stumbling over the work of VlogBrothers Hank and John Green, who have been making videos together since 2007.

They currently have a number of YouTube channels, podcasts, and books. In particular, John is very well known for his young adult novels, including The Fault in Our Stars. Indeed, they are so prolific it makes you wonder if they’ve found a secret to expand the number of hours in a day.

For now, I wanted to share a couple of videos from their Crash Course channel, where they—and a small army of fellow researchers and producers—teach us about all kinds of things from Geology to Computer Science to History.

In the first video, John Green gives you a quick rundown on Vikings, a topic he says is one of their most-requested, so I hope you will enjoy it as well.

There’s so much good content on Crash Course that I really couldn’t stop with just one, so here’s another on a historical topic. In this video, Clint Smith (author of How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America) gives a brief history of cotton and the American slave economy.

If you like these videos, I urge you to check out the other videos on their channel, which are also great if you have free-ranging offspring that need to be occupied while you’re on a Zoom call with your boss.

CGP Grey

I discovered this guy during the early days of the pandemic. He did this wacky video of his visit to the defunct TEKOI test range and even though I knew nothing about the guy, I was hooked. Although he does do some live-action videos on the CGP Grey channel (his research into tumbleweeds is fascinating), most of his videos involve simple animation and massive amounts of research. They are simply outstanding.

To choose just one seemed unfair. I really love his pirate videos (How to be a pirate: Captain version and Quartermaster version) and was cracking up the other night watching his explanation of sharks in London. But for the newsletter, I decided to feature his latest video, which is a deep dive into one of the most inane topics possible: the origins of the name Tiffany.

Why would he research something like that? And why should you care? It’s good, I promise.

Horrible Histories

For the next video, let’s dive into Horrible Histories, a YouTube channel of history, sketch comedy, and music. It started as a series of shows from the CBBC in England, which in turn was based on a series of books. (If you want to learn more about them, Wikipedia has a rundown). All I know is that they’re incredibly funny.

In the video I’ve selected, you can learn a song to help you remember the names of all the kings and queens of England (but: good luck with that). I chose this one because midway through, we learn a bit about how Richard III was terribly maligned—he was not have been as evil as everyone (and really, I do mean everyone) has said over the centuries. (For a few years now I’ve followed the Richard III Twitter account, which has been highly entertaining, especially when he feuds with the various Tudor accounts.)

But I digress. Please enjoy a little horrible history about the British monarchy, and if you like it, trust me, there’s a lot more.

Tom Scott

Like most of the other creators here, Tom Scott’s a YouTube veteran. He first started uploading YouTube videos back in 2006 and has grown his YouTube channel to millions of subscribers. In his videos, he travels to interesting places and talks a lot about science, technology, history, and other things.

But for someone who has been online for so long, he was new to me until a few weeks ago when I was writing about a fire at a grocery warehouse in London that utilizes robots to pack orders. His video about the robots was outstanding and I watched it at least a couple of times because, honestly, it blew my mind.

I chose the following video more or less at random, because I liked the title: “I promise this story about microwaves is interesting.” And, like the video about Tiffany above, it really is.

Thanks for joining me on a quick tour of some of the best of YouTube. I hope you’ve enjoyed the videos I’ve selected, and maybe fallen down a rabbit hole or two. Beware—each of these channels can keep you entertained for days. In fact, found it very hard to tear myself away from them as I decided which videos to feature.

But this barely scratches the surface of entertaining educational videos and storytellers on YouTube. If you have a favorite that I haven’t included, please drop a note in the comments. And if you found my round-up of videos entertaining, please share it with your friends or subscribe!

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