YouTube is probably the greatest anthropological project ever launched. It has managed to expose the multitudes of the human condition more than any other medium ever created, and allowed people to express themselves in more diverse ways than at any point in history. This weekly column is an outlet for me to share with you some undiscovered gems, as well some very well-trodden gems, and discuss just what it is that makes the chosen accounts so intriguing.
WHO: Ted Barrus
WHAT: He eats extremely hot chillies and reviews them as much as he can before he throws up.
HOW MANY SUBSCRIBERS AT TIME OF WRITING: 73,844
WHY SHOULD I CARE: Ted Barrus. What to say about this man. Ted Barrus eats hot chillies on camera. But he takes it a step beyond. This isn't your typical Neknomination type chilli eater, munching on 20 habaneros before throwing them up and holding your gut on a bed in the foetal position, oh no. Ted Barrus is a consummate professional, and no one has quite the tolerance for it, apart from maybe ChileBeast, but we'll get back to him later.
Barrus is something of an expert on chilli peppers. To the layman, the uninitiated, the Carolina Reaper, the current Guinness World Record holder for hottest chilli in the world, is as bad as it gets. Maybe you've seen Adam Richman eat a burger covered in naga chillies, but the everyman's experience with what Barrus calls 'superhots' is limited.
They, like weed plants and paraphernalia, also have silly names: Chocolate Bhutlah, 7-Pot Brown, Douglah, Orange Naga x Bubblegum 7-Pot. But unlike weed, these will cause you extreme amounts of oral anguish and, if you have the tenacity to swallow them, a great deal of gastric agony. Barrus was encouraged by fellow chilli enthusiast and YouTuber Darth Naga, who comperes pepper-eating contests and gets very hot and bothered when eating tablespoons of capsaicin extract, to get into the chilli scene. Since then his channel has grown in production value and subscribers, with people tuning in to listen to his learned assessment and to watch him vomit and cry.
But there's another side to Barrus that isn't just his academic and experiential approach of eating hot poison. The last 18 months haven't been easy on Ted. On 14th of May he uploaded the below video, outlining details of the divorce he was currently embroiled in, being very level-headed, calm, almost serene about it.
But months later, as the festive season reared its head, things became difficult for Ted. He uploaded a now-deleted and harrowing video of himself weeping and talking about how hard the time of year was and the loneliness that pervaded it in his situation. We saw him move around from apartment to apartment, setting up shop in different places before finally settling. He would take periodic trips to a barren and windy beach and film videos there.
Ted Barrus could sometimes cut quite a lonesome figure. Other than his 'Fire Breathing Idiot' franchise, he has two other video series: 'Beer Time with Ted' and 'Bullshit with Ted Barrus'. In 'Beer Time with Ted' he drinks a beer, usually an IPA, and discusses, at length, the issues of the day, including, but not limited to, ISIS, terrorism, conspiracy theories, the notion of 'hate', trolls and his motorcycle accident. These videos usually go on for about half an hour, and it's tough to predict what he's going to say. You would think a man who likes to shoot assault rifles in a forest and drives a truck would not have the most progressive opinions. But during his 'Beer Time with Ted' about police discrimination he displayed a deal of nuance regarding the inherent inequalities prevalent in modern American society. This is a man who make himself ill with chilli peppers.
What I like most about Ted's channel is that he's very human. He's someone who never really seems like he's acting up for the camera (unless he is acting up for the camera, which usually produces the worst of his content). When he 'vlogs', it's in the purest sense, just a stream of consciousness about whatever issue he's occupied with, but it's interspersed with these in depth analyses of the genetic makeup of chillies before he eats them and becomes breathless with pain.
In many ways, the pain Ted accumulates from his chilli consumption is more synthetic than the demonstrable pain we can sometimes see him in during his diatribes. He is an extremely honest man, exposing his contentedness or lack thereof to the 'fans' waiting in the comments, who, surprisingly, are usually quite supportive.
Other chilli YouTubers, like the aforementioned ChileBeast, whose dalliances with the spice are perhaps the most dangerous and life-threatening, do not quite have the same level of intimacy. A great thing about Barrus' channel is that this intimacy is forced on you, like sitting with a stranger while they cry and you care for them but subtly look for an exit.
Still, though, what makes Ted Barrus' channel what it is is the large amount of pain we find him in. It's funny to watch him quite clearly in distress, sweating buckets, eyes filling up with tears, trying to suppress vomit and describing the taste and tanning of a giant, gnarled pepper grown by a sadist somewhere in the sticks of America. I wish Ted all the best, and hope he finds a hot spice to call his own.
Previously on VICE: