In this, our very own Swagger Woman interview, Julie Nolke shares how the idea of her YouTube channel came to be, who inspires her, and her own fascinating career pivots.

When you were at York University’s (Toronto) theatre program, did you have these grand ideas about going into comedy?

Julie: Definitely not. I’d say the opposite, probably. York is a very traditional acting conservatory. I had the mindset that I was going to graduate from school, get an agent, and follow these breadcrumbs ahead of me that would lead to this perfect career. I was going to book jobs, and then get famous. That was right when the industry was changing. It turns out, that’s not the only way to make a career as an actor. I spent many, many years trying to make my acting career happen. I couldn’t. I couldn’t find a way in.

The traditional industry, you have all these gatekeepers – in terms of agents and casting directors – who decide if you are qualified or good enough to work. In my gut, I always knew I was good enough, and as a writer I had something to say. That’s what prompted me to start a YouTube channel. I spent a few years trying the traditional route. When that wasn’t working, I decided to take things into my own hands.

When you first started, it wasn’t the Julie Nolke show, it was called Feeling Peckish, and then you moved to the food site, Tastemade, correct?

Julie: I started the YouTube channel (Feeling Peckish) as part cooking, and part skit. One of the reasons why I went that route, as opposed to just doing comedy sketches off the bat, is that I was sort of heartbroken by the industry. I’d put in a lot of time and energy and I felt like it wasn’t going anywhere.

This YouTube thing really started out as a hobby. It was a way for me to practice on camera because I needed to keep my skills sharp, but I needed it to not break my heart. I’m very passionate about food and cooking. That seemed like a really natural niche for me to go into. That birthed Feeling Peckish. What was interesting about that story is that it ended up being kind of successful. I was a successful food host for a little while. We were discovered by Tastemade, which is a travel food production company in Los Angeles. But there was a clear point for me where I realized that I was getting too far away from what I ultimately wanted. I hit a fork in the road, and had to make a decision. I quit Tastemade and the food stuff.

What were your first experiences in comedy?

Julie: I was big into comedy in high school. I was the captain of our improv team.

That’s where I caught the bug. Unfortunately, in university that was taken out of me. I was told, pretty flat out, that I wasn’t funny, and that someone who looks like me couldn’t be funny. A lot of the acting industry is what you look like. If you look like an ingénue you can only play ingénue roles. If you look like a leading man, you can’t tell jokes. That was drilled into us. It took me a couple of years after university to find that love of comedy again and say, ‘[email protected] it. [email protected] those guys.’ That was another part of the YouTube channel. It was a rebellion of, ‘No, I can be funny and I’m going to prove it.’

You trained and performed?

Julie: No. It’s all self-taught. When I started the YouTube channel, it was a lot of trial and error. Because YouTube is this big engine that requires you to create weekly or biweekly content, the trial and error process is pretty quick. You learn what works very quickly. I like to tell people that’s my master’s degree. That’s where I put the hours in and really crafted my writing and character choices, and just dialed in what my voice was in the comedy space. It’s taken years. I’ve had the YouTube channel for over six years now.

What do we not know behind the scenes?

Julie: People probably don’t know that – or maybe they do – that I do it all myself. I have someone shoot the videos and, now that we’ve expended, I’ve been able to get some more help. But all the writing, all the acting, there is no one here producing or editing it. You have to really wear multiple hats when you decide to be an online creator.

Why did you make the initial pandemic video?

Julie: I had the idea and the concept, to me, was so hilarious. I had aspirations in January of 2020. I had an idea of what my career would look like. Every year I do this thing where I sit down and plan out my goals. Then, of course, March/April of 2020 came around, and it was like every day there was unprecedented news. It was devastating and chaotic. There were a lot of unknowns and anxieties in the air, but it was also kind of hilarious. The concept was hilarious to me that every day something unprecedented was happening. So, that’s what birthed the idea.

I also made it for myself. Like I said, it was a very anxious time. The way I process anxiety and news like that is through comedy. So, I truly did make it for myself. I thought it was funny, and I was hoping that people would be able to relate to it, but I genuinely didn’t know.

What was your reaction to the video’s reaction?

Julie: To it going viral? I was floored. It is every creator’s dream that their stuff gets seen, or goes viral. I didn’t believe it for a while. I assumed the YouTube algorithm was broken. It was just so surreal. This happens in people’s dreams. This isn’t happening to me!

90 million bots watched it, right?

Julie: That’s where your head is going, right? I’ve been doing this YouTube thing for years. I’ve seen gains in different ways, but never like this. My initial reaction was disbelief. Then, it turned into outright joy because the response was so positive. There were so many people writing in saying, ‘Oh my gosh, yes. This is helping me digest this news we are receiving and deal with this situation.’

What I loved about people’s response to the video is that it seemed like it was giving people permission to laugh.

Up to that point we were still early in the pandemic. There were lots of unknowns. It was really scary because, of course, people were dying. I think the general public was desperate for something to release the tension. I was lucky enough to be the creator of a video that did that for such a global audience.

Julie’s Hat: Handmade from a durable, naturally breathable cotton duck fabric, the Iconic T1 offers not just the highest sun protection rating, but is lightweight and well ventilated. Pair it with a top-quality striped long sleeve tee for a flattering relaxed fit.

Who are your comedic influences?

Julie: I’m such a big fan of Catherine O’Hara. She’s such a chameleon of an actress, and just a comedic superstar the way her brain works. I’ve probably watched every one of her films many times.

And your favorite is?

Julie: It’s a toss between Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show. I love that style of film. I love the dynamic she always has with Eugene Levy.

Walk me through the process of how you come up with ideas?

Julie: Well, the inspiration comes from everything – from what I’m currently doing, what I see on TV, people watching – it will go in the notes app in my phone as a one-liner. I have pages and pages of notes in my phone for different sketches. Not all of them will eventually be sketches. They are ideas or half sentences or characters where I say, ‘Oh, that’s kind of fun. Cool.’ I’m pretty ritualistic in terms of my writing process. I’ll sit down once a week and give myself two hours of disconnecting off my phone and computer just to let my imagination run wild. When I have my phone on, or can hear notification, I can’t tap into that childlike silliness required for sketch comedy. Sometimes I come up with sketches and sometimes I don’t, in that two hours. Normally, I’ll end up with some sort of silly idea that will eventually find its way on the internet.

From there, it’s just a matter of writing a sketch, which doesn’t take very long. Once you have the idea, you are like, ‘Oh, I need to get this on paper immediately.’ Then I go ahead and film it.

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