Beirut: When Alex Stifler and Jad Khawandi hit the upload button for their first video, they didn’t know that they were giving birth to a pranking channel which will eventually reach more than 1,500,000 likes on Facebook and 743,000 subscribers on YouTube with videos reaching 150,000,000 views.
At the end of 2013, Stifler found a World War II gas mask laying around in his grandfather’s basement in Ukraine. Fearing the threats of the 2013 war in Syria, he persuaded his grandfather to give it to him for protection. However, when he arrived to Beirut and realized there was no war in Lebanon, his friend Khawandi came up with their first prank idea. They wore the gas mask at night, hid behind the trees and scared the pass-byers to “death”.
Two talented guys, a gas mask, and a camera: these were the ingredients of the pranking channel HowAboutBeirut.
“We thought to ourselves: there are many prank channels in the western culture, how about we do this in Beirut? From that question, came the shortened name ‘How About Beirut’,” said Stifler.
He added: “Our first video was live and it was getting traction from few people from around the country asking for more. That was enough to gain us a bit of momentum which eventually kept growing with every video we uploaded.”
At that time, the two pranksters had started college and had no experience in filming, editing, handling social media, or even social situations. Most of their friends advised them not to give that “hobby” a lot of their time and encouraged them to focus on their studies instead.
Still, to them, the act of attempting was exciting. So, they just rolled with it and didn't listen to anyone.
Stifler noted the obstacles they faced initially.
“When we started the channel, we had just graduated high school, so our biggest obstacles were money and the lack of support from our family and friends. No one has ever done it this big from Lebanon on social media, so for them it was risky, scary and impossible, especially due to the ongoing internal political and security issues,” he explained.
The startling surprise was when the two plucky guys dropped out of college to embark on their pranking journey full time. Even though they were told that pranking is not a career, they were too determined to keep on doing their passion.
It wasn’t all rainbows and laughter at first because nobody knew who they were; they would find themselves surrounded by police every now and then. Still, since the nature of their pranks was light, the police would usually let them go or in some rare cases, watch them do their thing and laugh.
Their hard work eventually paid off when one of their videos “The Mannequin Scare Prank” went viral and gained over 150 million views.
“It got us our first major break. You can tell it's our favorite by how many parts we made of it!” Stifler indicated.
In general, their pranks were inspired mostly by the early days of the first YouTube pranksters like Just for Laughs which they used to watch when they were kids. Another inspiration was their natural passion “to bend social norms for a kick of positivity.”
Prank after prank, HowAboutBeirut became more and more popular gaining recognition worldwide and being featured on 9GAG, UNILAD, Daily Mail, The Independent, World Star Hip Hop, Minute Buzz, Daym Drops Entertainment, Diply, Reuters, LAD Bible, Viral Thread, Viral TRND, Zoomin.TV VIRAL, Now I've Seen Everything, Nameless Pop, DEVISE, Daily Viral Stories, Radio One Lebanon, Sarah TV and Upsocl.
Stifler noted the keys to their stardom.
“We created viral content, got featured on world's biggest publications, followed Facebook's algorithm changes, never spammed with links, and never told our fans to "like, comment, subscribe". This and other factors play a huge role in our page's overall reach and engagement,” he said.
He added: “We've always visualized being featured on global hubs and worked hard towards it. This in turn helps us tremendously to show the world what Beirut is really like and people are loving it.”
Eventually, the two talented guys made a career indeed out of pranking for they now profit from their channel. There are many ways they monetize their content, but mainly it's through placing ad-breaks on their videos, getting brand sponsorships, selling merchandise, licensing their videos for commercial use, and other ways.
Today, while most people recognize them quickly, another demographic who doesn't use social media, has no clue. These are the people who get to experience the mischief of HowAboutBeirut’ s pranks.
Stifler noted the perks of making a career out of pranking.
“When you're not tied to a routine and have financial freedom, you can get really creative with how you spend your days. For example, I have been traveling the world for the past 6 months while Jad has been filming comedy sketches on the side with our friend Simon Jamous,” he told Annahar.
Just like Alex had thought when coming back to Lebanon, HowAboutBeirut pranksters believe many foreign people consider Lebanon as only a war zone. Hence, their main focus, since day one, was to entertain and change the world's image about Lebanon through their content. As for the future, they’re working on big projects behind the scenes with global brands. Nevertheless, they’ll keep on doing what they do best: pulling hoaxes on people in the streets.
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