The newest voice in children’s entertainment is shrill, British, and very, very square. Thanks to the jaw-dropping success of the videogame Minecraft—a sort of online digital LEGO universe in which kids (and more than a few grown-ups) build their own worlds, play in them, and invite their online friends to join them—a 23-year-old former bartender from the south coast of England has become millions of kids’ onscreen BFF.
Operating under the Minecraft alter ego of stampylonghead (a.k.a. Stampy Cat)—a boxy orange character with a la-di-da voice and a rat-a-tat laugh—Joseph Garrett has attracted a legion of elementary-school-age fans into Stampy’s Lovely World, where he eats cake for breakfast, visits his friends iBallistic Squid and a bear called L for Leeeeee x, and embarks on often-silly adventures with dragons and aliens. “I never set out to make children’s content,” says Garrett, who boasts a mop of curly hair and the slight build of a man who spends most of his days in front of a computer screen. “It was more that I was enjoying making these videos, so these are the videos I’m going to make.”
His whimsical, lo-fi escapades have earned Garrett 3.1 million YouTube subscribers, making him one of the platform’s top 150 channels. (His most popular video, a 23-minute tale called “Sinking Feeling,” features Stampy Cat building a rainbow waterslide and blowing up a ship belonging to his nemesis Hit the Target. The video has been watched more than 17 million times.) Stampy’s channel has earned Garrett thousands of dollars a month in advertising revenue, which allowed him to quit his bartending job, and it’s about to transform him into a full-scale global brand. “Could I have found another medium, another game, and had similar success? I doubt it,” he says. “Stampy Cat and Minecraft are so directly tied together.”
Garrett recently signed a deal with Disney-owned Maker Studios and will soon launch a series of educational videos called Wonder Quest, using Minecraft and Stampy to teach subjects as varied as archaeology and biology. He’s also developing an animated show and consulting with Warner Bros. and producer Roy Lee as they develop a Minecraft film.
In just two years, Garrett, who has a degree in TV and video production from Southampton Solent University, has amassed a broad fan base, earning recognition from both strangers on the streets of London and celebrities including Jack Black. “He comes at you with such a fast mind,” says Black, who was introduced to Stampy by his 8-year-old son, Sammy, and is collaborating with Garrett on a video project. “The jokes and the characters sort of cascade over you.”
About two and a half years ago, Garrett, a lifelong gamer who often chose his friends by which videogames they owned, began posting videos of himself playing Minecraft. His adventure stories—wholesome romps that run from 15 to 25 minutes—gained a fast following among other Minecrafters, and Garrett soon discovered that the majority of the comments were coming from kids. “I’ve always been a little childlike anyway,” he says, “so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.”
Despite the growth of his burgeoning empire, Garrett is still living in his childhood bedroom in Hampshire, England, spending most of his time at a beat-up wooden desk filled with Minecraft memorabilia and three oversize video monitors. (He takes two to four days to crank out his more elaborate videos; to keep his output high, he alternates those with simpler episodes in which Stampy visits worlds created by other gamers.) But now, with the Maker deal on his plate and other projects in the works, Garrett is planning an imminent move to L.A. And this month he attends Comic-Con in San Diego for the first time.
Not bad for a guy whose mom and dad originally refused to buy him his own game console. “When you go to your parents and say, ‘I think I could make a living playing this videogame I love,’ the response is likely going to be ‘Why don’t you go and get a normal job?’ ” he says, laughing. The irony probably isn’t lost on them that gaming is now the very thing that’s finally getting him out of their house.
This story appears in Entertainment Weekly’s July 25/August 1, 2014 issue.