MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
You may not have heard of Rhett and Link, but you might know their work. They're Internet film producers. Millions of people have watched their videos online. And Rhett and Link have achieved something that many online filmmakers have not: They are profiting off the Internet.
Dave DeWitt of North Carolina Public Radio brings us this profile.
DAVE DEWITT: Two guys pull up to a Taco Bell drive-thru. The tall one in the passenger seat has a guitar. There's a video camera strapped to the outside of his door, and then…
(Soundbite of song, "Fast Food Folk Song (at the Taco Bell Drive-Thru")
Mr. RHETT MCLAUGHLIN (Internet Filmmaker): (Singing) I'll start with a taco, soft like a cloud.
Mr. LINK NEAL (Internet Filmmaker): (Singing) I want mine crunchy, I like to eat loud.
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN: (Singing) I'll choose a chalupa.
Mr. NEAL: (Singing) I'll grab a gordita. And two taco salads for our senoritas.
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN: (Singing) And two taco salads for our senoritas.
DEWITT: This is what Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal do. They are comic filmmakers, or as they call themselves, Internetainers. On YouTube and on their own Web site, they are known simply as Rhett and Link. They have produced more than 200 videos from their basement studio in a small town in rural North Carolina. Those videos have been watched more than 16 million times. And because it's what they do, they've even made the story of how they met into a song.
(Soundbite of song, "How We Met")
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN and Mr. NEAL: (Singing) On the first day of first grade we were both held in from recess 'cause we were both writing profanity on our desks. We wrote beep and blank. Our punishment was coloring unicorns, and that's when we became best friends, but equally…
Mr. NEAL: We've been friends that long, too. We were friends right from the start.
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN: Right from the start.
Mr. NEAL: You know, looking back, you can see that you were wired to be an entertainer. Every opportunity there was to get in front of a group, Rhett and I would say, yeah, well, let's do a rap song.
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN: At the Beta Club Convention.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. NEAL: Yeah, yeah. It's, like, who raps at the Beta Club Convention? Rhett and Link.
DEWITT: But despite their early inclinations, neither thought of pursuing careers as entertainers. Instead, they went to North Carolina State University together, got married to separate women and got jobs as engineers. But they still loved performing, and a friend's wedding gave them yet another chance. Link remembers part of a song they wrote for the rehearsal dinner.
Mr. NEAL: (Singing) We've seen Greg naked. Soon you will too. Hope you enjoy it more than we do.
DEWITT: The song got a big laugh, and after the rehearsal dinner, their wives gave them the last push they needed to make a go at what they really wanted to do.
Mr. NEAL: And at that point, you know, our wives say, you got a knack for that, you need to do more of that. That's what you need to be doing. It was like the green light saying, well, let's start setting our sights on something besides engineering.
DEWITT: But engineering was a paying gig; making funny Internet videos was not. Rhett's father-in-law gave them free studio space in the basement of his dentist's office, and they went about making this their career. They and their families lived month to month for a while, until they hit on a plan to make sponsored videos that don't look sponsored.
Remember that Taco Bell drive-thru song? Taco Bell paid for it. And their latest viral sensation is sponsored by a company called MicroBilt.
Their clients are small businesses, and they wanted Rhett and Link to design a customer-appreciation campaign. And for Red House Furniture in High Point, North Carolina, they used the touchy subject of race to comedic effect.
(Soundbite of Internet commercial)
Unidentified Man #1: Look at this sofa. It's perfect for a black person or a white person.
Unidentified Man #2: This mattress is perfect for a white person or a black person.
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN and Mr. NEAL: (Singing) At the Red House, where black people and white people buy furniture.
DEWITT: Someday soon, Rhett and Link may be more than just Internet famous, maybe an independent film project with an actual budget. But for now they're back in the basement where the motivation is just to try and be funny and pay the rent, if Rhett's father-in-law ever gets around to asking for it.
For NPR News, I'm Dave DeWitt in Durham, North Carolina.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN and Mr. NEAL: (Singing) We never defaced public property again. So if you've got a kid who's writing obscene graffiti, give him a picture of a mythical beast, and he will cease to write profanity. Don't write profanity. Just color a mythical beast.