Rainn Wilson on SoulPancake’s Spiritual Journey on YouTube

/ Jan 30, 2015

Rainn Wilson Ear Biscuits 1-29-15

SoulPancake, the YouTube channel/production company/”brain batter of art, culture, science, philosophy, spirituality, and humor,” underwent a few different incarnations before settling comfortably into the world of digital video. Rainn Wilson, founder of SoulPancake (but who’s perhaps best known for his role as Dwight on “The Office”), spoke to Rhett & Link on the return of “Ear Biscuits” about SoulPancake finding its place and generating positive vibes.

When Wilson’s SoulPancake came to YouTube in 2012, it was as part of a larger movement in which “traditional” talent started migrating to the series of tubes. For instance, a channel for Shaquille O’Neal cropped up around then, as did one led by Amy Poehler. While Rhett worried about “real talented people coming into the space” (jokingly, it would seem), Wilson was trying to figure out SoulPancake’s identity.

To give some background, SoulPancake started as a website where people could “discuss life’s big questions,” which “didn’t really go anywhere,” according to Wilson. Next, it became an app…which also “didn’t really go anywhere.” Then, it became a book, which turned out to be a bestseller. Yet even though a good book’s life can extend indefinitely in a reader’s mind, it’s still a finite product, so Wilson found himself and his fellow SoulPancake creators, Devon Gundry, Golriz Lucina, and current CEO Shabnam Mogharabi, wondering which medium to turn to next.

“We knew we were onto something,” Wilson described. “We wanted to do uplifting content that’s not sentimental and treacly.” Since this is fairly difficult to accomplish (try it), there was a niche to filled, which SoulPancake began doing successfully for the Oprah Winfrey Network. The videos SoulPancake created for OWN did well, so from there, the team pitched other show ideas based on their philosophy (something like “spirituality is creativity is positive”) to YouTube at a time when YouTube was giving out money to well-known talent. Needless to say, SoulPancake ended up with some of that money.

Ultimately, Wilson said of YouTube, “It’s where we found our voice and our identity.” Today, Wilson and his team at SoulPancake see themselves “more as a media company.” They produce videos for YouTube, of course, but also for TV and even commercials. Though Wilson himself is much more hands-off with SoulPancake these days, he still has his show there, “Metaphysical Milkshake,” in which he conducts interviews from the back of a spruced-up van.

The most important message to take away from Wilson, and SoulPancake, is that “spirituality is just anything that’s beyond the material…it’s expressing yourself and making cool shit.” This attitude fosters good vibes throughout the online platform, where comments largely remain civil and a wide-eyed, 11-year-old president reigns.

For more on the personal spirituality that influences Wilson’s life and work, off and online, tune into the rest of the debut episode of “Ear Biscuits with Rhett & Link,” season two.

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