The fall of 2022 was a trying one for the Try Guys.
That’s when the Fab Four of digital content suddenly found themselves at the center of a maelstrom of bad publicity. It all began after it came to light that one of them — Ned Fulmer, 35, who billed himself as the happily married “wife guy” of the group — had been carrying on an inappropriate relationship with an employee who starred on their spinoff series, Food Babies.
The other three — Keith Habersberger, 35, Zach Kornfeld, 32, and Eugene Lee Yang, 36 — took swift and decisive action against Fulmer, first with a Sept. 27 Instagram post announcing he was “no longer working” with them; then with an Oct. 3 video posted to their YouTube channel (which boasts over 8 million subscribers) explaining “what happened,” later parodied on Saturday Night Live.
Beyond damaging the Try Guys’ trusted image, the scandal put millions of dollars in annual revenue in jeopardy. But, life goes on. The group, now a trio, is still trying new things. In their first video release since the scandal — but filmed before it broke — Fulmer has been covered up with the image of a pink elephant (the literal “elephant in the room”).
Next, the Try Guys are trying their first-ever live broadcast.
On Dec. 17 at 8:00 p.m. ET, Try Guys Without a Recipe — a series in which they cook without instructions — will air its current season finale on livestream platform Kiswe. Fans paying anywhere from $19.99 to $49.99 (that’s for a VIP bundle that includes a t-shirt) will get to experience a “two-hour wild ride through the Try Kitchen,” as the event bills itself, with the guys competing to make churros. (Tickets available here.) Viewers get to vote on the winner.
In anticipation of the great churro throwdown, Habersberger, Kornfeld and Yang convened for a Zoom conversation with The Hollywood Reporter — their first and only interview since Fulmer exited the Try Guys — in which they try to make sense of the tumult behind them while looking forward to what lies ahead.
Hi there, Try Guys. Where are you Zooming from?
Keith Habersberger: Well, I’m in L.A. Eugene’s in L.A. Zach is in Mexico, I believe.
Zach Kornfeld: Guadalajara. It’s exciting to explore a new city.
How are you guys doing? The last time we heard from you, obviously there was a lot of public drama. So let’s start by just checking in and seeing how things have been since all that news broke.
Kornfeld: How to answer that? I’d say we’re doing well. We’re excited about what we are making, what we have our sites on for the future. Look — it was a destabilizing few months, but we found our footing and are working on cool things and happy.
And so, you’ve made the choice to continue as the Try Guys, as the three of you?
Habersberger: Correct. We’re still continuing our company [moving] forward and I think, over time, in the next years, the Try Guys [will change] what it looks like. Maybe there’s more of us. Maybe it’s less specific to just the three of us. At the heart of it, our show is about people experiencing things they have never experienced before. [It’s about] having an open mind and having a fun time doing it, and being OK to fail at it. I think as long as that ethos and message goes on through our content, the Try Guys being Keith, Zach and Eugene is less important than the Try Guys being a cast of people that helps other people learn about other people … without saying the same phrase five times.
But that is the core of it. The three of us have, for a long time, been interested in evolving as artists, evolving as a collective. What we’re focused on right now is figuring out ways to make what we make cooler and change it up.
You guys had achieved a certain level of celebrity and created a very happy-go-lucky brand. Then literally overnight a lot more people knew who you were — and for something a lot more serious and less fun. How are you adjusting to a different kind of fame?
Habersberger: Well, obviously being parodied on SNL was something we didn’t really ever anticipate out of our careers. We never thought we were important enough to be ridiculed that way. We’ve had a big wave of people coming to see where our channel was and trying to look for drama. And most of those people have been like, “OK, there’s really not that much drama left here. I’m going to move on.” But we’ve had old fans who’ve been reintroduced to our content and they’re like, “I really like this. I forgot how much I like this.” And now they’re back and here to stay. And we definitely had some people that never heard of us, saw what we do, and have decided to become new fans. But I think and hope that the wave of us being in the public eye for [the Ned Fulmer scandal] is coming to an end.
I hope that people can look at our channel and our stuff and be excited, like with Without a Recipe. We’re doing this live stream event. We’ve never done a live anything before where we produce it ourselves and are competing ourselves. It’s a really exciting challenge. This time, fans get to vote on who wins. We’re doing something very broadcast television [caliber] on our own, and it’s really exciting.
When you say live, it’s going to be webcast live, and then is there going to be a live audience?
Habersberger: People will be able to watch live. There won’t be a live audience in-house as we’re going to be running it out of our studio. So there really won’t be a lot of room for people other than our own staff and production [team].
Are you going to be making something specific? Is there a theme to the cuisine?
Kornfeld: We’re making churros. We needed something that had enough room for customization, but that could also be contained within the whole stream, which is just under two hours. So, we need something that we can execute in a fun way, but do so in a timely manner.
That should be enough time to make some churros, I think.
Habersberger: We hope so. We’ll have a chef, just like on a normal episode, doing a demonstration — without us being able to see that demonstration. Then we’ll be making the batter and heating up the fryers and frying everything, which I think that’s how churros are made.
Have the Try Guys ever been approached for a streamer or cable talk show or something of that nature? Has your new notoriety brought about more interest from more traditional formats?
Kornfeld: As we move forward, we’re interested in exploring all different types of media. We did our Food Network show [No-Recipe Road Trip with the Try Guys] back in the fall and it was a wonderful experience. Without a Recipe is as good as anything on broadcast TV. That’s our real, honest opinion. Our primary focus right now for the [YouTube] channel is to continue to elevate what we make. We want it to not feel like content. Content online is something that passes through you. You watch it, you forget it. It’s fun, it’s fine. We’ve made content for a long time out of necessity. But as we look forward to the future, I think it’s time to really focus in on what we do best and what makes us happiest — just making these high-tier shows.
It’s interesting that you’re saying you are moving towards something that looks like it should be on broadcast TV and away from the viral videos that got you started.
Kornfeld: We’ve been moving that way for a long time. I’d say the last couple years has been a mix, and that’s because we have a big company. We want to make a variety of different content. But frankly, the stuff that has performed the best, that is the best received by our audience, is the stuff that we’re able to put more resources into.
Eugene, I haven’t heard from you yet. I’m curious about BuzzFeed. Why did you guys leave Buzzfeed? Is it a good place for creators?
Eugene Lee Yang: I think Buzzfeed is first and foremost a corporation. So, anyone who’s had an experience akin to that, there’s growth that happens personally and a separation is just only natural. I have no ill will towards that time and place. I think, with distance, anything in retrospect is much more open to critique and to an awareness that maybe people didn’t have at the time. If I take umbrage with anything, it’s just probably normal reflection upon any workplace anyone has in their 20s. I think it’s pretty commonplace.
For us it was a natural progression. It made sense, it was an evolution, certainly within the artistic space, working under a place that has you [under] contract is not always the best when you are moving forward with extremely personal projects that can grow outside of that. It was just something that made sense for the trajectories that we have both as a group and as individuals.
I’d actually like to make a quick point about one of your earlier questions, if that’s all right?
Yang: So, it’s interesting with this idea of newfound notoriety regarding a large scandal that put us, I guess, on the radar of some people who might not have known us before. And there’s this interesting tone that a lot of coverage has had about this idea of happy-go-lucky waggish pranksters suddenly dealing with something very serious.
It is very interesting, this perspective on anyone who has any foot in digital creation — that you take a quick, cursory glance at the past few videos out of the millions of videos we have to produce for our platform. Many of them are slice of life. Many of them are just there to entertain and be comedic. But as a group, we have tackled things from anti-Asian hate to LGBTQ rights to autoimmune diseases. We’ve raised money for a lot of different really wonderful campaigns.
Those are things I consider quite serious and aligned with our reaction to what happened in our workplace. For us, the pride I have coming out of this moment is that we’ve continued working directly with a huge audience who in the end can have an immediate reaction and care about things that are needed to be discussed in an open way.
Sometimes, whether it’s how it evolves at SNL or other places that are traditional, they might not be as upfront about those things. I like to think that as much as people think that maybe we will mostly be remembered for the scandal, I think the public at large is mainly going to remember that our reaction was correct.
Speaking of SNL, there was a lot of criticism about their take. And I’m wondering how you, Eugene, reacted to that sketch.
Yang: They have an amazing costume and wig department. The replication, I commend that absolutely.
Kornfeld: Very generous how much hair they gave me. As someone who’s been bald my whole life, I was thrilled.
But their joke was that you were being puritanical, that the scandal was really not that big a deal. That your buddy just had some fun.
[A publicist intervenes to request the conversation move away from Saturday Night Live.]
All right, then let’s drop SNL. You’re saying that your reaction was correct, but a lot of people thought you were reacting really harshly to someone who did something human. Can you address anyone who felt that way?
Yang: I don’t fault anyone who has a reaction to something [like that, because] they typically don’t see people held accountable in those types of positions of power. It’s not something we see often. And the fact that we publicized it and also made it something that was core not only to our stance as people who run a business with people who are extremely vulnerable, but also just as people who have a responsibility to make sure that this is open and discussed. I don’t fault people for thinking something like, “This is just not something that I saw in my parents’ generation.” Hopefully this is a learning curve for a lot of audience members, whether they agreed or disagreed.
We did something that was necessary and right within the confines of our business, and we then communicated to our fans about the decisions we made. We never expected that it was going to become what it became, but we stand by our actions 100 percent.
Are you in communication at all with Ned? Or is it a complete, clean divorce?
[A publicist intervenes to say that for legal reasons, the Try Guys will not address any specifics related to their communication with Fulmer. Fulmer did not respond to a request for comment from The Hollywood Reporter.]
Moving forward, are you going to be producing as much content as always?
Habersberger: We’re going to be working as hard as we’ve ever been, but I don’t know if the number of releases will look the same or the number of projects. I think it’s important to us to invest time and energy and passion into what makes us happy and what we think our fans will like. And sometimes some of those things take more time.
Kornfeld: Keith is putting up an off-Broadway show in the new year. I’m working on a short film and other scripted projects. Eugene is working on a suite of projects himself. We want to find ways for the company to evolve with us and support those projects. We also want to give ourselves room to grow as individuals, and then we want the collective to be able to be this Voltron where we come together and create things that we couldn’t create on our own.
I commend you guys. From the outside looking in, it was very obvious what you just went through wasn’t easy.
Kornfeld: Is this where I say I think the best is yet to come for us?
Sure. If you feel it.
Kornfeld: I do. I genuinely do. I think this is an evolution point and we’re going to look back at this moment as the time that we were unleashed to do our best.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
Kornfeld: I think the ending sentiment is just a real gratefulness to the fans that we have. Obviously, we saw a lot of attention from a lot of new people over the past couple months, but what has remained true are the people who care about what we do, who’ve been impacted by what we do.
As Eugene spoke to, there’s some articles that paint us as pranksters. I think we’ve made one prank video out of 800 pieces of content we’ve ever made. We just have this undying gratitude to the people that allow us to do what we do for a living, who allow us to experiment and make wild stuff and who let us into their lives. It is a tremendous privilege and a level of trust they have with us. And it’s one we don’t take lightly and one relationship we’re excited to continue.
Interview edited for length and clarity.