This area teacher has quit his job as his new career as a YouTube celebrity takes off; speaking at Watkins tonight
When Lawrence resident Matt Beat uploads one of his history-related videos to YouTube, it’s not unusual for thousands of people to watch it — and some of his view counts are much, much higher than that.
One of his videos has gotten more than four million views. His channel has more than 380,000 subscribers. Sometimes people recognize him as “Mr. Beat” out in public. He recently left his teaching job at Tonganoxie High School and will be using only his Internet stardom to pay his bills.
And Friday at the Watkins Museum of History, he’ll be providing an inside look at how he makes his popular videos.
The free event, titled “Mr. Beat: How a YouTube Star Makes History,” is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the museum, 1047 Massachusetts St. It will be the museum’s first on-site public event in more than a year.
The rise of Mr. Beat
When Beat first started making videos in 2009, he never intended to show them to anyone other than his social studies students.
That was Beat’s first year as a teacher, and he was trying to find a way to liven up a concept that he thought students might find “incredibly boring”: the Compromise of 1850.
He went on YouTube in hope of finding an interesting video to show his class. But he said there weren’t many to choose from, and the ones that did crop up were poorly made student projects.
“All that showed up was school projects, basically assignments from teachers: ‘Make a video about the Compromise of 1850.’ So they were all bad videos, and I was like, ‘I can do this.’ That was when I kind of had a lightbulb moment.”
With the help of his family, Beat, who has a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism, made his first video.
“It was never meant to be shown to anyone other than my actual eighth graders in class,” Beat said.
Beat continued to make videos for the next couple of years, and in 2011 he decided to put them on YouTube for other students and teachers to use. By 2016, Beat began to take the channel seriously as a side gig. His subscriber growth remained low — with only a couple of thousand people watching — but he wasn’t deterred. One of his big projects was a series of videos covering every presidential election in U.S. history.
Eventually, Beat said, something shifted: People weren’t watching his videos to study for tests. They were watching them for fun.
“They were learning, but it wasn’t assigned by a teacher,” Beat said. “I’m just trying to make it accessible. A lot of this stuff is dry, so you add a narrative, then you add in really bad jokes in there sometimes. I’m really awkward; I have a lot of bad dad jokes. It’s like me in the classroom.”
In 2017, one of Beat’s videos, titled “Why Kansas City is (mostly) in Missouri,” went viral. Subscriber growth steadily increased, and Beat saw the opportunity to turn his YouTube side gig into his main source of income.
In 2018, a video titled “Why Do People Hate Jews?” garnered millions of views. It sits at 4.2 million now. As the channel’s audience grew, it began to attract trolls, but Beat didn’t close the comment sections on his videos. The top comment on “Why Do People Hate Jews?” reads: “I give him respect for not disabling the comment section like others would.”
“I don’t like to censor the comments,” Beat said. “I keep the comment section open. You don’t want (agitators) to be victims, to think ‘we’re being suppressed.'”
For the past six years, Beat has taught government, economics and history at Tonganoxie High School. But he resigned after this past school year because he now makes more money from his videos than he did from teaching.
Beat makes some money through sponsorships, but most of his revenue comes from advertisements that play before the video starts or through share revenue from YouTube Premium. Beat’s wife, Shannon Beat, is not surprised by his financial success.
“That’s something he has been working toward for several years,” she said. “We sat down and made a plan, and then made it a success in reality. It’s still really weird that he’s not going back into the school. … He’s not teaching in person anymore, but he’s able to reach a broader audience by teaching through his channel.”
‘He really pulls you in’
Beat said he’s excited to talk about his video-making and research process at the museum, and the museum is excited to welcome him, as well.
Will Haynes, director of engagement and learning at the museum, is a fan of Beat’s videos, and he said the museum was “excited to bring in a YouTube star, especially one that does a great job of making history come alive.”
“I think Mr. Beat’s channel presents stories and information about American history in a really accessible way,” Haynes said.
Some of Beat’s videos deal with Kansas history, including his videos on John Brown and the Bleeding Kansas conflict. A little more than a month after Beat’s presentation, the museum will be welcoming a traveling exhibit on Brown.
“His videos on John Brown — that are in many cases filmed on site — are exactly what they should be: enjoyable and informative,” Haynes said. “He really pulls you in.”
Beat remembers those videos about Brown and Bleeding Kansas, as well.
“I did a video about John Brown and I actually went to his actual spots — where he was — then I had a Bleeding Kansas video and I was pretty passionate about that,” Beat said. “I even went to the site where John Brown murdered some pro-slavery people in Pottawatomie Creek. There’s not even a plaque or anything; I just know that from researching online.”
What’s next for Beat’s YouTube channel? He said he has plenty of ideas — a growing list of more than 500 topics for future videos.
“What keeps me going more than anything is the list of 500 videos,” Beat said. “I’m able to make a living doing it now. That’s no longer a goal. Now the goal before I die is to educate as many people as I can.”