Over the last few years, David Dobrik has given away more than a dozen cars to family and friends, filming the spectacles for his channel on YouTube, where the comedian is one of the site’s biggest stars. The first time was back in September 2016, when he gave then-girlfriend and fellow YouTube star Liza Koshy a white Tesla. He’s since doled out a Mercedes to his mom, a BMW to his dad, a Lamborghini to one very, very lucky friend and, most recently, a baby blue Ford Bronco to his assistant. Dobrik relishes capturing the recipients’ surprise on camera—the gifts’ outsize nature creating an overtop moment that he considers internet gold. Some people have cried. Others have screamed. The videos are among his most popular on YouTube, where he has 18.8 million subscribers and where such videos typically get around 12 million views. Just as David Letterman had his Stupid Pet Tricks and Jay Leno his man-on-the-street quizzes, the car giveaways have become a piece of signature Dobrik schtick.
In August, a fan of Dobrik’s made a TikTok video that urged Dobrik to do another giveaway while asking entrants to register to vote. At first, Dobrik didn’t want to. To him, the joke—the grand reveal, the wild looks of surprise—had started to run out of gas. “It’s gotten old,” he says. But he knew how much people loved this routine and figured there’d probably be no better way to drive his Gen Z-dominated audience to register to vote. So last Tuesday he posted an Instagram picture of himself surrounded by five white Tesla Model 3s. To have a chance to win one of the Musk-mobiles, you had to share his post on your account, tag a friend in a comment and see whether you’re registered through HeadCount.org, a non-partisan group devoted to increasing voting rolls.
“I can’t vote. I’m not a citizen. I think that’s why I wanted to do this,” says Dobrik, 24, a Slovakian immigrant who is one of the so-called Dreamers, recipients of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA, as the legislation is known, allows people brought to America as children to live and work here. “I wanted to go, like, ‘Hey, guys! I can’t vote. I’d love to, but the best I can do is you guys go vote on my behalf.’ ”
By directing his fans to a voter-registration portal run by HeadCount.org, the New York-based organization was able to count up how many people registered from Dobrik’s Instagram post: nearly 120,000. It’s the single largest voting drive in the 16-year history of HeadCount, which has worked with many celebrities, mostly musicians. Other recent HeadCount partners included Billie Eilish and Ariana Grande.
It’s common enough for all types of stars to lend their voices to political causes and to encourage people to vote, and much of this work is now carried out digitally. HeadCount is one of the most active in the space, and in founder Andy Bernstein’s experience, the highest-profile celebs tend to bring in perhaps a few thousand newly registered voters. The 120,000 from Dobrik’s push? “Absolutely unprecedented. Never seen anything like it,” Bernstein says. “We’ve registered close to 1 million voters over our lifetime, and more than a tenth of that has now come from David.”
Experts who study voting registration and elections pointed to two other prominent registration pushes in 2020 from outside the major political parties: the 1 million-plus voters Snapchat says it has gotten to register and the 2.5 million that Facebook has persuaded to do the same thing. Dobrik’s Tesla campaign then is likely the single biggest voter registration success by an individual this year and one of the largest by an individual in modern American politics—a profound testament to the draw of Dobrik’s brand of youthful goofiness.
“Using a social media star to push people to a digital registration site has that kind of smoothness that really facilitates immediate action,” says Barry Burden, a University of Wisconsin professor who has long researched voter registration and elections. He does, reasonably, caution that voter registration does not at all translate to 100% participation in the next election. Nonetheless, Burden says, such a voter registration drive would’ve been “much harder in an analog setup where someone was communicating in a TV ad, and they wanted you to go get a form and mail it in.”
Kudos then to Dobrik, one of the funniest fellows on the internet today. He’s been digitally famous for a while now—and seems increasingly close to achieving the type of fame normally reserved for the men behind desks on late night TV. “If you ask somebody in their 40s who David Dobrik is, they know who David is—if they have kids and teenagers,” says Bernstein. “If they don’t have kids, they probably don’t.”
Dobrik came to America as a kid, arriving at age 6 from Košice, Slovakia and grew up in Chicago. While in high school, his first triumphs on the internet came through Vine, the briefly luminous social media app built on six-second clips. The zaniness of Vine informed the antics he began taping for YouTube in 2015. In the preceding years, he has loaded a Slip ‘N Slide into the back of a moving truck; filled someone’s mouth with Mentos and Coca-Cola; built a slide and ridden a kayak down it with his dad; and taught a friend’s mom the lyrics to “I Love It” by Lil Pump and Kanye West (“I’m a sick f—k, I like a quick f—k”). Along the way, he has palled around on camera with such other celebrities as singer Charlie Puth, Justin Bieber and Steve-O, the star of Jackass, a TV show that has clearly informed some of Dobrik’s sensibilities. Each video runs exactly 4 minutes and 20 seconds, a nod to April 20, a holiday to marijuana enthusiasts as Oktoberfest is to beer drinkers.
Dobrik’s stuff is good natured enough to be brand friendly, and he has earned sponsorship dollars from Warner Bros, Bumble, Electronic Arts and SeatGeek. Earlier this year, he stopped posting on YouTube and pivoted entirely to TikTok, where he has attracted 23 million followers. Dobrik’s delight in collaborations has worked well there too, where he has struck up a tight friendship with Addison Rae Easterling, one of TikTok’s biggest stars and its top earner. In January, he appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Dobrik now has his own cosmetics line, the simply named David’s Perfume, and he is also the founder of a camera app called Dispo that has newly raised $4 million from Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian and other investors. As its name suggests, Dispo mimics old fashioned disposable cameras—taking digital images that a user does not see until the next day.
In his voting initiative, Dobrik stopped short of directly advocating who his audience should vote for. “My least favorite thing is when the comments section on my videos—which is supposed to be a fun place—get political, and a bunch of people are yelling at other,” he says. “I try to keep out of it.” Left unsaid are the implications around DACA, the immigration law allowing Dobrik to hang out a shingle in entertainment. The legislation is a Obama hallmark, a piece of legislation trumpeted by Democrats and one that President Trump has tried hard to end. Meanwhile, his dad, who’s ineligible for DACA, is in the middle of deportation hearings, Dobrik says.
As for the winners of the Teslas, they’ve already been selected, and on Monday afternoon, Dobrik was preparing to FaceTime them, though none would know it was him calling rather than some member of his team. As in the past, he was very much looking forward to the astonished looks on their faces but was unsure whether he’d publish any of these videos online. “Sometimes,” he says, “I just do it for my own enjoyment.’
-By Abram Brown, Forbes Staff