Jake Paul feels misunderstood. The YouTube sensation / likely FBI target / former Disney Channel star is frustrated that people don’t see the real him — just the pieces of him that are always screwing up. Yes, he may be known for outlandish YouTube prank videos, he may have been criticized by his city’s mayor for throwing a huge party during the pandemic and later had his home raided by the FBI in connection with a supposed “riot” at a mall, but he’s also trying to do some good things, he says, like inspire his millions of young fans.
“People forget that I’m human, and that I’m 23 years old. And that I’m just a normal fucking kid that got handed a lot of power and responsibility, and it’s easy to mess up with that a lot,” Paul told The Verge on a Zoom call from the bedroom of his Calabasas mansion.
In recent videos, Paul has said he wants to put YouTube behind him. He wants to be a rapper and a boxer now — two professions that fall just a notch behind YouTuber in terms of the drama they generate — and it’s really been the YouTube mindset that’s caused so many of his problems.
“When you wake up with the mindset of like, ‘I have to top myself today, and I have to get more views than I did yesterday, and I only have 12 hours of daylight to make something happen. What are we gonna do?’” Paul said, “That’s, that’s where the issues come in.”
And yet: as Paul has gone on a press blitz this week to hype up his forthcoming pay-per-view boxing match against former NBA player Nate Robinson, he’s done a typically poor job of avoiding controversy. On Wednesday, the headline “Jake Paul Believes COVID Is ‘a Hoax’ and ‘98% of News Is Fake’” was published in The Daily Beast. It’s against this backdrop that he gets on a call with me later that day to talk about his boxing match, his music career, and of course, how he always manages to stir up controversy.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Before we jump into things, I want to ask right at the top: your avatar on YouTube and Twitter. Why Gohan?
Man. Gohan. Super Saiyan 3. That’s my mindset right now, just going Super Saiyan and not letting anyone defeat me ever. I have Gohan tattooed on my leg and Vegeta as well. It’s like my fight mindset. I’m going Super Saiyan on Saturday. Nate’s not going to be able to do anything to stop me, and I’m going to be in ultimate form. I’ve worked so hard to be in the tip-top shape, and that’s sort of the meaning of it.
So tell me about the boxing match. I know you’ve been prepping for this for months.
This Saturday me and Nate are fighting at 189 pounds. It’s a professionally sanctioned six round bout, 10 ounce gloves, no headgear. Nate started talking to shit, saying, “Jake you never fought a professional athlete, you never fought anyone good.” I was like, “Alright, well then, I’ll fight you.” So he was the one that asked for this.
For me, it’s a perfect fight because everyone thinks I’m just this YouTube pretty kid. And everyone thinks that he’s this buff NBA athlete. But on Saturday, people are gonna see how serious I’m taking the sport and how good I am at the sport. And I plan on knocking out him in the first round.
Your matches so far have been against people who aren’t known as boxers. Do you want to get in the ring with people who are pro boxers?
I want to. I want to bring MMA fighters from the UFC over into the ring and go head to head with them. I want to prove myself, and prove how good I am at this sport. In sparring, I’m fighting pro boxers all the time. WBA champs, WBC champs. And I’m going head to head with them. So, you know, these YouTubers and celebrities and all these people can get the smoke first, and then it’s on to professional fighters for sure.
I’m curious what YouTube’s role is in your career right now. You still vlog regularly. But you’ve been saying that you want to be a rapper and a boxer and that you’re not a YouTuber anymore.
That stems from what my focus is. I wake up every day and I box, and that’s been what I’ve done for the past year. And while I was doing that, I was in the studio a lot making songs. YouTube will always be something that I do, and it’s something that I’m good at and I like it. My fans are obviously there. But I don’t want to wake up with that same YouTube mentality and mindset of like, “views, views, views, pranks, pranks, pranks.” It’s not something I’m as passionate about anymore.
I was watching one of your videos from maybe a month ago, and you said, “YouTube has a cap, you can only get so big being a YouTuber. With music, there’s no cap, you can go as high as you possibly want to take it.” Where do you want to take it?
Ah, man. I want to be selling out stadiums. And having the crazy lit tours and platinum singles and platinum albums. And I want to collaborate with some of the biggest artists in the world and just make music that really inspires a generation. I want to be able to inspire the generation beneath me with music like Drake did, like Lil Wayne did to me growing up.
When you say inspire, what do you want people’s takeaway to be?
I think life throws people so many challenges and tribulations and hard times. And I feel like I’m a very relatable person with what I’ve gone through in my life from being in Ohio, to success, and everything along that path, and relationships and fallouts and drama and feuds with my parents and feuds with my family. I just feel like I have a lot to say and to be able to teach people about.
The fight is being broadcast on Triller. You’re an investor in Triller, right? Why did you invest?
Yeah. Their team, first and foremost, is great. When I go to make investments, I like to invest in people, because ideas change. And this space we live in is so fast and rapid. And one minute a company could be so successful and the next minute, it could literally be worth nothing. I believe in people, in leadership, and I think that’s the main reason I invested in Triller.
You don’t really use Triller as an app. You even did a video about TikTok creators and pivoting to TikTok. So why aren’t you using Triller?
I’m so busy with other shit that like the least of my worries is— I barely even post on Twitter. I think I have like, probably 20 tweets in like a month. And that’s something that’s super easy to do. And I don’t like to post content unless it’s like super high quality or something that I’m proud of.
You have a new song and his music video out this week. How’s the response been?
It’s been amazing. I’ve been reading the comments and people are blown away. They’re just like, “Jake keeps on getting better at music. You can try to hate on this kid, but he’s dropping fire. This is undeniably good.” People are loving the lines in there, the lyricism. I’m huge on lyricism. So the response has been fantastic.
There’s a line in the song I wanted to ask you about. I think one of the lyrics says you avoided a gun charge and it cost you a million. Can you tell me what happened here?
[Laughing] I can’t. I can’t talk too much about it. But um, yeah, when you get the most expensive lawyers, they cost Ms.
Do you have to clear that line with your lawyers?
I probably should have, honestly, but I didn’t.
So I have to ask about Arizona [where you were filmed inside a mall during what police later called a “riot”]. You said you were filming to share your experience and document the scene. Do you plan to release that footage?
I released parts of it already. On YouTube, in sort of an explanation video that I made like with how that situation unfolded. Um, so yeah.
Maybe I missed it. I know there was a brief little thing where you spoke about it, and TMZ caught it, and then it disappeared.
I think it’s still on my channel. Pretty sure.
Okay, I’ll have to check then. [Note: I checked later and could not find the footage.] Have you talked to the FBI at all since the raid happened?
I have not personally, no.
GOALS:— Jake Paul (@jakepaul) July 24, 2020
become one of the biggest prize fighters in the world
become one of the biggest independent artists in music
show people who the real “Jake Paul” is not what they see in media
help my best friends accomplish their goals & dreams
gimme 36 months.
Are you worried at all?
You know, I think with those type of situations, it just is what it is. I’m not even sure. I have as little answers as everyone else. Everything that the media knows is what I know. So, you know, I’m not allowed to talk too much about it. But it’s being handled, and it is what it is.
Wait, so you really don’t know what they’re looking for?
I’m not allowed to talk that much about it.
You tweeted in July that one of your goals is to “show people who the real ‘Jake Paul’ is not what they see in media.” So what side of you do you want people to see?
I think people forget that I’m human, and that I’m 23 years old. And that I’m just a normal fucking kid that got handed a lot of power and responsibility, and it’s easy to mess up with that a lot. It truly is. And I’m not making excuses for myself at all. But I’m just a genuine guy. if I was at a local frat party, and I met anyone — guy, girl, whoever it is — I’m the type of person that gets along with anyone and is super down to earth.
Because of the mistakes I’ve made, the target on my back grows and grows and grows. And it becomes easier to be like, “Ah yeah, it’s that fucking guy again.” When people meet me in person, it’s different. Maybe I’m not good at translating through the camera and through interviews who I am. I think that’s also one of my issues. It’s hard for me for people to understand me based off of an interview or based off of a YouTube video. And I think people like to highlight the negative anyways.
What do you think media coverage of you should look like?
I think that what the media covers now is fair. I completely get it. You know, if I was the media, I would cover the same thing.
I think a lot of times the media doesn’t talk about why I’m at where I’m at and why I’m successful. And I think there’s just a little bit of a lack of respect. It’s more so everything negative versus like, “Hey, this was the number one requested Make-A-Wish kid for three years. He granted every single Make-A-Wish. He has 20 million subscribers, and a lot of those subscribers are young kids and he inspires them with his saying, ‘It’s everyday bro.’ To wake up every day, smile every day, to work hard and chase their dreams every day.”
They don’t like to highlight any of the positive things that I’m doing. It’s usually just like “party, FBI, raid, fight, Gigi Hadid, news van, fire.” You know what I’m saying? But I understand it. I’m not complaining. I just wish there was a little bit more respect, but it is what it is.
You told another reporter [Marlow Stern with The Daily Beast] that you raised $1 million for kids. Can you tell me more about that?
Um, I don’t know. I don’t know what reporter I told that to. I didn’t raise $1 million for kids. I’ve raised over $1 million for different foundations and through different causes. Not solely for one cause or anything.
Are there any in particular?
The biggest one was when I went down to Houston for the hurricanes. I was down there helping, and we raised over a quarter million dollars just in two days for families down there. That was probably the biggest one in a sole period.
I’m 23, you know, and I want to be able to continue to do good. I haven’t accomplished all my goals from a philanthropy side of things. I know there’s more good I can do. Every Thanksgiving, I go down to Skid Row and hand out meals and pizzas. I’ve tried to get involved in as hands-on a way as possible. But I definitely want to do more.
Going back to your answer before this about inspiring kids, how do you square that with the fact that you also end up getting known for the parties and the fires and these bad headlines? Do you feel any responsibility there?
Um, no. I think those things are, like, taken out of context. Right. I’m not some perfect role model. But I don’t think anyone’s perfect, so everyone’s gonna have their flaws and every role model’s gonna have some mess ups. But like, should we be telling kids, “Hey, never play with fire? Hey, never throw a party. You’re not allowed to drink alcohol.” You know what I’m saying? So, I look at myself as like a realistic role model.
How do you feel about being known as this controversial person? I saw in a video recently, you called yourself, “the most controversial fucking idiot in the world.”
I don’t mind it, you know? I think before it would bother me. Because I just felt misunderstood. And I still feel misunderstood. But now it’s like, you know, I’m just gonna be myself and be me. And that’s what makes me happy.
Do you aim to be controversial?
No. No, I just think, naturally, I’m polarizing as an individual.
I ask because you dropped a music video today, you’ve got this big PPV event Saturday, and you’re going out and doing these interviews. Are you considering generating headlines to drive attention?
Yeah, I mean, okay, that’s a different question. You know, generating headlines for attention is different than purposely being controversial. I think any smart marketer — which is what I am at the end of the day, which is how I’ve gotten all my successes — is gonna create viral marketing things and ideas. Especially when it comes to around the time when I have something that I want people to tune into.
So there’s a headline this week, “Jake Paul calls COVID a hoax.” Is that part of your marketing?
No. So this guy, this reporter, he misquoted me. He took what I said out of context, and I told him that. I told him that the whole entire time. It was probably the worst interview I’ve ever done. He was just like leading me down certain paths with his questions. And it’s quite upsetting actually that someone with that sort of power can just publish something that’s false. And then just everyone would conceive it to be true when reading it.
What was false about it?
[Note: While Paul says the Daily Beast article misquoted him, it is based on a transcription — just like this interview. After we published this story, the interviewer released an audio recording of Paul’s statements where you can clearly hear Paul suggesting the disease is a hoax.]
Um, I haven’t read the whole article. But the whole entire time, I would say something, and he would be like, ‘so what you’re trying to say is’ and then say a sentence. And then I would be like ‘No, that’s not what I’m trying to say.’ I’ve done like fucking 20 interviews in the past fucking 24 hours. Again, it goes back to what I was saying earlier on the call, like, I’m a human. If I say one sentence and people want to take that out of context, that’s exactly my point. I’m not going to be perfect. But that guy was a nightmare.
Do you stand by the idea that COVID is a hoax?
No, no. COVID is very, very real. COVID is very real, like, it’s killed so many people. It’s killed people I know. It’s killed someone very, very close to me. So that’s what I’m saying. I don’t even know where that came from.
Going back to your earlier answer, where is the line between the controversies and the viral marketing?
Yeah, it’s interesting. It’s a fine line. I think that question remains unsolved.
Does a headline like that, about COVID, drive ticket sales for pay per view?
I’m not sure. I’m not sure. And that wasn’t one of my marketing ideas at all. So I have no idea.
In another video recently, you said, “Getting YouTube views. That’s where the slip ups come from.” And obviously, this isn’t YouTube, this is his boxing. But I’m curious, why is that?
I think when you wake up every single day as a YouTuber — this is what I did in my past — when you wake up with the mindset of like, “I have to top myself today, and I have to get more views than I did yesterday, and I only have 12 hours of daylight to make something happen. What are we gonna do?” That’s, that’s where the issues come in.
Are you gonna make something that’s entertaining that people want to watch, or are you going to make some boring shit? You know, it’s entertainment. People like to be entertained. And if they’re not, they’re not going to fuck with you.
To what extent have you found that the controversies drive views and further popularity?
I think drama more so than that. Good news travels fast, bad news travels faster. You know, no one’s like, “Hey, did you see Justin Bieber donated $1 million today?” No one’s saying that. They’re saying, “Did you see Justin Bieber ran over a paparazzi today?” You know what I’m saying? No one cares about the good shit. Be honest. We live in a toxic society.
It seems to me so much of your brand is built around that, though. You say that controversies seem to bother you a little bit, but is there a way for you to maintain what you’re doing without generating those kind of bad headlines?
Controversies don’t bother me. It’s more so being misunderstood. Because that’s never a good feeling. It’d be like looking in a mirror and like I see myself, but if you were standing next to me in the mirror, you would see someone else. So I don’t know if that answers the question.
How should the controversies be understood?
I don’t think they’re meant to be understood. Like, I don’t think even I understand them all. You know what I’m saying? Put it like this. I’ve been living under a microscope since I was 17 years old. And I’m 23 with a lot of power, responsibility, everything. If every single day, or everywhere you went, from the time the normal human was 17 to 23, what would people see, hear, or film you doing that would make you look like shit and that the world would hate you for if they found out about it?
Do you feel like you have control over some of that stuff, though?
I’m not saying — 100 percent, I’m not. But I guess that goes back to like, I take responsibility for my actions, and I’ve learned a lot from making mistakes and doing things that I disagree with, and that I can learn from, for sure. That’s part of the process is just getting better as I get older.
Let me just ask one more thing, going back to that tweet about your goals from earlier this year. You said “gimme 36 months,” you’re going to reach your goal of being a top fighter, a top rapper, showing your real self, helping your friends. It’s only been four months, but how’s that going?
I would say it’s going good. I guess I would base things off of actual facts and evidence and numbers, the pay-per-view is on pace to be one of the biggest, and my music, the views on it are doing phenomenal, in my opinion. I’m helping my friends who live here with their music careers. I’m helping them push their businesses. And we’re creating great memories.
I would say the only thing that’s not going well is people seeing who I am. [Laughing] But it’s a work in progress. I don’t think people like a story that’s perfect, so I think that’s what I have going for me.
Update, 7:14PM ET: Added an embedded audio recording of Paul’s suggestion to The Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern that COVID-19 is a hoax.