‘Unus Annus’ is an Existential ‘Jackass’ For a New Generation

When popular gamers Mark Fischbach (Markiplier) and Ethan Nestor (Crankgameplays) announced the formation of a joint channel in November 2019, the two longtime friends and collaborators took careful measures to ensure that no one, not even their fiercely loyal fanbases, could speculate what was coming.

The announcement video, simply titled “Unus Annus,” places Fischbach (31) and Nestor (24) in front of a continuously swirling, black and white background not unlike that of The Twilight Zone. The pair ask the viewer a simple question:  “We live our lives taking each second for granted… but what would you do if you knew how much time you had left?”

Hard question? Luckily, Unus Annus is here to answer it for you. No matter how strange the bucket list item or how gross the childhood fascination, Fischbach and Nestor started the channel with the goal of tackling them all in just 365 days — the stranger and grosser, the better.

Unus Annus

No Limits

“Nothing is really off limits,” says Nestor. The first video, titled “Cooking With Sex Toys,” features the two making breakfast using various paddles and dildos in place of regular utensils like whisks and spatulas. “We’re having fun and doing whatever we want and that’s kind of what makes the channel special.”

“Doing whatever they want” consists of tasting each other’s urine after it’s been filtered with a LifeStraw, getting popular beauty YouTuber James Charles to complete a military obstacle course, biting the heads off of bugs (who still have their eyeballs intact), making their own sausage from scratch, eating nothing but onions for 24 hours, sampling dog treats, and learning how to swallow fire. Each video is filmed by Fischbach’s longtime girlfriend Amy Nelson, who provides the fodder (be it mystery boxes or bugs) for some of their best and strangest ideas. 

Make no mistake, the pair aren’t doing this just to shock you. Fischbach and Nestor are well aware of their young, impressionable fanbase — which skyrocketed the channel to one million subscribers in just a week of launching — and they two have put out a few videos that are actually educational in nature. One of the most notable examples include crafting their own geriatric simulation suit, which included attaching weights and impairments in order simulate loss of mobility and other functions that most take for granted. In another, they attempt to simulate labor pains, donning hospital gowns and suffering through eight levels of realistic contractions. In a video titled “How NOT to Be the Perfect Boyfriend,” Fischbach shares his experience with having an abusive partner, including links to websites and organizations where victims of domestic abuse can seek help.

The pair uploads a new video every single day for a year. After a year is up, the channel disappears forever. Nestor believes that he and Fischbach are the first YouTubers to do something like this. Some creators have uploaded every day for a year, stopped, and simply left the channel up for all to view — but UA is its own unique experiment. There’s even a supernatural aspect: the two decided to personify Unus Annus, with Nestor taking on the role of Unus and Fischbach taking on Annus, portraying them as foreboding characters who appear throughout the series to serve as a reminder that death is near.

As the channel comes to a close, the pair have appeared in the remaining videos as their Unus and Annus personas. “Unus Annus isn’t special because of the videos,” Fischbach explains. “The videos are fine. The channel is special because everything is going to be deleted and you won’t be able to watch it again.” When asked why they would delete a channel that consistently garners millions of views (in addition to a considerable amount of ad revenue), Nestor says the goal is “just to have people and even ourselves just live in the moment a little bit more and be more aware of everything passing us by.”

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Unus Annus

Jackass 2.0

In 2000, a group of comedians set out to do as many dangerous (and disgusting) stunts as humanly possible in a series appropriately titled Jackass. While short-lived, the show went on to become a staple in popular culture — there was nothing else like it at the time. The men escaped a limo full of bees, crawled through mouse traps, attempted to launch themselves off the back of a rocket, set off fireworks indoors — and those are their tamer stunts. For Steve-O, a core member of Jackass, the series succeeded because of the way it challenged masculinity: it’s compelling to see a man fail, fall down, get hurt, because it contrasts with their tough guy nature.

The same could be said for Unus Annus. In one video, the pair plays soccer with a brick. They play a game call “Nut Ball,” also performed in Jackass, where the objective is to roll a ball back and forth without getting hit directly in the groin. Some of the videos present like an exercise in pure masochism: getting voluntarily pepper sprayed, soaking in a urine-powered sauna, waxing each other’s body hair, washing their mouths out with soap, chugging apple cider vinegar, going “bungie jumping” in the backyard.

But the purpose of UA is a lot more than “just fall down, get hurt, make audience laugh.” In a video where the two each make a time capsule to be opened on the channel’s final day, Nestor writes a letter to his future self: “We took each day on as a new adventure, an opportunity to learn, to grow, to step out of our comfort zones. […] We took every chance we got to experience everything to its fullest.” Don’t try to bungie jump off a tree in your backyard or bury your friend alive, but do go out there and try something different. Whether it’s attending a goat yoga class, getting acupuncture, cryogenically freezing yourself, or learning how to blow glass: do something different. Get uncomfortable. Try. Fail. Unus Annus reminds us to experience life while we still can. We don’t have as much time left as we like to think — and if that fact scares you, Fischbach and Nestor have achieved their goal.

“It reminds people that everything is temporary,” explains Nestor. “Eventually I won’t be making videos anymore, Mark won’t be making videos anymore, We want people to be able to cherish every little video… and then take it from them [laughs].”

“I can’t wait to see how people feel,” Fischbach says in one of their newest (and very last) videos. “All this build-up for one moment. It’s beautiful.”

The channel, with over 4 million subscribers and 730 million total video views, is set to expire on November 13th, 2020. 

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