April 1 is normally a sacred day here. But considering the circumstances, pushing out a bunch of misinformation didn’t seem like a fun thing to do for me, even if we could probably use some entertainment. Instead, I’ve compiled a list of YouTube channels that I regularly watch, that I hope you’ll enjoy too, and will be not only entertaining but also educational as we all stay home and do our parts to keep each other healthy.
This British nerd in his one red T-shirt has an insatiable curiosity and a love for telling short fun stories about places and technology. From really old technology like a one-lane road-rail bridge in New Zealand to really new tech like 38-mile spools of fibre-optic cable used in a stock exchange, or sometimes both, like how Ogham script is represented in Unicode. Often it’s technology that’s no longer used, like old sound mirrors in Britain or a never-used nuclear reactor in Austria. Or unusual places, including several in Canada like the Canusa road in Stanstead or the town of Asbestos or in Resolute, Nunavut (just so he can explain how Inuktitut works).
In other videos, he explains the basics of computing very well, including how a distributed system has trouble counting.
He’s also not afraid to bring up truths that go against conventional wisdom in the YouTube sphere. Like this long one explaining copyright or this one explaining how ads from VPN companies are so misleading.
A new video every Monday, and always worth the watch.
Part of the Extra Credits channel (which started talking about video games but has several other series now done in the same style), Extra History talks about major events of the history of the world in a painstakingly-researched way and presents them in an engaging narrative illustrated with fun an humour. It’s already at 350 videos, most of which are 6-10 minutes long, and each topic takes a handful of videos. You can watch them in production order (above) or in chronological order (Part 1, Part 2), from the history of writing to the Cuban missile crisis. Most series are followed with a longer video in which the author corrects mistakes and provides additional material.
The videos are closer to two minutes, but still short enough that you get bite-size bits of science knowledge, presented in a similar cartoonish drawing style as Extra Credits, but closer to what a teacher would draw on a blackboard, complete with video of a hand actually drawing the shapes.
If you like the Minute videos, you’ll love these two adorable Canadians also their short videos that also use the whiteboard drawing method. Their videos are more often about health matters and subjects that are topical or controversial, providing practical information based on the latest science. They also do songs sometimes.
Do you hate math? If not, move on. Do you like math professors getting really excited writing big prime numbers on large sheets of brown paper, explaining the wonders of concepts they’ve just invented and have very little practical purpose? Then boy do I have the channel for you.
A lot of educational videos take complex issues and simplify them. CGP Grey takes what should be simple issues and exposes how ridiculously complicated they are in a way that is educational but also very fun. Whether it’s which state the Statue of Liberty is in or what the most efficient method is to board a plane or how social security numbers are used for ID or what the Confederate flag was or what the Canada-U.S. border is or how Vatican City is governed.
It doesn’t update very often, but when it does it’s an instant must-watch.
Another science-explained channel, but much more serious and much more visually stunning. These painstakingly-researched videos include cool, bubbly animations that are just adorable.
In 2016, Wired created a video of an accent coach critiquing movie accents, and it got wildly popular, sparking dozens of other similar videos from a bunch of different channels. I write about this more in this 2018 post, which I’m still updating. My latest add will be Chris Hadfield talking about space movies.
You’ve probably heard of John Oliver’s weekly HBO talk show, and the way it breaks down complex issues in a way you’ll understand (and become infuriated about). The main story segments are posted to YouTube, and for a while they were inaccessible to Canadians. Now it looks like those videos get unlocked after two weeks, so you can catch up on what you missed.
This channel started out applying AutoTune to videos of Carl Sagan and Bill Nye, which is definitely fun to watch, but has since evolved into one creating fantastic audiovisual projects with stunning animations of space. The video embedded here, Timelapse of the Future, is one of the most existentially depressing videos I’ve ever seen. (There’s a companion video that shows the timelapse until now.)
The SB Nation channel has a lot of great series about sports history, including Weird Rules and The Worst, but Rewinder is a great way to relive the biggest moments of all-time, not just showing the highlight but analyzing the context of everything up to that point. Since it’s April 1, why not introduce you to the concept with this video, one of my favourites of all-time, explaining with a straight face the climax of Space Jam.
One of YouTube’s most popular channels, and with reason. Jaiden is an insanely relatable millennial who makes us all feel better about ourselves by putting the minor embarrassments of her past out there to help us realize that we’re not alone.
A group of my-age kids (I’m still a kid, right?) in Victoria, B.C., who play Magic the Gathering and video games and put out funny videos, including the short-form absurd Crapshots series I embedded here. You can also check out their RoadQuest series driving from Victoria to the Yukon, their CheckPoint gaming newscast, or The Panalysts, a panel discussion show about making absurd hypothetical choices.
No one can eviscerate a great movie like people who appreciate great movies. And Screen Junkies know their stuff, so they do a great job getting a big voice to introduce us to movies we already know and sarcastically point out all their flaws. (As a bonus, watch this one about Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s gold.)
Got some favourites you want to share? Post them in the comments, as they say on YouTube.