DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — Five guys from Cormorant in Becker County, Minn., are shredding it on YouTube, reaching internet stardom and making a lucrative career out of the prank-filled, engine-revving, action sports lifestyle they love.
Their YouTube channel, CboysTV, hit the coveted "1 million subscribers'' mark earlier this year, and is now at more than 1.1 million.
“It was amazing,” said CJ Lotzer of how it felt to reach that milestone. “You work to see that ‘1 million subscribers’ pretty much since the day you start YouTubing; it’s every YouTuber’s goal. And to finally accomplish that ... it was such a cool experience, to have a million people rooting for you.”
Lotzer was a driving force behind the creation of the CboysTV YouTube channel, launched in July 2016. He was barely out of his teen years then, but saw his friends' potential for fun and profit in YouTube, and now, reaching this level of success “is everything I ever wanted,” he said.
“The one thing I didn’t know was how much work it was going to be,” he added. “And how hard it was going to be.”
The Cboys — Lotzer, Ryan Iwerks, Ken Matthees, Ben Roth and Micah Sandman — work long hours, six days a week at their CboysTV headquarters in Cormorant, just minutes southwest of Detroit Lakes. They film and edit two videos a week, order needed parts and supplies, design and ship an array of Cboys T-shirts and other merchandise to fans all over the country, and brainstorm ideas for future videos, promotional and community events, and related projects. The get a cut of revenue from ads that YouTube sells around their content and make money from merchandise sales.
Most people think they just spend their days hanging out together, goofing off and having a good time, the Cboys say. While that is part of it, it’s only a small fraction of what they do: They’re developing a brand and growing a business, and that's an intense gig.
Once regarded as the neighborhood “hellions,” as Cormorant community leader Tom Olson told the Star-Tribune in January, the Cboys have an ongoing reputation for tearing it up. Often seen — and very well heard — gunning their motors on lakes and land throughout the area, they’re known for the kinds of hijinks that inspire "don't try this at home" disclaimers and worry moms everywhere. But they keep their fans laughing.
In one of their most-watched videos, posted in 2017 and viewed more than 5 million times, they play around on thin ice on a small local lake, popping wheelies on their quad vehicles and treating the frozen surface like a giant slip ‘n slide. In other videos they do tricks on their dirt bikes, smash up cheap cars, go mudding, blow stuff up, have street races with shifter cars ... all sorts of wild stunts.
Yet they don’t consider themselves stuntmen: They’re not professional drivers, they explain, they’re just a group of guys who like to have a good time. There have been a number of wipeouts, injuries and minor run-ins with the police over the years, but the Cboys said their goal isn’t to do dangerously unsafe or illegal things — it’s simply to entertain.
Now in their early to mid-20s, the Cboys have been friends since childhood. Schooled in Detroit Lakes, Hawley and Fargo, they grew up going to their families’ lake homes on Big Cormorant, and bonded over their shared sense of humor and love for outdoor adventure.
“There weren’t that many kids on Big Cormorant at the time, so we all kind of found each other, out on the lake and out on dirt bikes and on four-wheelers,” Roth said.
After a while, the boys became locally known for their antics, and people started referring to them as “the Cboys.” It wasn’t a nickname they ever used for themselves until they were in need of a name for their YouTube channel.
Their headquarters building is a 75,000-square-feet industrial-type shop that they've proudly dubbed the "fantasy factory." It's been remodeled to incorporate multiple offices, a lounge and pool room, indoor garage areas, storage spaces, and a studio for recording podcasts — something the guys plan to start doing in the near future. It’s situated on a large piece of property in the Cormorant countryside.
Outside that is a dirt bike track and a large parking lot lined with a rainbow of shiny vehicles: a red C8 Corvette, a lime green fake Lamborghini, or "Shamborghini" (because fake is funnier, the Cboys said), go-carts, side-by-sides, and an old white limousine they use for cruising around. There are also a bunch of dirt bikes, snowmobiles, quads, stunt cars, personal watercraft and other motorized toys sitting around.
It’s a massive upgrade from where the group started out: Their first videos were made with an old cellphone out of a garage at Roth’s parents’ house.
Over the past few years, Cboys’ filming has gotten slicker, their editing has gotten tighter, and their personalities have shone brighter on screen, they said. Their goal is to continue improving on all those things, without losing the authenticity their fans count on.
The Cboys learned early on that “keeping it real” was important. They filmed a pilot episode for a reality TV show three years ago, and Matthees said it made them realize just how much, “that was the last thing we wanted to become. We never want to come off as forced.”
Their decision to stick to YouTube seems to have been a good one: CboysTV viewership has doubled in the past year alone, and they've gotten “95% positive” feedback, Roth said, “which is awesome, and we’re super grateful for it.”
YouTube stars have fans spread out all over the world, and the Cboys sometimes get recognized when they're out and about. People will come right up to them and want autographs or selfies, they said, and they enjoy meeting their fans in person.
To keep building that fan base, the Cboys plan to reach out to new and different demographics in the future. They’ve recently expanded onto Facebook, where their videos are getting millions of views, and they want to create videos and podcasts that help viewers get to know them on a more personal level. They also plan to do more collaborations with other YouTubers, develop additional merchandise, and do more giveaways on their channel (they’ve already given away numerous vehicles).
Visit CboysTV on YouTube to watch more of their videos. (Cboys videos are geared to general audiences, but contain some swearing; not all parents may find them suitable for kids).