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Roman Atwood Before All The Fame

After Jackass became a hit MTV show and movie franchise, thousands of young men inspired by their pranks tried to do the same thing. It's now 2016, the dust has cleared, and Roman Atwood has emerged as the most successful of the Jackass disciples.

The Columbus, Ohio resident owns two mega-popular YouTube channels. His main one, RomanAtwood, which features the public and hidden camera pranks that have made him famous, has racked up more than 10 million subscribers and over a billion views. RomanAtwoodVlogs features daily video check-ins with Atwood and his family, and boasts similarly impressive numbers. His stardom has allowed him to perform pranks all over the world and work with prankster legends Steve-O and The Dudesons. This year, he's taken his viral videos to the big screen, producing a full-length movie called Natural Born Pranksters, starring fellow YouTubers Dennis Roady and Vitaly Zdorovetskiy.

But if you think Roman Atwood is just an overnight success who gets paid to goof around on camera all day, you couldn't be further from the truth.

It all begins

On May 28, 1983, Roman Atwood was born in Millersport, Ohio. His relationship with the camera started not long after, when he saved $300 to buy his first camera. He soon became obsessed with shooting "stupid videos," and by junior high, he'd graduated to shooting and editing sketch comedy clips with his friends. That's about the time he really checked out emotionally with school. He claims that he just couldn't see how the classes would prepare him for a world of video, and often fell asleep in classes. Atwood said in his Clever Talks speech, "I didn't need to learn about World War II to make these [stupid] videos."

In high school, he fell in love with editing. "I actually learned to make videos so I could edit them," he explained. "I love the creative control of editing, so I started filming videos so I would have something to edit. The editor has all the power. I have taken some crappy videos and made them into goldmines with my editing skills," He also fell in love with a fellow student named Shanna Reilly; they married in 2001, five months after they graduated. Having no more interest in college than high school, Atwood opted out despite his teachers' warnings.

Rough times

To support his new wife and video-making obsession, Atwood took a job working in his family's business, Atwood Rope. According to Atwood, this was a very frustrating time for him. "I used to tear up and cry at this factory because I wasn't making these videos. It was that passionate to me," he later recalled. Despite his depression, he still made videos on the side with his friends and brother, Dale Atwood, and worked on various film projects and commercials around Columbus. One such effort was a DVD of Jackass-style comedy he put together with his friends, called the Nerd Herd. In 2006, Atwood and his brother traveled around the country with Warped Tour, selling hundreds of copies.

A year after that, Atwood got what he believed would be his big break, when a friend invited him out to Los Angeles to help work on a movie. However, when he arrived on set, the young videographer realized it wasn't what he'd hoped: "It was this little low-budget thing, not a movie at all."

While not a perfect situation yet, Atwood seemed to be gaining more momentum in his professional life. Unfortunately, his personal life was crumbling. While he was away on his L.A. trip, his wife cheated on him with a guy who'd helped Atwood with his videos. Atwood didn't find out until 2008, and describes it as "the worst, most devastating time in [his] life." Fortunately, bad situations can breed creativity—he saw the divorce as a wake-up call to completely re-dedicate himself to his passion.

The realization that changed everything

In 2010, Atwood and his friends created Roman Atwood's Sketch Empire. For almost two years, the group uploaded a video every Tuesday, with the hope of someday having one go viral. It didn't catch on until Atwood got the idea to shoot a prank video where they pretended to pour a empty water cooler on unsuspecting pedestrians. Even though the people never got wet, their reactions earned the clip more views than all their other videos combined. While they continued uploading new sketch videos after the cooler prank, the feedback was almost completely negative. Atwood said, "I couldn't even post a sketch video without them saying, 'I didn't sign up for that! You suck! Post a prank!' So, I decided to turn it into a full-blown prank channel."

The group got their first truly viral video when they started "pee pranks," where they'd pretend to urinate on the street. People were fooled, even the police, and the YouTube views climbed upward. Viewers really seemed to love the police pranking part. Somewhere along the way, Atwood rebranded the Sketch Empire YouTube account as simply RomanAtwood.

Viral superstardom

Atwood's personal life improved along with his rising professional fortunes. He started dating Britney Smith, who soon started appearing in his videos as well. By 2011, "pee pranks" had amassed millions of views, and just a year later, Atwood quit the family business to pursue prank videos full time. Smith became an internet star in her own right when Atwood posted "Anniversary Prank Backfires!!" He was trying to prank her on their 5-year anniversary by pretending he'd cheated, but she saw the camera and pranked him back by pretending she'd cheated too. As of this writing, it's still his most-watched video, with over 80 million views.

Atwood has since successfully pranked Smith numerous times, such as in the "Killing My Own Kid PRANK!!" and "Blowing Up My Kid PRANK!!," videos, both of which are among his most-viewed videos ever. The pranks are basically what the titles say they are and, though Britney winds up in tears both times, she always seems to forgive him ... eventually.

Every year seems to get better for Atwood, and 2016 stands to be his best to date. His full-length prank movie came out on April 1, he continues cranking out videos for his channels, and he even finds time to promote his Smile More store. Keep your eyes peeled, because another viral prank is almost certainly coming along very soon.