One of the most consistent questions thrown at viral video star and proud Charlestonian JP Sears is "Are you serious?" Known for his satirical "How to be Ultra Spiritual" series on YouTube and Facebook, Sears has accumulated millions of views with viral hits like "How to be Gluten Intolerant" and "If Meat Eaters Acted Like Vegans." But it's not just his serious delivery of ludicrous content that confuses people. Sears is a satirist of new age culture, a devout believer in it, and a holistic coach, even making a separate series of videos where he gives sincere holistic advice on everything from relationships to depression to meditation. The "Ultra Spiritual" series seemingly lampoons the life that Sears lives and promotes. Confused yet? The YouTube star explains it a little better.
"I needed it for self-therapy because so much of the new age culture and new age practices are a part of my life and a very beneficial part of my life, yet there's another side to the beneficial coin for everything," says Sears. The comedic "Ultra Spiritual" videos are an example of public self-reflection, where Sears mocks his own self-righteous tendencies through laughter in the hopes of humbling himself. "I was finding myself having egotistical agendas and judgements hiding within my new age and spiritual practices. The videos and the book [How to be Ultra Spiritual] became a way for me to shine the light of awareness on the shadow side of me," he says.
Sears has had plenty of time to contemplate this. Born in Toledo, Ohio and raised in Bowling Green, Ohio, the internet sensation found the holistic lifestyle right after high school. After spending "all of a few months" at Bowling Green State University, Sears decided school wasn't for him. What caused his transition from drifting kid in his late teens to new age master was his interest in fitness. Sears says that he loves sports and, ever since the age of 11, has tried to stay in shape. "I think that got me into the tip of the iceberg of the holistic lifestyle, which is fitness and nutrition," he says. "From there, the doors into the other dimensions that is a holistic lifestyle were just kind of natural to walk through."
At the age of 18, Sears began studying holistic cultures, but didn't begin his training as a life coach until 2003. He attended Ohio life coaching school Journeys of Wisdom, where he still occasionally does training to keep his skills as sharp as possible. Sears says that the reason he became a holistic coach was a simple desire to care for others.
"The decision to be a life coach, the idea of helping people help themselves grow, heal, find more meaning in their lives, and step into their personal power as I do the same really appealed to me," says Sears. He moved to San Diego in 2004, where he began working as a professional life coach.
In 2013, still living on the West Coast, Sears began uploading videos to YouTube. It was all serious content centered around the holistic and new age lifestyles. Sears walked viewers through his advice on topics such as anger management, the importance of being vulnerable, and being good to yourself.
It wasn't until a quirky video called "How to be Ultra Spiritual" came along in 2014 (six months after he moved to Charleston) that Sears began the venture that he would become most famous for. Sporting a headband with flowers and vaguely mystic paraphernalia, Sears opened fire on himself in the silliest way possible. "You're going to want to compare how spiritual other people are to yourself," he says in the video. "Judging other people to be less spiritual than you makes you a better person than them, and that's exactly what makes you more spiritual than them." That purposefully poor argument kickstarted the age of the "Ultra Spiritual" for Sears. Since then, he's made the comedy videos just as much of a priority as the serious content he regularly produces.
Seeing how well the "Ultra Spiritual" series has taken off, with a book that shares the series' title and a string of comedy shows lined up for 2018, it's surprising to say that Sears didn't originally set out to work in comedy. "I didn't really think of being a comedian as a part of what I do until a lot of people started calling me a comedian," he says.
Sears has learned to balance the comedic with the sincere, comparing it to having a right hand and a left hand. "For me, it's important to be JP Sears and I want to be seen as JP Sears rather than just a fraction of who I am as a comedian or a fraction of who I am as a sincere coach," he says. For the viral star, there's a deep fulfillment in both.
The serious videos often give him a relation to the viewer. He'll even feature the occasional viewer question as the basis for some videos. In "How to Let Go of Guilt," Sears discusses a viewer's sadness over the death of her son, who died in a car accident. "To state the obvious, what happened to your son — you had zero control over," he says into the camera. "To feel out of control about something is absolutely terrifying, so we try and create a sense of control."
"I think they provide more of a sense of sincere connection and, dare I say, emotional intimacy," he says of his videos. While comedy gives him the opportunity to joke about being a social justice warrior, flat earth theories, and the Illuminati. "It's kind of like my inner child comes out to play," Sears says.
He playfully assails anything related to new age culture or its supposed enemies. In his video "Using Essential Oils," JP shows the benefits of undefined expensive liquids, claiming they'll fix pretty much everything, even dependency. "I developed an addiction to essential oils, so I used essential oils to overcome my addiction," he says with a smile. "It's that effective because it crosses the blood-brain barrier."
- Jonathan Boncek
In the case of his live performances based on "Ultra Spiritual," Sears attempts to walk the line without alienating any fans. "Given that it's billed as a comedy show, it's principally comedy, yet also I give some sincere perspectives from my heart," he says. "Ultimately I want people to be able to live more meaningful lives." So far, Sears has performed in New York, Boston, and D.C., with a 30 city tour planned for 2018. No Charleston shows are currently booked.
Despite poking fun at new age culture, Sears says that there has been a boost in his serious content as well, believing it to be the identifiability in "Ultra Spiritual" that viewers find intriguing. "Some people who had a little bit of an allergy to the seriousness around self-help find a sense of relatability and connection to me because here I was not being overly serious with it," he says.
The "Ultra Spiritual" content became so popular in the last two years that Sears was even able to end his life coach client practice in 2016. Some money has been from advertisements, but most has been from sponsorships and partnerships. "The videos on YouTube and Facebook have opened up those beautiful doors of opportunity," says Sears. Currently he is working with supplement company Onnit and toilet fragrance company Poo-Pourri where he's already filmed a comedic YouTube short for them titled "You've Been Doing The Holidays All Wrong."
"JP came across our radar because we were looking for influencers to partner with," says Poo-Pourri Vice President of Creative Nicole Story. "JP's spiritual humor caught our attention."
JP Sears the life coach and JP Sears the character have often had their identities blurred, but with the success it's shown him in the past few years and his ability to show the world all sides of his personality, he doesn't seem to mind too much, saying, "I think any time any of us express ourselves more authentically, we always win."