Breck and Kylan Johnson scoured YouTube for any programming as good for their four young children as “Sesame Street.”
They didn’t want a hypnotic holding pattern for tiny tots. They sought something safe, educational and truly worth watching. YouTube programming for toddlers exists, but not the kind of quality the Johnsons wanted: something that parents with brains would enjoy and approve.
“Most of what exists is just for the endorphin rush,” Kylan said. “We saw an opportunity to provide content that’s beneficial and valuable.”
Both halves of this kid-oriented couple grew up with babysitting as a way of life, they said. They met as teenagers while working at a Christian summer camp where it was their job to be “100 percent on, 100 percent energetic, 100 percent positive” while managing mobs of energetic children, Breck said.
After that, Kylan studied film and web design while Breck studied nursing. Then the couple started having babies, got married and settled down in Vancouver.
Two years ago, the young parents — both are 27 — decided to put their skills and experience to work creating what they couldn’t find online. Breck morphed into an endlessly eager, endlessly curious character called Brecky Breck by donning a goofy green-and-yellow outfit complete with jumbo glasses and a huge ribbon in her red hair.
That transformation isn’t much of a stretch for Breck Johnson, she laughed. “Dressing in that ridiculous outfit” just unleashes what feels like her natural energy and positivity, she said.
Her husband picked up a video camera and started recording Brecky Breck’s explorations of life, work and community in Vancouver and beyond. Over the past year, Brecky Breck has flipped dough at Vancouver Pizza, scaled the climbing wall at The Source gym, banged drums at Portland Music Company, washed her laundry at Wash World and even rode along with a Chapelle’s tow truck driver — who turned out to be a natural-born dancer and a total ham in front of the camera.
“We just want to explore the things that people love to do. I learn so much every time about people and their passions and what makes them tick,” Breck said.
“Vancouver is such a unique community, it’s been so welcoming as we’ve tried to start something new,” Kylan said. “There’s such a small-town vibe here.”
Curiosity and courage
Breck Johnson flipped in and out of her Brecky Breck persona moment by moment during a recent visit to The Columbian, where she and her husband shot an episode of their show.
She did a good job seeming excited about the boring, old newsroom, where reporters and editors just talk and type, talk and type. But when her tour hit the on-site press room, where huge, slightly Seussian contraptions line up color plates and roll out pages at 25 mph, Brecky Breck started bouncing around and uttering her trademark statement with gusto: “Oh, wow!”
When the camera is rolling, the girlish Johnson is irrepressibly curious and constantly amazed. She’s used to hearing that she seems about 14, she said. But when the camera pauses, she’s back to being herself — asking questions and distilling the answers into simple explanations pitched for 2- to 4-year-olds. She usually turns to her husband and reviews her wording before he starts rolling again. They film tiny segments, a few seconds long apiece, that are eventually edited into episodes that can run as long as 15 or 20 minutes.
Realistically, the couple said, they don’t expect to be imparting to toddlers much technical detail about tow-truck mechanics or printing press operations. The hidden agenda behind those adventures, they said, is really connection with community — and having the courage to go explore what you’re curious about. Not a lot of moms play the drums, but if Brecky Breck does it, children and their parents are likelier go try it.
Exploring the community is usually the mission, Breck added, but a few Brecky Breck episodes have been aimed at tougher stuff, such as understanding difficult feelings and learning to rein in disruptive behaviors.
Brecky Breck gets fan mail from moms here in Vancouver and from places as far-flung as Russia and the Philippines, the Johnsons said. When they started planning the Brecky Breck show two years ago, it was a labor of love with zero expectations, they said. When they started posting episodes online last fall, it was only because some plugged-in friends told them to go for it. But they still couldn’t imagine who would find them and watch.
Today, they said, each Brecky Breck episode gets tens of thousands of views. The show has never made them a dime, they said, but that may change soon. In addition to posting on YouTube, the show is now headed for Amazon Prime.
Kylan Johnson has spent the last several years steering CoLab, a business startup incubator in downtown Vancouver, but he recently parted ways with that organization and has more time than ever to devote to Brecky Breck, he said. They’ve hired an editor and are now posting three different types of episodes every week: a “field trip,” a storytime reading, and a craft or game.
After lots of cold calling to people and businesses that might tolerate a visit, the Brecky Breck team is now eager to field suggestions for visits they never would have thought of themselves.
“We’re always knocking on doors, but there’s nothing better than when somebody knocks on ours and says, ‘Hey, I have an idea,’ ” Kylan said.