It’s nearly apocalyptic, the way Nickelodeon star and entrepreneur Jace Norman talks about the transitioning media industry. Lounged on a loveseat in the green room of the Flaunt studio, he says the future of entertainment is in social media, which he believes might be as damaging for creators as it could be for consumers, especially children.
“There are so many false narratives being portrayed, like, ‘This is what life is supposed to be. It’s supposed to be perfect and you’re supposed to have fun all the time,’” he tells me. “And I think, when you’re a kid, and you’re seeing all this, and you’re constantly getting that information like…” he gapes, wide-eyed at an invisible phone in his palm he pretends to scroll through. “I bet it has some effect.”
When I remind Norman that this is the exact sort of attitude people had about television and the radio, he says, “It could be that.” He thinks about it for a moment. “I could be just a cranky old man already,” he adds with a laugh.
Not by any definition, I know. Norman, star of the hit show Henry Danger, co-founder of the company Creator Edge, and budding television producer, is only eighteen years old. He first hit the small screen as part-time superhero sidekick Henry Hart/Kid Danger in 2014, and with four Kids’ Choice Award nominations and one win under its superhero belt, Henry Danger is now on its fifth season.
Before reaching the heights of child-stardom, Norman lived in a rural area in New Mexico, and grew up exploring the outdoors with his brother. His heroes included Albert Einstein and Harrison Ford, the former because the star-to-be related to Einstein’s sense of curiosity as well as his dyslexia; the latter because Norman loves Indiana Jones.
He recalls, “I saw Indiana Jones when I was a little kid, and I was just like, ‘How did they make that? How did they do that? What was the process of actually doing that?’ Because for me, it felt like magic.”
Jump cut to Norman’s family moving to San Diego, from where within a few years, his parents would begin driving to Los Angeles for upwards of two hours to get their son to auditions after school. And after landing a few Disney and Nickelodeon side-roles, Norman was approached by Nickelodeon and thereafter became Kid Danger, donning a red and silver domino mask and ZAP! POW! WHAM!-ing off to solve silly crimes with the superhero Captain Man.
Norman’s position as a comedic child star beloved by children is reminiscent of Cole and Dylan Sprouse’s position during their time on The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, or Drake Bell and Josh Peck’s during the height of their eponymous series. The “kid sitcom,” as Norman refers to it, has served as a launching pad for many careers. But he believes that his kind may be endangered. “I would say that Henry Danger is of the last kid sitcoms,” he says, explaining that children are now often fans of more dramatic, single-camera shows like The Flash and Stranger Things, increasingly viewed on streaming services.
Though, that’s just scripted content. Social media is another story. “The whole time I’ve been on Henry Danger I’ve had, like, anxiety about how kids are going to stop watching TV,” he says. “So I thought, ‘I have to do something,’ and I decided to make a company that was in the social media field.”
That would be Creator Edge, a social media branding company that connects influencers and organizations wanting to sell their product. “It’s so easy to scroll past something that you’re not interested in. Most people aren’t interested in ads like this,”—he holds out an invisible product, like a socialite in a selfie brandishing multivitamins you’re not positive they take.
Norman saw that the most successful brands advertising on Instagram created partnerships with their influencers, and showcased their products as something that is a part of the social media stars’ personal aesthetic. That’s what makes followers pay attention. That’s what Creator Edge does.
But what happened to cranky-old-man Norman and his growing disdain for the next phase of media consumption?
“That’s the tough thing,” Norman says. “Social media is the future, but at the same time, it’s super messed up right now. Do I join it, or do I completely rebel against it? There’s been many times where I don’t want to use social media and want to just focus on acting. It’s this constant conflict for me.”
In any case, acting is currently not Norman’s only focus, now that he’s testing out the waters of producing as well. While still working on Henry Danger, he has created two television programs that are now in development, and are, of course, more dramatic, single-camera shows.
The first project, Gaps, taps writers from recent comedy smash Blockers, and is a parody of Norman’s life, following an actor on a kid’s show behind the scenes. Norman would be a star as well as a producer for this project, and as of this interview, he has already shot the pilot and is ready for pitching.
The second show, Get Some, for which Norman would focus on showrunning rather than acting, is about the provocative and messy experiences of social media stars in Los Angeles. The material clearly comes from a personal place, and Norman returns to his criticisms of the social media machine. “It’s all predicated on people selling themselves… It’s very psychologically hard on people to sell themselves on Instagram. You get caught up in this, and it really can destroy you from the inside out.”
This is Jace Norman’s dilemma. He is a creator, he is an actor, he is an entrepreneur, and his insider’s knowledge tells him that the future of media is something of a dark one. So, what is he going to do? What should all of us do, as suckers for Instagram shots of beautiful people doing beautiful things?
From his experience as a child star occasionally overwhelmed with the pressures of his job and people managing his image, Norman gives this: shut everything out and ask what matters.
“To me, what really matters is creating and basically being, I guess,” Norman says. “Basically being your authentic, kind self.”
So, Norman’s authentic, kind self will continue working, on Henry Danger, on his new shows, on Creator Edge, and on a new idea for a subscription box that would deliver stylish pairs of socks to their customer’s door. We might even expect to see Norman promoted to full blown superhero soon, with the way things are going.