Peter Shukoff has never been one to work in a creative vacuum. Rather, the comedian, musician and web sensation better known as Nice Peter has always done best before a crowd. Be it his first job as a birthday party magician in Rochester, NY, or today on YouTube with millions of subscribers, Shukoff embodies the epitome of contemporary creation by letting his audience drive his content.
Looking back to a time before his career launched online, “I was a hammy kid,” Shukoff recalls with simple clarity. “I was always a little strange and the best way I could feel comfortable was making people laugh.”
What might have started as a social crutch became a passion. It led him through years of performing in a youth Irish dancing troop, to picking up the guitar for punchlines’ sake, as well as learning parlor tricks, juggling, unicycling, magic, you name it. There were improv comedy teams, open-mic nights, jingle-writing jobs and three-hour sets at airport bars and dives across the nation, making butts of the audience in riffed melodic humor. Always trial-by-fire, Shukoff cut his teeth adapting to each setting as necessary, working with and for his viewers.
“I like the idea of being at the center more as a conductor than an all eyes-on-me star,” Shukoff says. “The audience is as much a part of this show as I am. I’m just kind of guiding it.”
The nickname Nice Peter was given at a Chicago hip-hop open mic early on in his career, and for years it hung on Shukoff with some irony as his performances were dominated by raunch and obscenity sung with a cherubic grin. He says he lacked then the confidence to really challenge his audience or his own sense of humor with any subtlety.
From the East Coast to the Midwest to Los Angeles, with each move came successes and failures Shukoff reflects on as lessons learned like a journeyman honing his unique craft of spontaneous song writing. But once a music video Shukoff created about the web series “Shaycarl and the Shaytards” praising the family’s wholesome values began funneling traffic to his YouTube channel, he says he was once again challenged to perform for a specific audience. Only now it was to live up to his name and produce more genuine content.
Today, best recognized for co-creating “Epic Rap Battles of History,” the most viewed format on YouTube on a per episode basis, Shukoff draws from viewers suggestions and votes for each comedic tête-à-tête rhyming competition before pouring extreme devotion into researching every episode. With more than 1 billion views and 7.5 million subscribers across his YouTube channels, Shukoff’s success is made sweeter by those years he spent toiling to fit into a conventional comedy system. Turns out he didn’t need to. Considering, too, collaborations with KassemG such as the “Street Music” series of improvised songs inspired by a day out’s random public encounters, his “The Monday Show” weekly vlogs and “Picture Songs” inspired by the web’s funniest photos, Shukoff’s relationship with his fans through this medium is at the crux of his winning humor.
“In the end, I'm really happy about how much the audience on the Internet has impacted me,” says Shukoff. “They're really nice and they're really supportive and it's given me the confidence to dig a little deeper and sing about things that have a little more meaning and some personal expression.”