Monkton teenagers make a splash with YouTube channel

MONKTON — Anybody concerned about the “future of boys” should take a look at “No Refunds,” a vigorously playful and wonderfully messy YouTube channel created by three freshmen at Mount Abraham Union High School.
Inspired by Saturday Night Live and their favorite sports commentators, Monkton residents Jonny Armell, George Collette and (when he can make it) Tristan Parker head down to George’s mom’s basement every Tuesday afternoon, sit at a plastic conference table, hit record and let it fly.
Covering such topics as sports, food and animals, with occasional character acting thrown into the mix, the boys are slowly creating a body of work that not only entertains but also provides a compelling glimpse of the gears at work inside the evolving minds of young men.
But not always.
“Dodgeball,” says George in one video. “It’s a fun game to play. Don’t take it too far.”
“Don’t get over competitive,” Jonny adds. “I usually get over competitive, but then a gym teacher yells at me because—” He pauses. “Yeah, I’m not going to go into that.”
Because they’re sports fans, the topic often dominates their discussions, and they have no shortage of opinions.
In one episode Jonny and George lament that professional sports stars are held to a lower standard of justice than regular people are. Players who beat their wives and girlfriends, or who take performance-enhancing drugs, should not be allowed to play, they say. Nor should players in the National Football League kneel during the national anthem — it ruins a beautiful game with politics.
Sometimes, however, their commentary hits a lighter note.
“My dad is a Yankees fan,” Jonny confesses. “I don’t know what happened there.”
Their most elaborate sports commentary to date plays out in an episode called “Pick Up the Phone, Roger.” Alone behind the table, Jonny announces that they will have a special guest on the show, a man named Bobby Ricky, who is blind. On cue, George walks on dressed like an NFL referee, wielding a plastic broom stick in lieu of a walking cane.
They devised this skit in response to a recent NFL playoff game between the Saints and the Rams in which controversial officiating was believed by many to have delivered an undeserved win to the Rams.
“Why’d you blow that call?” Jonny asks Bobby Ricky.
“Because I don’t like the Saints,” Bobby Ricky says. “I don’t like Drew Brees. I don’t like that he did a Levi’s commercial.”
A debate then follows about which company or brand the Saints quarterback had actually starred in.
Unlike their sports commentary, which is delivered with swagger enough to satisfy ESPN or the Bleacher Report, their off-the-cuff discussions tend to reveal more of their sensitivities.
“What do you think the cutest animal in the world is?” George asks.
Jonny’s stumped.
“Corgis,” George says. “They melt my heart, bro. It drives me nuts to see a Corgi.”
“A white baby seal,” Jonny finally decides, and George seems about ready to change his mind.
“Oh my god, they’re so adorable,” he says.
The boys pay close attention the number of subscribers to their YouTube channel, but it always feels good to get in-person feedback.
Their Mount Abe advisory teacher, Jess Little, subscribed to their channel and she loves it.
“They’re hysterical,” she said. “I like watching the videos and then coming into school the next morning and poking fun at them.”
Little told them they should do a video about food. The boys obliged.
“Concession food!” George says in that video.
“Oh, man, that hits the spot,” Jonny says, though he acknowledges that it’s probably not the healthiest part of one’s diet.
“Hot dogs,” he continues. “If you like hot dogs, you’re a good person. If not, what are you doing with your life?”
(Folks in the Addy Indy newsroom unanimously agreed that this was a legit question.)
George has become such a concessions connoisseur that he has developed a system of rules:
“One: No popcorn.” That’s better left in movie theaters, he thinks. “Two: No puking.” (For a more detailed description of the history behind that rule, the more intrepid among our readers are encouraged to consult the video in question.)
Jonny and George both love eating in local restaurants but not if they have to wait very long for their food, especially when it arrives too hot. They give a shout-out to Fire & Ice in Middlebury, which has a buffet, which means they don’t have to wait to get their food.
“We’re going to open a restaurant, hopefully,” Jonny muses, though it’s not clear in the video how serious he is.
Sort of serious, it turns out.
“I love to cook,” Jonny told the Independent. “And George is really good at cooking.”
When the two “interview” Tristan they brag on his behalf about his accomplishments on the football field and in the Boy Scouts. George calls him a “beast.”
Similar moments of generosity and admiration sparkle throughout their videos, especially when they appear after rambunctious table pounding or prolonged name-calling or unfocused improvisation. It’s in these moments that the viewer understands just now much these friends, who’ve known each other since first grade, care about one another.
“I’m probably wrong, like most of the time,” Jonny says when he can’t remember something. He might have elaborated, but George jumps immediately to his defense.
“No you’re not,” he says, and the kindness in his tone suggests something his school principal, Jess Barewicz, recently said in the pages of this newspaper:
I see you. I accept you. We’re in this together.
Then they go back to arguing about stuff, like whether pineapple belongs on pizza.
Hopeful signs about “the future of boys” can be read from various angles in these videos, and viewers would do well to focus on how much these boys are listening to each other, even through the constant chatter.
This is especially important when they hear themselves saying things they know they don’t mean. Those who hear the mistakes without also hearing the learning aren’t getting the entire picture.
“We’re going to edit all this out, hopefully,” Jonny says at one point. “But we might not get to it.”
And they probably won’t.
In spite of that there’s plenty in these videos to hold forth the promise that here, in the antics of young boys, we have the makings of good men.
Episodes of “No Refunds” can be streamed here.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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