The Fitness Marshall looks to take over the world one cardio-filled dance video at a time

By : Jeremy Williams
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Caleb Marshall is your typical Mid-Western, gay millennial. He loves his boyfriend Cameron, he loves his Starbucks coffee and he loves him some Britney Spears. Marshall stands out in his sometimes overly criticized generation as the fun-loving, energetic and infectious online persona known as The Fitness Marshall.

Dressed in his is trademark camo pants and black tank top, Marshall uses his part Richard Simmons/part Energizer Bunny character of The Fitness Marshall to motivate his millions (that’s right, millions!) of online viewers to dance, have fun and get in shape.

Marshall launched a YouTube fitness channel in 2014, but he didn’t go viral until June 2016 when he posted a cardio video of himself and his backup dancers (known as his “backup booties”) dancing to Meghan Trainor’s “Me Too.” Trainor saw the video and retweeted it to her two million followers and The Fitness Marshall went global. The video currently has more than eight million views. The Fitness Marshall channel, which has more than one million subscribers, has just over 100 videos so far. Almost 50 of them have over a million views each.

Marshall has parlayed that online fame into a successful cardio concert tour that takes him and his Fitness Marshall team around the country performing. He is bringing that tour to the Lakeland Family YMCA Oct. 28 and 29. Marshall spoke with us by phone ahead of his tour dates about life before and after The Fitness Marshall.

Caleb, The Fitness Marshall, and his “backup booties,” keep the crowd moving at cardio concerts (Photo Courtesy The Fitness Marshall Team).

What was growing up in the Midwest like for you?

It was interesting. It was always a positive environment. Everyone was always really friendly and what not, but I always just knew that being gay was thought of as being wrong. Boys like girls and that’s just how it was. I remember as early as kindergarten having this feeling towards a boy that I instantly thought was wrong. From that age I knew I should not say anything, I should not tell anyone. I should just try to ignore it. It was never really a question in my mind. I was engrained with very strong, religious values and traditional views on marriage, so it was very scary. Growing up was just a constant internal battle with trying to fight something that I knew was there.

October is the month we celebrate National Coming Out Day. What was your coming out like?

That wasn’t until high school. By that point I was tired of fighting and I surrounded myself with a group of people who I knew really loved me no matter what. My family was like that, too. I didn’t think they would love me if they knew I was gay, but I thought that my friends would. So, in high school I was in show choir, and the dance captain and I started hanging out and flirting. I remember this one day we just kissed, and I was like, “Oh my God, this is it. I don’t want to miss this feeling again.” After that first kiss, I slid into accepting myself as a gay man. That’s when that same guy and I started to date. I came out to my parents while we were dating.

When did you figure out dancing was your passion and was something you wanted to do for a living?

The most vivid memory I had as a child, I was watching TV and a commercial came on for [Britney Spears’] “…Baby One More Time.” I remember being absolutely enthralled with it. I ran to mom and was like, “Mommy, Mommy, I want this CD, please!” Ever since that moment I have been obsessed with Britney Spears and performing pop music.

Tell me about how you took that and started making fitness videos. Is that when “The Fitness Marshall” was born?

That all kind of happened by accident. I had never really known how to be Britney Spears [laughs]. I just was going through my life knowing dancing and lip synching and all of that made me really happy. It was just a way for me to get my personality out. So after high school, in college, they offered these dance fitness classes and I thought I might as well take them to get into shape and dance for fun. I loved it and I kept going. Eventually they asked me to audition to lead one of the classes and I was like, “No, I can’t do that.” But I did it and it was this moment when the heavens opened up and shone down on me and I thought to myself, “This is how you can be Britney Spears. They are giving you a popstar mic and mirrors and having people dance behind you. This is your stage.” It was this release for me.

When did you realize you could turn that into a YouTube channel?

I had been teaching the classes at that point for three or four years, and I was still with that guy that I had come out with. He was the only guy I had ever dated at that point and we broke up during my senior year of college. That sent me into this spiral of “what do I do with my life now?” I thought we were going to get married, I thought he was the one and everything was going to be perfect. The only thing that made me happy at that point, and the only thing that made me forget everything I was going through, was teaching these classes and being this character that I was when I was leading the class. So I decided to start a YouTube channel and invest all of my energy into that because otherwise I would just pace and cry and be upset. I took everything I was feeling and put it into creating this character. It wasn’t like I’m going to create this character and be famous and successful. I just had to put my energy into something that I was passionate about.

What was your reaction when you found out Meghan Trainer retweeted your “Me Too” video and you went viral?

That was such a crazy moment because that was the first time that one of the artists recognized one of my videos. That was such a validating moment. I feel like it made my dreams seem so much more attainable. Up to that point I didn’t know if anyone would see it or if they would care if they did. To know an artist saw it, liked it and then wanted to share it—that was such a cool moment. Then I uploaded it to Facebook and it instantly started going viral. It didn’t even take time. People just ate it up. I realized that this was something that could be for anyone, a video getting this kind of traction. It doesn’t matter if you’re a dancer, or insecure about your body. If you’re having a bad day and want to watch something silly and laugh this can do all that for people.

You now have over a million subscribers on your Fitness Marshal Channel and you made an emotional video thanking all your fans. Is that the moment, or maybe it was the Meghan Trainer retweet or a different moment altogether, that you thought to yourself that you had made it?

YouTube is such an isolating experience, which is why I’m grateful that I can do the cardio concerts and tour. It’s such a weird experience getting known on the internet. I think hitting a million subscribers, that’s the moment I gave myself to really feel the magnitude of what this has become. Regardless of how many more subscribers I get, or how many more views my videos get, a million people chose to follow me, for whatever reason, while I do these videos and [I get] to see how it has impacted their lives. I’ve tried to have that mentality throughout this entire experience, even if I only impacted one person’s life or even just made one person smile. That’s all worth it.

You have been called the millennial’s Richard Simmons. Is that an association you wear proudly and do you see what you are doing with your channel and what he did in his videos in the ‘80s differently?

I’m so honored by that. When people tell me that I am like, “thank you so much,” because he is an icon. Everyone knows who he is. He’s a household name, so I think it’s a complete honor. Of course what I do is different in a lot of ways, but he pioneered this so it’s really cool to hear that. My goal is to just be the first fitness popstar, so I want to take Richard Simmons and Britney Spears and mash them up and be a “fit-ertainer.”

You have this larger-than-life personality in your videos, you are very high energy and all over the place. How much of the persona in your fitness videos is you and how much is the character?

It’s funny because I’ve seen comments where people will write, “I could not hang out with this dude. It would be so annoying.” The Fitness Marshall is a very authentic version of Caleb Marshall, but that is where I put all of my energy and all of my silliness and craziness, into that three-and-a-half minute video or that 45-minute concert. The craziness of it is definitely the character. I mean, it is me but it’s me at a 10. Usually in life I’m at a four or five. I’ll be expressive and I’ll be silly but I am not dialed up to Fitness Marshall unless I have the camo pants on.

You have a second, personal channel that chronicles your adventures with your boyfriend and friends. Why did you want to start that channel?

It started out as a vlog channel just to show all the cool things that were happening because of the videos. I try to make the videos on The Fitness Marshall channel like music videos. You watch it as a performance, so I wanted to show my fans a more authentic side of me to balance out those characters and to show that I’m a real person too. I want them to get to know me on a level other than me screaming at them and doing cartwheels.

You made the move from the Midwest to L.A. How was the adjustment from small town to big metro living?

The adjustment has been amazing. I’ve wanted to live in L.A. since I was eight years old. I always felt weird in a small town. I never felt like that was my place. Cameron was the first person I talked with after my ex and I broke up. I stayed single for a year. Turns out not only are we a perfect match in everything that we like and believe, but he also had the same dreams that I did and wanted to move to California, too. So we did it and we are both so happy here, and feel so at home and at peace. I’m really just ready to take over the world [laughs].

Fans, many times by the hundreds, pack gyms and recreational centers across the U.S. for a chance to dance with The Fitness Marshall (Photo Courtesy The Fitness Marshall Team).

 

You and The Fitness Marshall Team are coming to Lakeland for two shows. What can people expect to see when they come workout with you?

They should expect a full cardio concert experience. The closest thing I relate that to is a giant sexy, sweaty church service. And I mean that in the most respectful way [laughs]. It’s a place—no matter who you are, what you look like, what size you are, what your sexual orientation is—for you to be free and loved and celebrated for who you are. Everyone who comes out is always so uplifting and encouraging to each other, so much so that it creates an environment where there are no inhibitions and no boundaries. We have people who say they are the biggest introvert in the world but when they are there they whip their hair and roll their body and they free this inner beast and it’s just really cool.

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