One of John’s missions at this time two years ago was to raise money and awareness for a veterans charity he had created following his near-death experience while serving in Afghanistan.
To share the tales of other veterans and his own. John took to TikTok, a platform that was getting off the ground. He was a natural storyteller who was also interested in the potential benefits of social media.
While the COVID-19 pandemic was sweeping the globe, TikTok was joining the ranks of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. John decided to try his hand at telling a different type of story.
It was in March of 2020 that John posted a 59-second video in which he explained the Dyatlov Pass mystery. Nine missing hikers’ remains were located in entirely unexplained circumstances.
It became an obsession for him and for his wife. Who urged him to pursue it as a career, and he ‘zeroed in’ and made it happen.
Within a few months, he had a full-fledged profession in the strange, dark, and mysterious‘ after moving to YouTube and expanding the minute-long spooky stories into 20, 30, or even 40-minute-long mini-documentaries.
His YouTube channel, MrBallen, boasts hundreds of videos. Spanning spooky campfire tales, true crime, unexplained disappearances, survival stories, and mind-bending mysteries, it follows nearly six million subscribers.
MrBallen’s podcast, “Strange, Dreadful, and Mysterious Stories,” began last month and quickly became a top US Spotify programme.
In an interview with Metro.co.uk. John recounted how a near-fatal grenade attack in Afghanistan led him to discover his true calling as a storyteller.
I didn’t plan anything, John admits.
It seemed like I was constantly missing out on possibilities. At the end of my high school and college careers, I had no idea what I would do next.
‘So I decided to put myself out there and try out for the Navy Seals.’
In 2014, John was ‘gravely injured and at the same time, it was serving as a Seal in Afghanistan after completing the gruelling training regimen known for its brutality.
John served as a Navy Seal for several years before a 2017 grenade attack led to his retirement. He was medically discharged the same year, attributing his later “bad-tempered” behaviour to his injuries.
He admits, ‘I was just a little bit furious a lot.’ In my defence, I believe I was in denial about the situation.
Family and friends compassionately intervened on John’s behalf and urged him to seek counselling, which had an “unbelievable” influence on his mental health, John says.
As a result of the therapy, “I moved from this bitter, furious person to having the opportunity to understand what was going on, putting it to rest and making peace with it.”‘
For John, the former Navy Seal and founder of Elite Meet, TikTok led to YouTube, a podcast, and MrBallen, the home of the bizarre, dark, and enigmatic.
Despite the often distressing and time-consuming nature of MrBallen’s stories, his mental health remains intact. This enables him to empathize with the victims, setting him apart in a crowded market where the focus is on the victims rather than the criminals.
No matter how gruesome or gory the stories are, John tends to focus on their impact on those who have been through them and the psychological trauma they have caused.
“Because, in the end, that’s all anyone can relate to and comprehend.”
John intentionally emphasizes victims above culprits in his violent violence movies.
John wants never to be assaulted by a crazy murderer, even though he came near to death in Afghanistan.
This connection allows for total immersion in the experiences of persons suffering horrible ordeals, making it an excellent informational tool.
John was moved by Geraldine Largay’s story, a 66-year-old lady lost on the Appalachian Path for a month before being found and dying. “She followed all protocols, staying put and waiting, knowing her best chance was to be patient,” said John.
And she never wavered from her self-assurance and positivity. She was in the midst of the woods, in a tent she had erected, keeping a diary of her experiences. Nothing was occurring; she was alone.
‘However, she came to terms with the fact that she would almost definitely die at the end.’ They were full of hope for the future and the words “When you find me just know that I was at peace” were common in her letters to her husband and children.
“My mother’s death was shocking because she reminded me so much of her,” he recalled. “Reading about her brings tears to my eyes,” John admitted. “Even today, just thinking about it, I’m overcome with emotion. Something about it was so awful that it hit home for me.”
In addition to John’s emotional response, the father of three mistakenly believed that one story was safe enough to share with his two young daughters.
My favorite story was about a crow that became friends with a young girl and would leave her gifts as a token of their friendship. So, he continues, the girls are still talking about the crow story.
It was a story about a giant squid attack, and I mistakenly showed it to them once, thinking it was just an innocent narrative. That’s where I made the error!
In the narrative, when the divers are 30 feet underwater, there’s a highly intense sequence where flashes of red and white surround them, and they have no idea what it is. Suddenly, the Humboldt Squid, a massive predator, attacks and starts grabbing the fish, pulling them into the depths. Miraculously, they all survive!
‘However, they’ve developed a phobia of squids at night. They had to be convinced that the squid was not going to get them to sleep.
He tells millions of people claustrophobic and frightening stories, but his children aren’t ready.
From Reddit to Facebook and everything in between, the storyteller’s social media following has grown tremendously since he started podcasting.
He is swiftly becoming one of YouTube’s best-known content creators.
Despite his massive YouTube success, John concedes that the podcast’s quick success is “hard to fathom.”.
‘With the podcast, I had high expectations, but to be finding myself among the ranks of some of the most established, wonderful creators in that sector is a little bit hard to fathom,’ he said.
I expected some interest in transitioning from YouTube, but the response has exceeded my expectations significantly.
Having such a dedicated and caring fan base makes me feel incredibly fortunate, and I couldn’t be happier.
There are presently only six episodes of Mr Ballen’s new podcast, compared to more than 200 on his YouTube channel, but this is expected to rise rapidly.
We release two new weekly episodes: a podcast-exclusive story on Mondays and a remastered, edited video from YouTube on Thursdays. In one of our popular YouTube videos, John narrates the tale of a former child star who carried out one of the world’s most horrifying murders.
The well-known YouTuber is quick to reassure his followers that he will not abandon YouTube in favour of Spotify, Amazon, and “wherever else people get their podcasts.”