In light of Alex Rowland’s latest column on the rise of performance-based online video advertising we thought we’d share a few strategies that some of the top independent content creators on YouTube are using to make money. Lots of money.

As it turns out, the big earners aren’t just innovative – most of them are young and funny.

Epic endorsements

The weekly anti-cooking show Epic Meal Time started out as an inside joke among friends, but as 25-year-old host Harley Morenstein’s cooking (and eating) adventures began gaining in popularity on YouTube, he quit his job as a substitute teacher and now lives off the income the show generates through advertising.

Believe it or not, those dollars don’t come from product placement (they consume copious amounts of Jack Daniels during each episode). Rather, it’s Netflix, Gamefly, and GoDaddy among others that are earning them the big bucks through referral marketing. Essentially, the cooking team promotes these brands by offering deals on their website and sometimes in the videos themselves. When their fans use the referral codes, they profit.

The college try

Jake Hurwitz and Amir Blumenfeld, both writers for CollegeHumor, have made it big online with their comedy sketch series, Jake and Amir, which airs twice a week on and YouTube.

The three-minute sketches draw an average of 500,000 views per episode. Now CollegeHumor is going to see whether fans are willing to invest in what they continue to get for free. The duo has just put out a 30-minute episode called “Fired” which fans can stream for $3 via CollegeHumor’s site and Facebook.

They can also purchase the DVD for $13. The verdict is still out as to whether this strategy will pay off, though if it does, we should expect to see other popular web series give it the new college try.

6-year-old angst

Since 2006 Lucas Cruikshank has been serving up videos starring the fictional character Fred Figglehorn, a high-pitched 6-year-old with anger management issues. While Cruikshank generates income from YouTube ads, last year saw the premiere of the Nickelodeon-backed film Fred: The Movie, which was widely panned by critics.

His channel remains one of the most popular on YouTube, and he’s even partnered on sketches with an equally successful private channel, The Annoying Orange.

The old-fashioned way

It seems that YouTube viewers can’t get enough of young comedians with a penchant for gross-out humour, as Shane Dawson can certainly attest.

The 23-year-old has not just one but three successful YouTube channels, which, according to TubeMogul, have earned him a combined total of 431,787,450 page views and $315,000 through ads, proving that mouse clicks and income still go hand in hand.