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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Higa finds fame on Internet

The Hawaii-born YouTube star says his popularity shows there is a huge online Asian audience
The Straits Times - August 27, 2012
By: Eddino Abdul Hadi
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Higa finds fame on Internet -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF RYAN HIGA

When you are big on the Internet, you are bound to get more than your fair share of detractors. But YouTube star and comedian Ryan Higa takes brickbats in his stride.

The Japanese-American, 22, whose online video channel, Nigahiga, is No. 2 on the list of YouTube's most subscribed channels, says he does not let his haters get to him.

"When I first started, it really affected me a lot because I had no idea. I was 16," he says in a telephone interview from North Hollywood district in Los Angeles, where he is based.

"Right now, I take negative comments as criticism. Or if it's just a hater comment which makes no sense, then it doesn't bother me at all."

He will be in Singapore to do a question-and-answer session with his fans at Wave House Sentosa on Saturday.

He has had to deal with netizens who pick on him because of his race. None of them, however, has ever come up to him, he adds: "A lot of time, haters hate because they are hiding behind the computer."

Born and raised in Hawaii, he is the younger of two sons. His father is a carpenter/foreman and his mother an office manager.

He made home videos of himself lip-synching to songs out of sheer boredom when he was 14. He later roped in his school friends to help out with recording skits and uploaded them on YouTube in 2006. The clips went viral and he now has 5.5 million subscribers on his YouTube channel.

The videos, which show him riffing on wannabe gangsters, ninjas and playboys, now number more than 120, and have gathered 1.2 billion views in total.

The bachelor is among the wave of popular YouTube stars of Asian descent, including Taiwanese-American comedian Kevin Wu and Vietnamese-American make-up instructor Michelle Phan.

Higa says Asian personalities have a better chance of finding fame on the Internet rather than in mainstream media such as television and film because sites such as YouTube provide equal opportunity to create content and be seen.

"In TV and film, basically they tell you what you have to watch, they tell you who they cast, they tell you who they want to show and they happen to not cast many Asians for whatever reason, unless it's a stereotypical part," he says.

"On YouTube, because all these Asians are doing so much better online, I think it's proving there's a huge Asian audience out there and a lot of Asian viewers."

1 What can your fans expect from your appearance in Singapore?

I'm hoping to have a preview of my new videos. Other than that, it's just really what they want to know and what they want to hear. A lot of it is just me meeting people and hanging out.

2 Do you get nervous when you do live appearances and meet your audience face-to-face?

I get very excited because I'm already hyped to meet them and when I do, usually their energy is incredibly crazy. That makes me extra crazy and before I know it, so many hours go by and I'm completely exhausted.

3 What is your advice to budding comedians who want to build a successful presence online?

Do what they think is funny, do what they want to do, do what they love.Be smart and study why other people are successful. Keep asking why things work and why things are funny and just keep on improving yourself.

4 Do you watch a lot of television to get ideas?

I used to but I don't really watch TV or many shows any more. I probably should, but I haven't been addicted to a show in a long time. I used to watch a lot of animated sitcom Family Guy and I'm definitely a huge fan of all things by Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane.

Other than that, I get ideas from daily life, how I react and how I view things.

5 Your YouTube videos have been viewed more than a billion times. Do you keep track every day?

I don't check my views at all but I check ratings and comments because I like to read people's feedback and know how they feel and what they like and don't like.

6 You acted in a 2008 movie, Ryan And Sean's Not So Excellent Adventure, that flopped. Do you plan to do another movie?

That movie was an experiment, I guess. My favourite thing is to be a part of the creative process and I didn't get to write the script, I just kind of acted in it.

I love acting but my passion is about creating. So if I'm acting in something, it's because I created it. I'd love to make more films but I'm always going to keep up with my YouTube videos before anything else.

7 What do your parents think of your videos?

My mum definitely watches all of my stuff. Ever since I was young, my parents have always supported me. It took them a while to support it as a career though. It's not easy to tell them that "I don't want to do college because I want to make YouTube videos".

They know how much I love doing it and how passionate I am. Luckily, it worked out to a certain degree.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

As one of the first YouTubers who has been around since the start.

“Do what they think is funny, do what they want to do, do what they love.” - Ryan Higa on how to be successful online

Book it

Where: Wave House Sentosa
When: Sept 1, 9pm
Admission: $38 for standard entry, $150 for VIP Package which includes a buffet dinner that starts at 6pm and a meet-and-greet session with Higa. To buy tickets, go to


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