On A Lighter Note

If you don't frequent YouTube, you might not know who KevJumba is. As of now, he's the #12 most subscribed YouTube channel of all time and at one time, the #1 most subscribed comedian (he's since slipped to #9 now). When he first started, he was just an average Chinese American teenager posing light-hearted videos to make people laugh. His videos have gradually gained a following of viewers around the world. At the time of this posting, he has around 1.5 million subscribers. His videos get viewed an average of 2 million times, totaling 156 million times as a whole. Since then, he's gained the attention the likes of Jessica Alba, Richard Marx, the Harlem Globetrotters, and Baron Davis. These are some impressive creds by YouTube standards, especially for someone who isn't really trying to do anything more than making people laugh.

Asians don't get much representation on television. They usually play delivery boys and martial arts experts on TV. If they look clean cut enough, they get to play a surgeon. There are no shows about Asian Americans, with the one show that would've starred Margaret Cho dropped after one season. (I should note that criticism of her show came on all sides, including Asian American communiites; at times she was criticized for being too Asian, at other times, not Asian enough.) In fact, ask anyone to name a few famous Asian Americans, and they're like to say Margaret Cho, John Cho, Kal Penn (of Harold and Kumar fame), George Takei, and probably, mistakenly, Jackie Chan and Jet Li (who aren't American). So it's not that surprising that KevJumba has gained some attention on YouTube. (By the way, the #1 most subscribed of all time is "nigahiga," also a young Asian American comedian, but I don't know his videos well enough to review it.)

KevJumba's early videos talked about his experience being a teenager in high school, having to deal with girls and the SATs and college applications. Over the years, his father ("PapaJumba") started to appear in the videos as well, so the most recent videos show the two of them getting into shenanigans. The videos are mostly rants that you would hear from a standup comedian, occasionally cutting into a skit. They're not overly sophisticated, which is nice because it gives them broader appeal. His self-deprecating humor is fun to watch and, most importantly, he plays himself.

More often than not, YouTube has been a place for the spread of viral, usually embarrassing videos of people making fools of themselves. Some have managed to use it to launch a deliberate marketing campaign, but they are rarely able to crossover to mainstream fame. Only a few come to mind: Justin Bieber (yikes, did I just blog about the Bieb?) is the only one that seems to stand out; Rebecca Black, the so-bad-it's-good teen singer; and Fred, the helium-voiced teen who managed to grab his fifteen minutes via a Nickelodeon deal. A while back there were two Chinese lip-syncing performers who gained some worldwide fame but they've, as far as I know, stopped doing their gig. (According to Wikipedia, though, they're building on their Internet fame and have become corporate spokespersons.)

Gaining the right kind of fame on YouTube is really hard. Try it yourself if you don't believe me. It's hard enough to come up with interesting things to do or say, even harder to get it noticed at the rate that videos are posted on YouTube these days (35 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute). You'll be lucky to get a couple hundred hits. The most I managed was a few thousand, for some fan-video I made of Call of Duty. The best chance you have is if you go viral (in a good way), but that's hard to control and it usually happens without planning (e.g., David after Dentist).

KevJumba and other Asian Americans are collaborating to develop more media projects. It might be just fun for them, but it's also a way for them to manage the image that people have of young Asians in society. More importantly, they're doing it without pressure from interests groups or corporations. I haven't seen what they've come up with, but I'm looking forward to it. Hopefully, they'll be able to perpetuate some slightly different and authentic images of what it means to be an Asian in America.