Ryan Higa Snatches No.1 Spot on YouTube

Pacific Citizen, News report, Nalea J. Ko Posted: Sep 16, 2009

Ryan Higa, 19, and partner Sean Fujiyoshi, 18, started posting their popular videos four years ago. Now they’re an Internet sensation.

Japanese American comedians Ryan Higa and Sean Fujiyoshi started making humorous videos on YouTube out of sheer boredom under the name Nigahiga. It soon became a part-time job.

“We’d spent a lot of money going to movie theaters,” Higa said about the limited recreational activities in his hometown of Hilo, Hawaii. “We’d go about twice a week.”

“I started making videos with Ryan Higa about three to four years ago,” Fujiyoshi, 18, wrote in an e-mail. “We were really bored one day at Ryan’s house, because there’s nothing to do in Hawaii, and decided to go and make videos of ourselves.”

Nineteen-year-old Higa first made movies — mainly of him lip-synching to songs — by himself in his parents’ home for his friends and family. Now most of his viewers are in Northern California, but Higa receives comments worldwide on his YouTube channel.

“At first the videos weren’t very good, but my family liked it,” Higa explained.

He soon honed his talent to draw in more viewers. On Aug. 21, Higa beat out fellow YouTuber Fred Figglehorn to become the No.1 most subscribed to channel of all time. But do not expect to hear 19-year-old Higa boast of trouncing his competition anytime soon.

“It’s a good feeling to beat Fred, but I don’t want people to talk bad about him.” said Higa, during a call to the Pacific Citizen in between classes at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “He has his own style.”

How To Be a YouTube Hit

Nigahiga’s comedic style has garnered 1,447,041 subscribers to date while Fred, or Lucas Cruikshank, has 1,386,180.

Short videos like “How to Be A Nerd” and “How To Be Gangster,” (Fujiyoshi’s favorite) are some of the JA duo’s popular films, which millions have viewed. Fujiyoshi and Higa have also enlisted their friends and family to don wigs and costumes for their viral spoofs.

The buzz about their YouTube videos caught the attention of celebrities like Cash Warren and Jessica Alba. Higa made a promo video for the couple’s Web site www.ibeatyou.com and since then they have remained friends.

On a recent trip to Los Angeles, Higa was invited to spend the weekend at the couple’s house. Higa, sporting dark sunglasses, was snapped by the paparazzi with the celebrities.

“Ryan has a lot to be thankful for,” said his mother Luci Higa. “His friends, his fans and YouTube have given him many experiences and opportunities we never imagined.”

With their newfound success on YouTube, executives from Zemrak/Pirkle Productions asked the Hawaii-born comedians to do a feature film. “Ryan and Sean’s Not So Excellent Adventure” was released July 14 and grabbed the iTunes No. 1 spot for independent films.

Despite the increased attention on YouTube, Higa’s mother said her son was not always outgoing.

“I’m not sure he was a ‘comedian’ but he was witty, which made it funny,” said Higa’s mother when asked about her son’s comedic chops as a child. “But if you don’t know him, he is actually quiet and soft spoken.”

So, where does Higa get his comic wit?

“We are still trying to figure that out,” said his mother, who had to be coaxed to make a cameo appearance in a video. Higa’s friends comprise the rest of the recurring cast members.

Tarynn Nago, Higa’s girlfriend of three years, is also a regular in his sketches. She has played various characters such as Hermione in a spoof of “Harry Potter.”

The Nigahiga Crew

Higa is now in his second year of college, majoring in film. He lives with his 23-year-old brother Kyle in Nevada. Being separated from his YouTube co-stars was difficult at first, explained Higa. A ring on his finger reminds Higa of his commitment to his girlfriend, who is a high school senior in Hawaii.

“A lot of people think we’re married,” Higa said. “I guess you could say it’s a promise ring.” He said comments from admiring fans do not bother his girlfriend since she receives her share of adoring messages. But for all the positive comments, Higa also receives negative feedback.

“There are a lot of racists ones,” Higa said about the messages he receives. “In every racist comment there are three recurring themes: one mentions my eyes, another mentions ‘Chinks.’”

The third most common theme in the racist messages is a variation of “Asians don’t belong on YouTube.”

To address racism in a light-hearted manner, Higa teamed up with “What The Buck,” a.k.a. Michael Buckley. They made the video commentary in response to actress Miley Cyrus allegedly making an anti-Asian gesture.

“It doesn’t offend me or anything,” Higa explained about the racist comments. “I get so many of them that’s it not worth responding.” The last time Higa tried to view his comments, his computer froze.

Shooting Solo

College is back in session and Higa does not have time or the desire to respond to negative comments. Maintaining his YouTube channel is already a part-time gig.

“My parents are still helping me out,” Higa explained. “It’s definitely good money to have on the side. If I weren’t on YouTube, I’d just be studying.”

Higa initially wanted to study medicine in college, but later followed his true passion.

“I thought I was pretty much supposed to go to medical school. I wanted to get a good job, but I really didn’t like it,” Higa said.

His film classes are helping Higa fine-tune his technique. People on campus sometimes stop him to snap photos. Those in his film class seem to be unaware of his YouTube status.

“My classmates are all alike: they have beards. I feel like I need to grow a beard!” Higa joked. The 19-year-old attends college part-time, so he can dedicate more time to making films. Attending college part-time will likely lead to a delayed graduation, Higa said. He knows fame can be fleeting, so he wants to take advantage of his YouTube success now.

Although the Nigahiga crew is no longer in the same state, Higa said his subscribers should still depend on him to make videos. The same boredom that fueled Nigahiga to make short spoofs years ago is still pushing Higa to create new videos.

“I can’t even stand in a casino,” Higa said about the limits his age puts on his leisure activities.

Higa’s latest video online is the 25-minute film “Ninja Melk,” where he shows off his martial arts skills. He has a black belt in judo and was also on the wrestling team at Waiakea High School.
“Ninja Melk” was the last video Fujiyoshi and Higa made while on summer vacation in Hawaii.

Fujiyoshi started college at the University of Portland where he is studying engineering. Being separated from the Nigahiga crew was difficult at first, Higa said. Now he makes videos from his home in Vegas, carrying his arsenal of costumes in a bag when he films outside.

“Recently I’ve been filming in Vegas,” the 19-year-old said. “It harder because the houses are closer together. People look at me weird when I film outside and I just wave.”

His next project is a rap video.

“It’s pretty much like spoofing really bad gangster rap,” Higa explained. “The beat is really hardcore, but the words are going to be really kind, like, ‘I love my dog. I love my cat!’”

Fans of Nigahiga need not worry about the fate of the YouTube channel. Going off to college will not stop these YouTubers from making videos.

“We are not too sure what we will do, but depending on our schedules we will see if we can have some time to make videos with each other,” Fujiyoshi explained. “If not, we would probably try to make videos during the breaks.”

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