Launched in 2005, YouTube has been around for about 75% of my total life and about 100% of my memorable life. At the genesis of the platform, the content creation community was small. There were 10 or so creators that were really big — including Smosh and FRED — but the one anomaly in the system was a guy in Hawaii named Ryan Higa, otherwise known as NigaHiga.
As an Asian American, I have always supported and felt connected with my people on the internet. In my formative years, this meant keeping an eye out on movies and TV shows with Asian actors such as Ken Jeong, listening to Asian-made music (shoutout BIGBANG) and of course, watching NigaHiga.
Looking back at his videos, I have always felt a connection between us. A lot had to do with his humor, which consisted of bad Asian accents, long, made-up names involving Honda Civics and his iconic “Teehee” at the end of every video. In his heyday, Higa made mostly sketches like “How to be Emo” and “The Big Bouncing Inflatable Green Ball.” With these hilarious how-to guides and ads for unnecessary made-up products, Higa was pretty much the original shit-poster. I think a lot of my humor stems straight from his videos. After a couple years of growing his audience, Higa did make some more diverse content. For example, his most watched video today is a music video called “Nice Guys,” which I still know all the words to. Most impressively, Higa was the most subscribed-to YouTuber, the only one with this achievement of Asian descent, for over 600 days from 2009 to 2011.
I never really understood why I liked NigaHiga so much, but I think I can give some thoughts on why he became so popular with myself and in the hearts of millions. This man has, hands down, the best puns on the internet: “The Best Joke Ever” is a two-and-a-half minute mental flashbang of puns, ending with the ultimate knock-knock joke. But really, Ryan Higa proved to so many young Asian kids that Asian people could be cool. When I was younger, it seemed the only way for Asians to be popular in American media was kung fu movies. NigaHiga, with his low-brow humor and creative thought process, showed me that Asians belong in mainstream media.
Much of what made NigaHiga popular was his racist humor: Bad Asian accents, stereotyping Asian nerds and jokes about ninjas were a big part of his channel. What was interesting to me was with all the stereotypes he played for bits, it seemed like he was the opposite of all of them. For example, one stereotype that is often applied to Asians are they are unathletic, but in many of his videos, he performs handstands and other athletic feats. One of the biggest stereotypes I had to fight through when I was younger was this vision of me as solely a good student, and I think for a long time I was that stereotype. I didn’t really have that many good friends, and I spent a lot of time playing chess and doing math problems. It was around that time that I started watching NigaHiga and branching out with my interests and social life. Now, instead of being solely a good student, I play sports, write articles about video games and still have no friends. For all the stereotypes Higa made fun of, he inspired me to be something more than what other people saw in me.
Higa is also one of the most inventive creators out there. Ever since the inception of his channel, he has done numerous types of videos, including rants and movie trailers. His rants were a big part of the reason why I connected so much with him. In “Censorship makes no sense,” he talks about the big questions on censorship, one being why we censor female breasts but not man boobs. He then goes on to question: If the reason is that female breasts produce milk, why don’t we censor cows? This conclusion is just so out there, but it also kind of makes sense. His rants bring him down to Earth and make him relatable, even if it’s for comedic purposes. All of his videos are mainly comedic, but he’s maintained this level of creativity for the entire time that I kept up with his channel.
Looking back, I don’t think I would have been the same person without the influence of someone across the world. To many, NigaHiga was that funny Asian guy on YouTube, but to me he was so much more. He made me confident in my ethnicity, something people still struggle with today. A lot of stuff has happened since I stopped following his content a few years back, and Higa has recently stopped making videos to focus on streaming and Twitch podcasting. Yet I still go back to watch his old videos, low production quality and all. There’s something nostalgic about watching someone throw DVDs at his friend which consequently made me who I am today.
Daily Arts Writer Maxwell Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.