Vast and brimming with trailblazing opportunities, YouTube is the Wild, Wild West version 2.0 for people seeking to create entertainment that defies the boundaries of traditional media.
Pioneers of this cyberspace frontier include a bevy of Asian American artists who have built large communities around their own, originall-produced content in the form of Internet video blogs.
“YouTube is an American institution,” said Christine Gambito, a Filipina American whose HappySlip video blog counts more than 90,000 subscribers, ranking fifth among YouTube’s Most Subscribed Channels of All Time. “You work your way to the top. It’s democratic. People choose.”
Gambito created HappySlip last year, as a one-woman show that often parodies the Filipino family dynamic with striking authenticity. The name of the video blog came from her mother’s reminders while growing up to wear a half-slip with skirts. (“Be sure to wear your hap eslip!”) Gambito uses different accents and familiar Filipino subtleties: the father character, for example, snacks on a bag of pork rinds known as chicharon. “I want people to get a taste of how wonderfully warm and funny Filipinos are through comedy and music,” said Gambito, who is pursuing acting in New York City.
YouTube video blogger David Choi is a 21-year-old Korean American music prodigy. He began playing the violin at age 6 and is now a signed writer and composer represented by Warner Chappell Music Publishing. Choi, who lives in Fullerton, Calif., in Orange County, performs cover songs as well as his own material on the YouTube channel “davidchoimusic,” boasting 30,000 subscribers and more than 1.3 million channel views.
“Video blogging started off as a random thing,” Choi said. “Then, I got featured [by YouTube], and after that, I noticed a lot of people were interested in me, so I just kept on making videos.”
Gambito said people are drawn to watch video blogs for that sense of connecting with someone, albeit through a computer screen. “People are lonely, and when they feel like they get to know somebody, they begin to get curious and want to follow your journey,” said Gambito, whose channel has close to 4 million views on YouTube.
In addition to all the virtual attention, video blogging enables Gambito and Choi to break away from the big media that confine Asian American entertainers into nerds, martial artists or sexpots like Tila Tequila, the notorious Vietnamese American maven of MySpace who has become a reality show star on MTV.
“I try to show more sides to an Asian American entertainer,” said Gambito, who keeps her content G-rated for all audiences. “It would be nice if the mainstream would catch on. But even if they offered me some exotic Asian role — no, thank you! I’ll stick with what HappySlip does. I have complete creative control of what I’m doing now.”
Gambito and Choi both said they are not looking for fame through their video blogs, although both have established a solid following online and are receiving other opportunities outside of the YouTube realm. Apple recently hired Gambito to host and act in a series of iPhone training segments that integrated characters from her HappySlip show. Choi, meanwhile, has turned down requests from other media companies, such as The Oprah Winfrey Show and MTV, because of a contract with his publisher.
These video bloggers also get paid. Gambito uses a video-sharing Web site that splits online ad revenue with users, and Choi receives consistent revenue from his YouTube videos. The demand from their audience, however, is a stronger motivation to post videos frequently.
“The audience is hungry for bloggers in general,” said Gambito, who tries to post a video every two weeks. “They want to see updates, and you’ve got to feed the audience.”
Viewers’ appetites extend offline as well. At “777,” a gathering of YouTube video bloggers held in Central Park on July 7, 2007, Gambito met a Czech family who told her they related to the culture clash on HappySlip between the first-generation children and their immigrant parents and grandparents.
“The audience doesn’t have to be Filipino to connect with the material,” Gambito said.
Building community, making a living and showcasing talent are just some of the things the land of YouTube has to offer. The rest remains unknown, even to video-blogging forerunners.
“Who knows where this will go?” Gambito said. “I think that while anyone would enjoy seeing themselves on the big screen, what I’m doing now is such a privilege.”
Choi calls his participation in the YouTube phenomenon “a social experiment.”
“You don’t know what to expect, as far as making a living with video blogging,” Choi said. “You don’t know what it’s worth. It’s a relatively new thing. Everybody in this situation right now is determining the standard.”
Real Name: Christine Gambito
Location: New York City
About: Gambito parodies the Filipino family using accents and familiar subtleties.
FYI: Gambito prefers crunchy Cheetos over the puffy kind.
Real Name: David Choi
Location: Fullerton, Calif.
About: Choi performs cover songs and as well as original music.
FYI: Choi has had one guitar lesson in his life and has never had any vocal training.
Location: New York City
About: FilteaNY discusses her life in relation to the joys and challenges of being a Filipina teacher in NYC.
FYI: During a college internship, FilteaNY was assigned to an all-boys high school to “counsel the hormones-charged adolescents” (filteany.com)
Real Name: Kevin
Age: High school senior
About: Comedian Kev Jumba chronicles his experience as a typicalAsian American male teenager.
FYI: Kevin believes Hal-loween is one of the
most underrated holidays.
— Samantha Toy
Arabella Santiago’s video blog can be found on YouTube
under BusinessBoomer or at www.businessboomer.com.