Friday, July 4, 2008

Local Boy Makes Good: Ryan Higa is the most subscribed teen vlogger on YouTube

Who is on the verge of becoming the number one comedian on YouTube of all time? It's not a viral video star or anyone I've ever wrote about before in this blog. No, the rising star of the internet is a 17-year old boy from Hawaii named Ryan Higa, who's viewership is so high it's even attracting the attention of major stars like Will Ferrell.

By day, he attends Waiakea High School and is a member of the wrestling team, winning the state championship in his weight class of 135 pounds. In his spare time, however "NigaHiga" is climbing the YouTube charts, becoming the number two comedian of all time on YouTube for subscriptions (360,344) and views (110,188,343). He's also the 19th most subscribed channel over all categories, to the point where other kids make parodies of his videos and form fan clubs in his name.

Here's the video that launched him last November and has so far earned him 13.8 million hits, How to Be Gangster:

In the video, Higa and his comedic partner 16-year old Sean Fujiyoshi say that to be gangster you need to learn a cool handshake, drink and drive, and cuss all the time. But their handshake devolves into a game of pattycake, Higa's drinking a Capri Sun, and even though he bleeps out what comes after "Mother" and before "Hole," I swear he's only mouthing it because his parents are probably around the corner, watching TV while the boys entertain themselves. His gangster chains are made of aluminum foil.

So what's his appeal? And who is watching him? Although he gets the most Google searches from Honolulu and other cities and countries with high, English-speaking Asian populations, one look at the faces of Higa's subscribers on MySpace and you realize his appeal transcends race and geography--but it is specific to age. So even though this guy looks all the boys I grew up with in Hawaii and I smiled a few times at his videos, I probably would have been ROFL if I was a fourteen-year old in Indiana.

In fact, as far as I can tell, aside from Disney's The Jonas Brothers, Ryan has the most successful YouTube channel of anyone under twenty in any category. Everyone ranking above him is a recording artist, network, or music corporation or in their twenties.

In other words, Ryan is the only real teen on YouTube speaking to teens. While LonelyGirl15 was actually a twenty-year old actress whose vlog was scripted by aspiring filmmakers, Ryan is referencing what appeals to kids his age: farts, diarrhea, Harry Potter, Pokemon, Mortal Kombat, and Soulja Boy. And as a teen, his humor is occasionally less than politically correct, but it is never terribly dirty or mean.

Higa's success is also attracting attention from people born before 1988. First, local marketing agency The KayTee Group started sponsoring him. Then Higa interviewed Hero's star Milo Ventimiglia about his new movie Pathology, no doubt because the movie's marketers saw Higa as a way to get their trailer noticed by teens.

And now, according to a clip posted on June 21 called "The Super Secret," Higa and Fujiyoshi are going to be in a movie themselves. I can only guess this movie will be produced by their new MySpace friend Derek Zemrak, who is acknowledged at the end of the video. Given Higa's fan base of preteen girls, the movie may be like Zemrak's animated production, Bongee Bear and the Kingdom of Rhythm. Then again, since he's also followed by teenage boys, it may be like Zemrock's other low-budget films Ice Scream, Planet Bikini, or Fallen Angels (I could link to the trailers for these films since the starlets are all covered, more or less, but the titles speak for themselves).

If the producers want this movie to be successful, though, let's hope it's not like any of Zemrak's previous films. Higa's appeal is that he's that funny guy everyone wanted to be friends with in school-- only he's got a YouTube account and 40,000 friends on MySpace. Every kid tries to find their identity in their teens, which is what makes Higa's "How To" series so relatable--it's like a homemade version of MTV's Made. But in the end, you can only be who you are-- the Nerd can only stay Nerd--and Higa is funniest when he is just being his own, silly self.

If the movie's truly going to tap into his fan base, it should probably be a horror-comedy written by Higa and friends and the only starlets it should feature are these lovely ladies:


Anonymous said...

He is Now #2 subscribed of ALL TIME now, mind you.

steadof said...

Yes, #2 of all time among comedians. It's pretty impressive.

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