This is based off a VERY old interview. TAYLORMADE managed to meet Ryan Higa for a personal interview a day after his show in Bentley Auditorium last year here in Malaysia, where he chatted candidly with us about his life and work (the two seem to overlap very well). What with our one-year magazine hiatus, the resulting article has never seen the light…not until now, anyway.
Ryan Higa is no ninja. Neither is he an emo, gangster, or a girly wig-wearing, skirt-twirling transvestite, for that matter.
What he is, though, the person behind the various faces and dramatis personae he has worn over the past four years entertaining the netizen masses on his YouTube channel, is a different story altogether.
You may better know him under his YouTube name: Nigahiga.
Last year, Higa drew hundreds of screaming fans to the Bentley Music Auditorium at Mutiara Damansara on September 2, when he made his first visit to Malaysia as part of his Southeast-Asian tour. The afternoon appearance was organised by Soulmanna Live and hosted by local personality Jin from JinnyBoyTV. It also featured opening act Darren Ashley, who still delivered an entertaining performance despite some technical difficulties.
On screen, the 22-year-old Japanese American is loud and funny, with a sharp wit and an even sharper sense for comedic timing. Off screen, though, he is calmer and less manic, a far cry from the prancing fool personae he usually plays in his videos. It is only his by-now-instantly recognizable mug that keeps him recognizable to the general public, or at least to that part of the public that stay indoors more often than they should.
Onstage, Higa read and answered questions from a live Twitter feed set up especially for the occasion, where his fans asked him nearly everything from his favourite food (cheese) to an impromptu proposal from a smitten girl (which he easily sidestepped). And he took everything the Malaysian crowd threw at him with fair grace, even curve balls like the small container of durian local YouTuber Joseph Germani persuaded to try (He didn’t like it).
Some of the footage for one of his more recent videos, “Clenching My Booty”, a parody of Justin Bieber’s song “As Long as You Love Me”, was shot at the event itself, with the willing crowd as background.
The man is driven. In a later interview with ETC, Higa admitted that there was “not one day where I’m not at least writing something, unless it’s on a trip like this. Literally, whatever I’m doing, even if I go out at night – I spend most of my time writing and creating.”
He spends at least a week preparing even a small vlog, from writing to filming and editing. And except for the higher production videos, he does everything on his own, relying on the old tried method of putting in “whoever’s around at the time”. So far, Higa has released at least 120 videos on his channel in the past four years. Some of them are vlog-styled, with him ranting on various subjects seemingly on the spot. Others – the more well-known ones – are just plain happy idiocy, with wonderfully educational videos like “How to be Emo” or “iNavigate”.
Higa draws inspiration for his videos from everyday life. “Things I find funny, basically – I don’t really have a set process,” he said thoughtfully.
“Ideas just pop into my head. I don’t even know how to find them; sometimes when I try to find ideas I come up with the worst things and when I’m like, taking a shower, I’ll get the best ideas out of nowhere and I’ll run out and write it down real quick. I don’t really know how that works, and I don’t want to ask or find out I case I stop getting them,” he said, laughing.
Despite the fame, Higa is still pretty much a normal guy. In his spare time – which he admits to not being much – he plays basketball and watches MMA (mixed martial arts) on TV. Back home in Hawaii, people still treat him the same way they always have, even before the fame. And though the fame he has comes with the territory, he doesn’t like it too much. “If you want to feel like a rock star, we’ll do like a meet and greet,” he said with a smile, “but I prefer to keep it simple. I don’t even go clubbing. I just stay in a lot.”
A TRANSCRIPT OF THE INTERVIEW:-
TM: Have you eaten a lot? (classic Chinese question right here)
RH: Yeah, I think I’ve eaten a lot. It’s been good, it’s been great food; just eating so much.
TM: Have they been feeding you any strange stuff? Apart from yesterday?
RH: It’s all been strange stuff. Like I don’t eat any other stuff. It’s been really good. (laughs) I’ve had some really good food, I just can’t remember what it was called.
TM: Let’s talk about your productions. What goes into them?
RH: I’m just probably writing all week, and filming for a couple of days, and then editing for a day.
TM: All done by you?
RH: Pretty much. Except for higher production stuff, it’s literally my team and myself, and just Greg, whoever’s around.
TM: Your videos are all different, though. Some are heavily produced ones, some are done directly in front of your computer. What’s the difference between the videos that you do?
RH: Well, obviously the ones I do in front of my computer’s just vlogging, it’s a lot easier.
RH: Writing-wise it’s still the same, it still takes a long time. I write most of my ideas, I don’t spend like the week writing one idea, I spend the week writing like ten, twenty different ideas, then out of those twenty I’ll finally do one good one.
TM: Does it take you too long?
RH: Not really, I just draft an idea until I’m completely comfortable with it.
TM: Then how much time do you take for yourself? Is there any day that you spend not working?
RH: I don’t have any days I don’t work. There’s not one day where I’m not at least writing something, unless it’s on a trip like this.
TM: How often do you make these trips?
RH: Not very often. There’s not one day where I – literally, if I’m doing something, even if I go out at night – I spend most of my time writing and creating. I don’t have weekends, really, if you think about it. It’s not hard, though, I get to just stay on my computer and just (laughs) write all day.
TM: So far your videos have been short ones, especially given the general YouTube format. Do you see yourself doing full-length?
RH: Oh yeah, definitely. The closest thing I got to that was working with Wong Fu, the 35-minute short. I’m trying to do another one, I don’t know if it’ll fall through because I’m really busy right now, but I’m putting together a team of people like Greg (gestures at Greg sitting nearby), but all this is still only if I have time and if I can keep up my YouTube channel. Right now it’s still mostly just YouTube.
TM: Do you see yourself doing what you do for a long time still?
RH: As long as I can stay relevant. And when I’m not, I’ll move on to the next best thing. Maybe it’ll be film-making and movies, maybe it’ll be something else, but I’m gonna keep riding this YouTube thing as long as I can and keep creating content.
TM: Do you have any plans to continue studying?
RH: I’ve always wanted to get a degree – I don’t even know what, I just want to have a degree because my whole life – my parents told me, I told myself – that I need a degree or I’m a failure. So yeah, eventually I do want to go back and get a degree in something, maybe film, business, I don’t know what it is yet but I do want to get a degree just to say that I have one. I don’t want to be known as a dropout. Which I am right now. (laughs)
TM: Sounds like the Asian thing all around.
RH: Yeah! We were brought up to, you know, we need to have it. Cause if you don’t… (trails off, smiling)
TM: Alright. So I think we’re pretty much done with the heavy stuff. And now – this is not a question I’d normally ask, but what is your favourite colour?
RH: Green? It’s weird, cause I don’t wear it, I don’t even use it in anything, but I love the colour green.
TM: You don’t use it at all?
RH: I hardly EVER wear green. It’s weird, but I just like the colour.
TM: What’s your favourite food? Aside from what you’ve eaten here?
RH: (Laughs) Overall? Probably sushi. Oh wait, I take that back. I love cheese. It’s like my favourite food ever. I can eat cheese plain, all day. If it wasn’t like, bad for you, I would eat it all day.
TM: Favourite type of cheese?
RH: All types of cheese. There’s no specific type. I just love cheeses, trying new ones, it’s a passion that I have (grins).
TM: Do you do music?
RH: Well, there is one that I’m working on right now, for next week (Clenching My Booty). We filmed some of the footage here in Malaysia and Singapore, but you know, that’s only because I have a great producer that makes me sound listenable. Manageable, not terrible, but it’s definitely not good either. I kind of do music, but I wouldn’t say that I’m anywhere near that.
TM: What are your favourite musicians, filmmakers?
RH: My favourite musicians are all on YouTube, to be honest. It’s all of our friends – David, Clara, Kina, all of them. In general though, I listen to everything. Everything – mainstream, not mainstream (chuckles), indie – I’m just a big fan of music in general. It inspires me to make videos as well. It’s amazing when you can get an emotion out of a song, funny or not.
TM: Do you do all your tracks on your videos yourself?
RH: All the music I have is royalty-free, but the work on my music videos are done with producer Andy Lange, he works with Chester See, a lot of people. He does all the tracks for us. I don’t know how to make beats. I can, at the studio, but I’m not good at it.
TM: How do people normally treat you at home?
RH: Like in Hawaii, or in L.A.?
TM: Like where you’re most comfortable.
RH: Well, home home, people treat me the same. I kinda got into YouTube even back then in school so it would be kind of weird for them to burst into anything right now. So when I go back it’s pretty normal for them. They know about it, they know what’s going on, but, well, I have the same friends, they treat me the same way, it’s pretty much the same. In L.A., it’s different, people come up to me and stuff like that, but back home in Hawaii it’s pretty down to earth. Mellow.
TM: How do you separate the two? On one hand, you’re a big man, you’re famous and all, but on the other hand…
RH: I honestly don’t. These events, they make me feel like I’m some sort of rock star, but I’m not. I can chill with people, even on interviews. The majority of my life is spent staying in, I don’t even go clubbing. I just stay in a lot. It’s completely normal for me, and I can go to places where I won’t get mobbed unless I tell people I’m going there.
TM: So you still get to be a normal person.
RH: It’s like the best of both worlds. For a little bit – if you want to feel like a rock star, we’ll do like a meet and greet (laughs). But the majority of the time I prefer to keep it simple.
TM: Do you like the fame?
RH: Yeah, it’s great, but it gets really tiring. I can’t even imagine people like Justin Bieber. Jessica Alba’s a friend of mine and she goes through that every time she goes on the street. She gets followed every time she goes to Starbucks just to get a drink. That life is not something I would ever want.
TM: Apart from film, do you have any other hobbies?
RH: Well, I love basketball. I have a huge interest in MMA – when I get the time to do that. The most of my life is really just basketball, filming and editing.
TM: Alright, last thing: how do you come up with ideas for your videos?
RH: Ideas come from everyday life. Things I find funny, basically – I don’t really have a set process. Ideas just pop into my head. I don’t even know how to find them; sometimes, when I try to find ideas I come up with the worst things and when I’m like, taking a shower, I’ll get the best ideas out of nowhere and I’ll run out and write it down real quick. I don’t really know how that works, and I don’t wanna ask or find out I case I stop getting them (chuckles). [TAYLORMADE]