This is the third article in a series of articles sponsored by Comcast. All opinions belong to the writer and do not represent the opinions of Comcast or its subsidiary companies.
As Comcast’s team set up their Chinese New Year Festival booth, a line had already started forming. When asked what they were there for, the people in line responded with a chorus of shouts, “For Wesley!”
This year, Comcast’s main event was a meet and greet with Wesley Chan, cofounder of Wong Fu Productions. I asked a young woman close to the front if I could interview her. She laughed and shook her head. “I’m so nervous to meet Wesley, there’s no way I can talk right now!”
Wong Fu founders Wesley Chan, Ted Fu and Philip Wang were among the first YouTube influencers, and hold celebrity status in the Asian American community for creating content that is representative of and relatable to their audience. For many, their work was instrumental in forming the Asian American identity.
Brandon Toy, 24, remembers how discovering their videos affected him. “When I hit eighth grade and saw Asian Americans on YouTube, it was such a huge shift seeing Asian people on any sort of screen. I attribute a lot of my Asian culture to Wong Fu.”
Wong Fu’s sketches also helped Toy think about other aspects of life. “‘She Has a Boyfriend’ felt pretty real to me because I had an unhealthy perception of how one was supposed to get into relationships, and I kind of took pity on myself. But after seeing how Ki Hong Lee’s character got through his mental block, I became a much happier person and, I think, more attuned to my emotions.”
Katharine Sen, 23, showed up to express her admiration of Chan as a creator. “I want to tell him how much I respect his work. Not only does he put so much dedication into Wong Fu’s skits and filming everything, but he also dedicates a lot to his passion projects, like filming with Jubilee, creating his own films, and always striving to improve himself and his work. His drive and determination are inspiring to me, as someone who wants to get into a similar kind of work.”
While many fans at the event appeared to be in the same age range as Sen and Toy, there were also a few fans who had children of their own, and even groups of elderly viewers. One gray-haired woman waited patiently in line, only to ask Chan to step aside when she reached the front, so she could get a photo of herself with the Comcast backdrop. She took out her clamshell phone and handed it to the photographer, while Chan good-naturedly stepped out of the frame.
“That’s what I love about him,” said Gordan Li, who walked by and shouted a hello. “I’ve seen his videos [for] so long. He just seems like a chill, down-to-earth friend.”
After the meet and greet and before hopping onto Comcast’s float to be a part of the Chinese New Year parade, Chan took time to answer a few questions for Mochi magazine.
TC: What are some of your favorite ways to connect with your fans?
WC: I like to hear their ideas and what things they’re excited to do because so much of what we do is outward and sharing our own ideas. I know that our fans — beyond just being fans of what we make — have their own projects, and a big reason why they watch Wong Fu Productions is that it can act as a push in the right direction to make their own things. So hearing about their ideas gets me excited because I know what it feels like to have an idea that you really want to create. I want to encourage them to do the same. Whenever they share stories or artwork or anything creative, even just stories from their own life, that’s my favorite. It’s great to get a glimpse of their upbringing and their perspective, and I feel very grateful to be a part of that.
TC: What do you feel has changed for you and Wong Fu Productions since the beginning, and what has remained the same?
WC: I want to acknowledge our team because I think they’re the biggest change, or sign of growth. When we first started, it was just three guys: Philip, Ted and myself doing everything. Not doing everything perfectly, doing everything kind of okay, but to the best of our ability. And that was the attraction and charm at the time. It worked then, but now the only way we can really operate and sustain is with a great team. It takes everyone pulling their weight in order for us to keep growing. So the biggest change from the beginning is developing that team and the structures that allow us to create more and create better.
In terms of what hasn’t changed as much — I was talking to someone at the meet and greet about this. Since we’ve been in this strange entertainment/influencer/creator world for so long, from the very beginning of YouTube, we’ve been lucky enough to have fans come up to us and say hi for years. It’s still happening today, so in a weird way, we’re in a kind of bubble, and I feel like I haven’t aged that much. In other ways, I can see all the changes that have been happening on YouTube: the viewing habits [and] what’s popular now online.
We’re at over 3 million subscribers, but nowadays, getting up to 10 million in a month can be pretty simple if you follow the trends. But since we’re sticking to long-form, narrative, original content with high production value, we don’t follow those rules as much, so we grow much slower. I’m proud of the fact that we can stick to our guns and create things that are meaningful and have weight for our community, and create them at a level that is still acknowledged on YouTube as being high quality. At the same time, it can be frustrating to know that because we’re not playing by those rules on purpose, it does affect our growth a little bit.
TC: Wong Fu Productions started back in 2004. What is it about the mission and the team that allows for this longevity?
WC: The cause and the community — when people see the work that we’re making, how we’re making it, and how we bring our community together. We just had a holiday party to celebrate the end of 2019, which was really about celebrating everyone’s successes that we’ve ever worked with. In events like that, we see how much it means that Wong Fu can be a connector for other creators.
At events like the one today among the greater community, we get to see the effect that the work has on viewers. I just met up with my high school over there. I used to be in the parade on that Dragon Dance Team. So just seeing them, remembering being them, and having them recognize who I am and know the work that I do — there’s an immense sense of pride in that, and it keeps you going.
TC: How did you celebrate Chinese New Year growing up?
WC: Our family wasn’t huge on the popular traditions. We didn’t even do lai see, really. I think my parents wanted to take the focus away from that, which I thank them for. It wasn’t one time a year when you were trying to haul money. It was really just about taking a moment to celebrate family. Even in the house, it wasn’t red everything. We were very low key on the traditions. If anything, me joining the Dragon Dance Team in my high school and the Dragon Boat Team were the most cultural things that I did.
Now coming back home for Chinese New Year, as I get older, the parent and child roles switch a little bit. So now it’s more about “What do I take my mom out to do?” Or when I go visit my dad, I see how I can help around the house. Those moments are everlasting really.
TC: 2020 is the year of the rat — your zodiac animal. Will you be making any special resolutions?
WC: Well I’ve been told it’s a year we [people born in the year of the rat] have to be more careful. I’m not huge on resolutions, but one thing that I’ve been trying to do is keep in touch with my parents more. Living in LA, that means calling once a week [and] checking in more often. That’s an easy and important one that I feel like so far I’ve been able to hold onto.