Higa and Fujiyoshi’s YouTube channel, nigahiga, was created on July 20, 2006. By December 21st, 2010, it had surpassed 3,000,000 subscribers, making it YouTube’s most subscribed channel of all time ahead of such prominent YouTube users such as Shane Dawson and Fred. By November 2010, their comedy videos had been viewed over 630 million times.
Japanese-Hawaiians Ryan Higa, 19, and partner Sean Fujiyoshi, 18, started making humorous videos and posting them on YouTube four years ago to cope with boredom, never expecting themselves to become an Internet sensation.
Nigahiga is a popular YouTube channel created by Japanese-Hawaiian Ryan Higa and friends Sean Fujiyoshi, Tim Enos and Tarynn Nago (known collectively as “The Yabo Crew”)’. Since relocating to Las Vegas to study filmmaking at UNLV, Higa’s videos are usually solo efforts except during school breaks when he sometimes visits Hilo and collaborates with the Yabo Crew.
Ryan Higa and Sean Fujiyoshi started posting YouTube videos of themselves lip synching to songs in mid 2006 while attending Waiakea High School. They quickly expanded beyond songs, with a variety of other comedic pieces. Occasional guest appearances are made by Tim Enos, Ryan Villaruel, Kyle Chun, and Tarynn Nago, collectively known as the “Yabo Crew”.
In 2008, Los Angeles producer Derek Zemrak offered to help them create their first feature-length film. The resulting film, Ryan and Sean’s Not So Excellent Adventure, was directed by Richard Van Vleet and released on November 14, 2008. It was shown in sold out theaters in Hawaii and California. The DVD was released on July 14, 2009 in the USA and grabbed the iTunes No. 1 spot for independent films.
Ryan and Sean’s Not So Excellent Adventure is about a down on his luck movie producer, played by Michael Buckley, who is seeking out famous celebrities in order to make a hit movie in 30 days or risk being fired. He chooses Ryan Higa and Sean Fujiyoshi after discovering the popularity of their YouTube videos.
Higa’s latest video online is the 25-minute film “Ninja Melk,” where he shows off his martial arts skills. He has a black belt in judo and was also on the wrestling team at Waiakea High School.It was the last video Fujiyoshi and Higa made while on summer vacation in Hawaii and was released in August 2009.
A new independent 35 minute film he created with Wong Fu Productions called “Agents of Secret Stuff” was uploaded on Ryan’s channel on November 24, 2010. It features some other popular YouTube users as well as actors such as Aki Aleong. “Agents of Secret Stuff” is about a teenage A.S.S. (Agent of Secret Stuff) (Higa) who is sent undercover to a high school to protect one of the students, a girl named Taylor (Arden Cho) from the A.S.S.’s enemy, the S.I.N.S. (Society Involving Not-So-Good Stuff).
Short videos like “The iPod Human”, “How to Be A Nerd”, “How To Be Ninja” and “How To Be Gangster,” (Fujiyoshi’s favorite) are some of the JA duo’s popular films, which millions have viewed. Fujiyoshi and Higa have also enlisted their friends and family to don wigs and costumes for their viral spoofs.
The buzz about their YouTube videos caught the attention of celebrities like Cash Warren and Jessica Alba. Higa made a promo video for the couple’s Web site www.ibeatyou.com and since then they have remained friends.
On a recent trip to Los Angeles, Higa was invited to spend the weekend at the couple’s house. Higa, sporting dark sunglasses, was snapped by the paparazzi with the celebrities.
“Ryan has a lot to be thankful for,” said his mother Luci Higa. “His friends, his fans and YouTube have given him many experiences and opportunities we never imagined.”
Tarynn Nago, Higa’s girlfriend of three years, is also a regular in his sketches. She has played various characters such as Hermione in a spoof of “Harry Potter.”
Higa is now majoring in film at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He lives with his 23-year-old brother Kyle in Nevada. Being separated from his YouTube co-stars was difficult at first, explained Higa. A ring on his finger reminds Higa of his commitment to his girlfriend, who is a high school senior in Hawaii.
“A lot of people think we’re married,” Higa said. “I guess you could say it’s a promise ring.” He said comments from admiring fans do not bother his girlfriend since she receives her share of adoring messages. But for all the positive comments, Higa also receives negative feedback.
“There are a lot of racists ones,” Higa said about the messages he receives. “In every racist comment there are three recurring themes: one mentions my eyes, another mentions ‘Chinks.’”
The third most common theme in the racist messages is a variation of “Asians don’t belong on YouTube.”
To address racism in a light-hearted manner, Higa teamed up with “What The Buck,” a.k.a. Michael Buckley. They made the video commentary in response to actress Miley Cyrus allegedly making an anti-Asian gesture.
“My parents are still helping me out,” Higa explained. “It’s definitely good money to have on the side. If I weren’t on YouTube, I’d just be studying.”
His film classes are helping Higa fine-tune his technique. People on campus sometimes stop him to snap photos. Those in his film class seem to be unaware of his YouTube status.
The 19-year-old attends college part-time, so he can dedicate more time to making films. Attending college part-time will likely lead to a delayed graduation, Higa said. He knows fame can be fleeting, so he wants to take advantage of his YouTube success now.
Fujiyoshi started college at the University of Portland where he is studying engineering. Being separated from the Nigahiga crew was difficult at first, Higa said. Now he makes videos from his home in Vegas, carrying his arsenal of costumes in a bag when he films outside.
His next project is a rap video.
“It’s pretty much like spoofing really bad gangster rap,” Higa explained. “The beat is really hardcore, but the words are going to be really kind, like, ‘I love my dog. I love my cat!’”
Fans of Nigahiga need not worry about the fate of the YouTube channel. Going off to college will not stop these YouTubers from making videos.
To watch Nigahiga’s videos, visit www.youtube.com/user/ryanhiga.