David So | YouTube Comedian

Thrilled to meet with comedian David So, we arranged to interview the YouTube sensation at The Hat in Pasadena. We weren’t particularly hungry, so we opted to split a large order of chili fries — we know, you’re jealous. Following a brief moment of indulging in chili goodness, we took to the streets of downtown Pasadena, where our very own Melly Lee searched high and low for a location to shoot. The area, invaded by folks — both hurried and relaxed — proved itself a tricky location to capture the photos we had in mind. Thus, we resorted to photo bombing at the nearest furniture store. Check out the interview, where So talks about life growing up in Sacramento, how he started out doing comedy and how he gets inspiration for his many entertaining acts.
Fun Facts
  • What takes up most of your time right now? Perfecting my craft as a stand-up comedian, writer and actor. Everyday I try to improve myself in one way or another.
  • Guilty pleasure: Food. Eating when I’m not hungry has not only become a guilty pleasure, but a craft and skill. Surprisingly, I hate buffets. I eat a lot, but I like to eat well. I am what you call a “ghetto food snob.”
  • Who would you love to impersonate? I don’t know if I would love to impersonate anyone, but if you’re talking about comedic impressions, I can do a mean Arnold Schwarzenegger.
  • What is your relationship status? I’m single. I’ve been single for a bit now. Maybe it’s time this fish goes back into the ocean and gets his fins a little wet? I have no idea what this means.
  • What are your pet peeves? Dirty bathrooms — I hate dirty bathrooms. I hate it. I don’t like dishes left in the sink overnight. I hate dust, I hate clutter — anything to do with cleaning. I generally have to be clean. Clutter happens now and then, that’s understandable, but it can’t be like that all the time.
  • Your go-to for food: I don’t have a go-to food because it’s based on what cuisine I’m into at the time, but anything my mom makes sounds good to me.
  • Do you have any tattoos and, if so, where? No, I don’t like tattoos on me. When you put something permanent on your body, you better be ready to commit to it. Some people just do it because it’s the cool thing to do. I saw a kid with a Michael Jordan tattoo once and I asked if he played basketball. He simply replied, “Who’s Michael Jordan?” I wanted to smack him.
  • What do you look for in a girl? She has to be able to converse really well. I would like her to be able to hold a conversation because I enjoy listening to other people. I have to speak constantly for a living, so it’s nice to be able to listen and learn for a change. I don’t like crazy party girls who think that drinking, clubbing and getting hammered is a lifestyle that has to be fulfilled every weekend. Despite what people may think, I enjoy a quiet lifestyle on my down time and would love to be with a woman who enjoys peace and quiet as well. Don’t get me wrong, I have an adventurous side but don’t expect me to make jokes all the time because I’m human too. I don’t like feeling like I have to be on stage, performing an act in my everyday life. Overall, I look for a girl who is willing to understand me as a person. At the end of the day I want to be appreciated for me, and that includes the good and the bad.
  • What kind of car do you drive? I drive a Toyota Camry.
  • Fun fact: I started off as a musician before I did comedy.
  • Funner fact: My parents own a black beauty supply store and I grew up working there my whole life — weaves, hair, wigs, we have everything. I’ll hook it up.

Although you’re relatively new to the online video community, you have already received tremendous support, with more than 180,000 subscribers and growing. What encourages you to upload videos and why did you decide to consistently publish them online?

David So: I started focusing on stand-up comedy, without music, when I was 20 years old. Trying to pursue comedy was a bit difficult at the time because I was a full-time student, working at my parents’ business and two other part time jobs. When I was at Sac State, I dedicated myself to school, so performing in bigger cities, outside of Sacramento, was limited by my work and school schedule. I realized that YouTube was a way for me to push my comedy out there, while still attending college. It was essentially a test, to see if my material worked in my small niche and in a larger audience.

I decided to publish videos on a regular basis because I didn’t want to lay waste to the opportunity that was presented before me. A viral video does not happen to everyone, but it happened to me. Even before I started posting videos on YouTube, I learned the value of social media. Social media is very powerful, especially nowadays — it’s a beast. If you’re not on social media, then what are you doing? Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, Tumblr — all this stuff is connected.

When I was going to write my piece on the sociology of pop culture, I looked into all the social media facets [and] I found out the power of YouTube. You have to really take [these tools] into your hands and push it; if you let it go away, and the spark dies, then you’ll find yourself back at square one.

You originally started out as a musician. To overcome your nerves, when performing at events, you would talk up the audience, which eventually led you to become interested in comedy. Can you tell us more about making the transition from musician to comedian?

Well, my friend Vince used to throw these multi-shows where I would strictly perform music. When I performed as a musician, I would always make jokes to warm myself up to the crowd. It got to the point where comedy and music became a consistent part of the act. Vince had another show and I agreed to do music as my main act again, but literally 8 to 10 minutes before I was to perform, I said,  “F*ck it. I’m doing stand-up.” I asked for an OK and he said “OK.” I wasn’t sure if I was going to be good, or even decent, without hiding behind my guitar and music. I took a chance, walked up there, did it and rocked it. After that, comedy just felt right. It felt like the career path that I wanted and needed to be in.

We remember that you said you don’t really like to plan too many of your acts before performing. How much of your performance is set material and how much is improv?

It’s probably fifty-fifty. It really depends. If it’s a longer set, a good majority [of the act] will have to be planned so you don’t run out of material — you can’t just feed off the crowd. If it’s just an 8-minute set, then I’ll just go up. Occasionally, a couple of your old sets will pop into your head. You walk out there, feel the demographics of the crowd and how old they are.

Ethnicity and age are two big things in comedy, depending on how your jokes are going to be received. If you have a crowd of older people and you’re talking about new age things, they’re not going to understand what you’re talking about. You really have to feel your crowd and demographic and work off that. Longer sets may require a little more prep, shorter sets I typically just freestyle.

You currently hold two channels on YouTube: music and comedy. What is it like developing both of these crafts simultaneously? Do you find yourself devoting more time to one more than the other?

It’s just something I do for fun. I wanted to be a musician, but it didn’t seem very lucrative. I decided to leave it alone. Music is still something I enjoy, it’s very freeing. I only write when I want to write; I have to be in the moment, something has to happen. A girlfriend has to dump me and I’ll be like, “OK, cool!” Something traumatic or great has to happen. Whenever I put out originals, it’ll be about something I’ve experienced like my first breakup or the first time I got rejected.

OK time for the token question: Earlier this year a UCLA student, Alexandra Wallace, said a few things about Asians. Can you walk us through how you came up with your response?

My friend posted it on Facebook and I saw the video. She was like, “I can’t believe this girl. She has the audacity.” I looked at her and laughed. I was like, “This girl’s kind of crazy.” In terms of being really hurt about it, she’s a dime a dozen. People treat her as if she was the first person to say those kinds of racial slurs. She’s not unique, just very stupid for posting her rant in a video. Other than that, it didn’t really incite any anger from me. It was just something that people were taking too seriously, so I thought, “Let’s just make fun of it and help people laugh about it.” Essentially that’s what comedy does — it helps you laugh at things that you wouldn’t normally laugh about.

You’re one of the few people that have managed to produce a stable revenue stream via new media. What do you think separates you from others that are trying to do what you do? Do you think that there is a “special formula” to “making it” on YouTube?

I don’t know if there is a special formula. I say just be great at what you do. Whether it be comedy, music or vlogging, sharpen your craft and be willing to put yourself at the mercy of your viewers. I think living a colorful and inquisitive lifestyle is what separates myself from others. My life experiences sums up who I am and it is what everyone gets to experience when I post a video.

Which comedians do you look up to?

The people I look up to are Eddie Murphy, Bill Cosby and Kevin Hart. In my opinion, Kevin Hart is the guy I want to be — he’s a beast. I respect Bill Cosby a lot because he was one of those comedians who, back in the day, was able to do so well for himself, while still managing to keep all his material clean. It wasn’t about cursing outlandish things, or anything like that, it was stuff that everyone could just laugh about. Eddie Murphy was a great performer and told stories that people were able to relate to.

Where do you find most of the inspiration for your comedy?

The inspiration for my comedy is based off of my life. For example, I made a football episode because, when I was younger, I wanted to play football but my parents wouldn’t let me. So the character, “Neckbone,” is someone who I think I might have become if I were a football jock. I made an episode about a beauty supply store because it was a major part of my life growing up — I went to school, went to the store, went to school, went to the store. Everything is based off of my life — things I’ve thought about, hypothetical situations and everything that I have experienced.

Recently, you created a project called “The People’s Hater.” What is the purpose of this project and what inspired you to make it?

It was actually my cousin’s idea. My page wasn’t initially for vlogging. I didn’t want to do vlogs, I wanted to do skits. The whole premise was for me to put out my comedic ideas in the form of shorts, like a MadTV concept. But what I found out, through vlogging, was that a lot of people liked it when I voiced my opinions, which got my cousin to think about “The People’s Hater” idea. I thought, “People need someone to voice their thoughts, why not give them what they ask for.” So with “The People’s Hater,” I can voice people’s opinions through my own words. A lot of people dwell on things and I believe its because they never get to vent it out properly. Sometimes people really need to voice their feelings, but they can’t because they don’t have the personality for it. This, of course, is where I come in and do it for them.

We’ve noticed that you’ve been appearing in videos with Arden Cho and Ngabo.  Can we look forward to any upcoming projects and/or collaborations?

Sadly, Ngabo won’t be in any of my videos for a while because he’s going to be serving abroad in the Peace Corps for a couple of years. Ngabo is actually my best friend from Sacramento and has supported me from the beginning, in my endeavors as both a stand up comedian and a musician. I probably would never tell him this in person, but he’s one of the people I aspire to be more like everyday.

Arden, I love Arden. What I specifically love about her is that she’s an actress who takes her craft very seriously — she has a hunger and drive for it. You want to work with people who are driven and share your similar goals. I plan to work on more future projects with Arden.

What is some advice you would give aspiring comedians and musicians?

Music is a very difficult career to pursue. It’s not always going to be about your music because you have to think about it as a business.  When your art becomes your work, it takes a bit of mixing business and pleasure. What I mean by that is that with making a living off your art, you have to be smart about it as well.

Being a musician or a performing artist isn’t always going to be about your great voice because not only do you have to sell your music, but you have to be able to sell who you are, as an artist, to your potential consumer base. I think the best advice I can give is that if you are a musician or comedian, and that’s what you want to do for a living, be the best at what you do. Don’t split yourself up, pursue one thing at a time and go for it. I stopped splitting my time between music and comedy because I wanted to perfect my craft as a comedian. I had a choice of doing two things at the same time and being mediocre at both, or taking on one thing and being great at it. I still do music but I focus the majority of my time and energy on comedy because that is where my attention needs to be.

Here’s the thing, not everyone can be a musician and not everyone can be a comedian. You may love certain things, but end up finding that some things should be kept as a hobby, rather than a career. If you’re going to dedicate yourself to music or comedy, you have to have a hunger to better your craft everyday — you have to be ready to bring your ‘A game.’

In a recent vlog by Arden Cho, she called you out on how you call your mom daily. Has your mom always been supportive of you pursuing a career in music and comedy?

I love my mom, and she supports what I do everyday, but it was a struggle to get her to believe in it at first. Both my parents came from harsh and poor backgrounds and I grew up broke as well, so being a comedian was a risky career path. Both my parents were skeptical about the career path I chose, not because they didn’t believe in me, but they didn’t want me to pursue something that wasn’t going to be lucrative in the end. YouTube has allowed my mom to give me her full blessing because she now sees the benefits and how my comedy is going to pay off.

Both my mother and father still want me to pursue music. They think it’s a waste to let my musical “talent” go to waste. I simply told them that I haven’t given up on music, but I’m just taking a break from it.

We know that your family owns a beauty supply store. How did they react when they watched your “Korean Beauty Supply” video?

They thought it was hilarious. I’m really just imitating my mom in the video. That’s what she does. When she saw it, the first thing she said was, “That’s me, isn’t it?” I was like, “Yeah.” It’s funny because when some people saw that video, they wrote to me in Korean, saying, “You’re just making Korean people look bad and what not.” From an outside perspective, it looks like that. But, really, I’m just making fun of something that’s true. A lot of people misconstrued what I was saying, like Korean people only watching black people. No, it is a black beauty store so there are black people in the store. If anything, if a white person walked in, it’d be even more suspicious like, “What are you doing here?”

People who have experienced it can completely relate to it. A huge number of my African American following were like, “That’s exactly how it is in the store” because it’s true. It’s something I grew up with; it’s not something I crapped out of my a*s.

Your friend Ngabo is featured in many of your YouTube skits. How did the two of you meet and how long have you been friends? Do the two of you always work together on your webisodes?

Ngabo doesn’t really like being in front of the camera or getting any attention from being on it. He just does it cause he’s a good friend and I asked him to. He and I have been friends since high school. He’ll deny this story to the grave, but he was extremely aggressive with our friendship. I met him in algebra class and was first introduced to him when we were set up to do a project together.

One day, he insisted on driving me home. As I got out to say peace out he was like, “So what are we doing today?” I was like, “We? I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m going to my house. What are YOU doing?” From then on, he never stopped coming to my house. He forced his way into my life and it worked. He’s the African version of me or maybe I’m the Korean version of him, but either way he has become my best friend, who I consider family.

In terms of working together on webisodes, I tend to like to work on my own things and whenever he is in something, he’ll contribute his own suggestions. We bounce ideas off one another and, essentially, the dialogue that you see in the videos is how we speak to each other on a regular basis.

 Your bio states that you grew up in Sacramento. What was your experience like growing up in northern California and how does it affect your comedy?

It probably wasn’t just northern California that affected my comedy. It’s all the different life experiences that came along while living there. For instance, it wasn’t just about growing up in Sacramento, it was about growing up in Sacramento and being broke as hell. I think, when you grow up poor, you have to make life a little more colorful because you have to make do with what you have. As a child, my toy gun was my finger that I shaped into a gun — there’s unlimited ammo and you can never miss. Like I said, we comedians have the most colorful backgrounds to feed off of.

For example, my father being an ordained pastor, running a black beauty supply store, is not something you would consider a common career choice for an Asian immigrant. Growing up in that environment, I experienced a lot of different things that has molded and shaped who I am today, which essentially has affected my comedy.

There are some hilarious one-liners on your Twitter. What’s your take on the new media influence on comedy?

You can get out there a lot faster than before. Traditionally, comedians paid their dues; they got in the grind for 10 or 15 years, hoping that someone would finally see something in them. Then, if they networked properly, and had the right people behind them, they may or may not have become a big hit. New media has changed the game.

Now, you have the ability to show and create value for your content to a worldwide consumer base, that allows you to push numbers and carry an influence in media that you would have never had otherwise. It puts the power in the hands of the artist and has given us the ability to make something of ourselves with our own means.

For instance, Wong Fu and Freddie Wong have produced great content without the backing of major labels. It’s amazing what they have produced with the resources they have created for themselves. If it wasn’t for YouTube right now, I wouldn’t be here — you would not be talking to me. Right now, as we speak, I would be selling weaves. To be honest, if the comedy thing doesn’t work out, I’m back to it. Right? So thank God for YouTube.

Your YouTube channel has a wide range of appeal and is subscribed by YouTubers in South America, the Middle East, Europe, the Americas and Asia. What experiences, feelings and/or lessons do you believe helps your comedy click with people from all backgrounds?

I think it’s because I try and make things very universal. For instance, the purpose of “The Dating Game” was to make a series that everyone can relate to. Dating, being something that I’m sure most adults have tried and experienced in their life, is something we can all agree to laugh about.

Typically, you will find me touching on topics that have to do with Asian culture, but it won’t be the majority of my content. I want to be able to appeal to everyone. I find that if I do a lot of universal topics, it will reach out to a wider audience. I think my comedy is for older teens, college students and adults. When you’ve had the life experiences that I’ve had, you can relate to what I’m saying. If people can relate, they can usually laugh about what you’re talking about.

How do we stalk you?

Website: http://www.davidsoentertainment.com/
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/davidsocomedy and http://www.youtube.com/user/DavidSoMusic
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Dsocomedy
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/davidsocomedy

Photography By: Melly Lee

Header By: Sabrina Park

Interview By: Marianne Ng

Special Thanks To: Connie Ho

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