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Jimmy Wong | “Never stop working. If you’re doing something you love, then it shouldn’t be a problem. “

Author // TheOtherAsians
Posted in // Blog

Just a typical day in the life of OA: ziplining [and crashing] through our interviewee’s studio. Yes, you read correctly. There is a zipline inside Jimmy Wong’s headquarters where all the magic you see on YouTube happens. That’s just how he gets the creative juices flowing—ziplines, Totoros, and Smash Brothers. This singer-songwriter-actor and recent winner of YouTube’s NextUp contest is best known for his exceptionally clever love song response to Alexander Wallace. That, however, just scratches the surface of this brilliant all-around artist who not only posts covers that often put the original artists to shame, but boasts equally creative original content in the form of songs and skits…and a few big surprises in the near future. His secret to success? Don’t ever get realistic. That, and memorizing pi to the 30th digit.
FUN FACTS
  • What takes up most of your time right now: Doing one video a week—either writing or recording the music, then filming and editing it; occasionally, a few auditions a week for either pilots or shows.
  • Guilty pleasure: Anime. I’m a huge nerd at heart. I love video games and geeking out about stuff – technology, video games, video game-related news, or collectible things like Gundam.
  • What the “F” stands for in Jimmy F. Wong: That’s my middle name. James Franklin Wong.
  • Do you have a Chinese name and what does it mean: Huang Gu Yue. “Huang” is my dad’s last name, “Gu” is my mother’s maiden name, and “Yue” means “bright.”
  • If you had an office job, it would be: I’d probably work as a graphic designer or something in that general field of work. I can’t imagine myself at a 9-5 office job where I would be cranking out documents or doing Excel spreadsheets; I’d probably go insane. Although, I’ve always wanted to be in a cubicle – not to work in it, but to decorate it and make it a fun space to be in everyday. I went to the Disney offices for their interactive media group and they had a bright, colorful office where some of the cubicles were artist stations, but everyone had personalized their own. The office felt friendly, warm and fun. That’s something I’d want.
  • Relationship status: Single.
  • Favorite film of all time: Good Will Hunting.
  • Pet Peeve: When people smack their lips when they chew; and the sound of silverware clinking against a plate. It makes that high pitch noise that I really can’t take. It kills me.
  • What you look for in a girl: The main thing is we need to get along well as friends because if you’re going to be in a relationship with someone, there’s more to it than the physical attraction. It’s about being able to work together and live together and interact well with one another. Also, compatibility is all about making each other laugh. Sense of humor is important. You can’t judge someone solely based off appearance, off recommendation, or if someone says so and so is right for you; that’s usually not a good place to start.
  • Can you speak/read/write Chinese: I can only speak Mandarin conversationally. I went to Chinese school when I was younger, but I also studied four years of Mandarin in high school. That was where I learned the majority of my reading and writing but I forgot most of it.
  • Fun fact: I’m in the midst of a Dungeons and Dragons game with my roommates.
  • Funner fact: I know Pi to the 30th digit – 3.14159265358979323846264338327950. I was in fifth grade and I was reading my math textbook during a rainy night. I saw one page where they were explaining what Pi was and it was displayed to like the 25th or so digit. I was bored and I had nothing else to do with my homework so I thought, “It’d be really cool if I memorized all this.” So I did.

OA: What goals are you working towards in the videos that you put out on YouTube?
JW: Right now, I’m just trying to put out quality music. Music, for me, is a priority before the videos. Another goal is to build my subscriber base as fast as possible. Right now, covers have the most attraction on YouTube; even though I don’t necessarily like the song, I’ll still cover it if it’s really popular. It brings new audience members to your channel. I don’t have the choice to be as selective with the music I cover yet. Hopefully, when I have a solid subscriber base in the future, I can focus more on originals but I don’t want to limit myself on writing an original every week because I would rather it be something that happens over time. Doing a cover is fine because the whole song is already there; I just need to change sections however I see fit.

OA: Why did you choose to take on the impressive feat of releasing one good quality video a week? How do you decide on the content, and just how much work goes into each of these videos?
JW: I decided to do one video a week because consistency is the most important thing when you’re making a YouTube channel. Once people know you’re putting stuff out once a week, they’ll keep coming back. If it’s just very sporadic, then your subscriber base won’t be as dedicated. They’ll rely more on someone to send them the link, aside from having them find the link just by visiting your channel every week. There were just so many songs to cover and there’s always something popping out that is new. Usually you’ll find that the faster you respond to something that’s related to whatever is trending or popular, the more popular it’ll get. The longer you take to do something, the less people will be searching for it and the less they’ll see it as interesting. And the amount of work that goes into each video varies. For the most part, the most time is spent writing the song or making my version of it and doing all the mixing and mastering for all the music for it.

OA: In addition to your original songs, your YouTube covers have a lot of Jimmy Wong flavor, and you make the song your own. If you had to put words to it, what is your musical style?
JW: Pop rock, with a little bit of indie in there. I was raised on classical music. I like a lot of the classical orchestral instruments. Some people say it has an 80s feel to it, which I wouldn’t disagree with but I grew up on grunge, harder rock, and classical music. So it’s a mix of everything, but it’s still got pop in there. My voice is more pop, but my music writing is more rock.


OA: Okay, we have to get the token Alexandra Wallace question out of the way. There were hordes [sorry, I had to] of responses, but yours definitely stuck out with its clever lyrics and light humor. Walk us through your thought process in creating this video.
JW: At first, I just sat down with a guitar and listened to her entire rant three or four times and I wrote down the big talking points that she made. From there, I started playing a song; at first, it was just random chords, just figuring out what sounded good. Slowly the structure came to me. Then, right before I was going to record it, I decided that it needed to be funnier, more entertaining. Up to that point, it was just a singer-songwriter love song, so that’s when I added the guy talking sexy to her. That was just to keep it more fresh and change up the pace a little bit, so there would be two characters in the song – me singing this song and this other guy doing all this dirty talk about getting funky. For me, it was about creating the most entertaining and lively video I could that referenced as much of her stuff as possible. There was a lot of rewriting. I hit the main points and made the chorus as catchy as possible.

OA: You already have a foot in the door in mainstream media—why did you make the decision to pursue new media? It’s usually the other way around.
JW: Everyone I live with does YouTube stuff now; my brother [Freddie Wong] especially. They all make their living off of it, which is great. After doing it, learning more, and meeting people in the community, it has become very apparent and easy to build the same strong fan base that you otherwise would have to struggle for years for in traditional media. Right now, I know that I am reaching “x” amount of people and that the “x” amount of people are my fans and support me. I could be doing random acting gigs for the next few years and maybe still not be able to find the support that I have today just through doing things on YouTube. For me, if acting didn’t work out, I always would have something else to go to. Music and videos are all heading in that direction already. It’s like setting a railroad track where they’re both running parallel, one of them is music and the other one is acting and occasionally they’ll cross over and slide; sometimes they’ll do a little of both. But, in case one of them breaks and falls off, I always have another one I can keep going on. Or if one slows down, I can keep going on the other one.

OA: As an actor, do you have a favorite role to play?
JW: I’ve always wanted to play the male romantic lead in a movie, mostly because it hasn’t been done by an Asian male before. Male Asian leads in movies have, with the exception of Kato from the Green Hornet, been about martial arts, technical wizardry, and being able to beat people up. That’s not bad to have an action hero like James Bond, Jason Bourne, etc., but those guys always get the ladies. You could argue that Bruce Lee was the best of the martial arts heroes because he had the real-life bravado and the charisma but, outside of that, have you ever seen Jet Li kiss a girl? Have you ever seen Jackie Chan get a girl? No way. John Cho is the other exception because of Harold and Kumar. In terms of traditional male romantic leads, it’s something that has never been seen, but it’s not like it’s impossible. There needs to be a few defining roles in movies that set the way for the rest of the world to be like, “Oh, this can work, so we should be doing this too.”

OA: You are truly an artist in all that you do: acting, music, graphic design, film and photography. Why, of all these worlds, did you choose acting as your primary artistic focus?
JW: I would say that art is my primary artistic endeavor. All the fields are linked; the basic theory of art is the same amongst all of them. It’s self expression and expression through a specific medium, either through painting or acting. It’s done differently through every field, but I feel that it all ties back to the same core idea. That’s what I’m striving for or, at least, working on improving. Music has always been in my life. It’s the one I identify with most strongly because I began playing at such a young age. I didn’t actually start doing theater and acting until I was in college, seriously at least. The reason I decided to continue pursuing it was partly because I felt that there needed to be a voice for Asians that wasn’t the exotic women or the martial arts guy. There are issues with self image and how we’re portrayed in the media; someone just needs to set a new precedent – that was part of the reason I decided to pursue acting.

OA: The arts is arguably the riskiest business of all. So why do you do it? Where did you get the courage to pursue it?
JW: I don’t know if it’s courage, but more so me doing what I want to do and fortunately finding success through it. It’s definitely not the most stable job. I decided to go for it because I don’t feel like we were put on earth to do things that we don’t want to do and be unhappy with life. So many people complain about their jobs or about having to do things that they don’t like – it just doesn’t make sense to me. At some point in their life, they were given the chance to say, “I want to do something like this” or “I’m going to pursue this” even though it may not make the most money. They went to another job because it was safer or because they knew that they had to make a living and got sort of stuck in it for the time being; that time being ended up being for the rest of their lives. At the same time, there are the harsher realities of life that we all have to deal with, such as paying for rent or supporting family. Art doesn’t necessarily factor very well into that because, if you can’t make a living, then you can’t do any of those things. For the most part, it’s harder to make a living in art than in any other career. For me, I’m fortunate that I don’t need to worry about a lot of those things at this point in my life. So, it was about pursuing what I love doing the most and would be most passionate about and that would keep me sustained more than money would.

OA: Acting is almost synonymous to rejection, given the odds. How do you pick yourself up and stay positive?
JW: It’s almost like taking a free throw shot and missing. If you never played basketball before or if you never did acting before, the more you can realize it’s not the only time you can do something like that and it’s not the end-all be-all, the better off you’ll be. If you start treating things like that, then it’ll affect every other part of your life. You’ll just be focused on regret and how you didn’t get something. There are different ways to look at things – “I didn’t get it, but there are more opportunities down the road for something similar,” “This is just one project of many,” or “I would do better next time.” There are different ways to get inspired and find something positive about rejection rather than shutting down, trying to figure out why you didn’t get it. Stop dwelling on the past, always try to keep moving forward. Sometimes acting is tough because you just have to accept that there are some things out of your control. You could’ve been the best person auditioning or the best person in the room for the role, but if someone was funding the project and said, “I want to choose this person because they fit, they look better onscreen with this other character that they will be interacting with,” then it’s outside of your control. That’s the tough thing about acting – sometimes it’s not based on skill; it’s purely based on looks, demographics or money. They’re all realities of life—found in every job and every profession—that you just have to deal with.

OA: How supportive has your family been in your artistic journey?
JW: Very supportive, which is great. At first, my mom was, understandably, very nervous because she knew that I wasn’t going to be making much money and I wasn’t going to be able to support myself. After seeing the fruits of our labor, the work that my brother and I have done, they’ve been more comforted knowing what we’re pursuing. We’re actually making something, not sitting here being starving artists and complaining. We’re still as hard working as we would be in any other field, so I think that’s given them comfort and they’re more okay with what we’re doing. My dad became a doctor after he moved to America from China, having no money and not speaking English and he went to Harvard Med. He believes in the American dream, and my parents realized that it wasn’t just in medicine, engineering, etc. that this was possible. You could make your life and living in any career you wanted to in America and I think that became obvious to him. And that’s why he’s become more supportive of my brother and me. The older we got and the more we showed interest in these fields, the more he saw that it wasn’t a foolish endeavor to pursue the arts. It’s America; if you work hard and have good business sensibility, you’ll succeed.

OA: You are very much in touch with your Asian side—you speak fluent mandarin, and your Chinese Food music video—which very interestingly showed your Asian American perspective—was made in China. So tell us, what does it mean to be Asian American to you?
JW: Americans, in general, don’t realize that being Asian doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as being white or black because there are a lot more divisions between the different Asian countries and different Asian races. Most people group Asians into one but they’re really all kinds of Asians. Apart from Korean, Chinese, Japanese, you also have all the Southeast Asian countries. Just because the countries are close together and you might look the same, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be the same. So that’s one of the big things about being Asian today at least in America: you’re part of a huge divided race and, for me, you’re representative of a very large group as a single person. I feel more defined because I represent a larger collective. For me, it’s about taking pride in your race and doing it justice. I feel like we’re still a minority in a lot of people’s eyes. A lot of it has to do with the fact that we haven’t had a lot of media coverage or there isn’t a rich history of Asians in America. You could say African Americans have a much richer history in America because of all the civil rights issues and the struggle and oppression they faced in the country. Whereas Asians, we’re a newer introduction to the country that stuck mostly to themselves and did not integrate as well into America.

OA: You and Freddie make an excellent duo. How have you drawn inspiration from one another? Is there any sibling rivalry?
JW: Freddie plays music as well. He’s technically more talented than I am – as in technical skills. I feel like the day we start making music together is the day we start dominating the world. It’s the combination of his blistering fast solos and my artistic sensibilities – they’ll be the ultimate combination. We inspire each other in different ways. We haven’t worked as closely as I hoped to since I first moved down here; but, at the same time, it’s been good because it’s allowed us to pursue our own interests. He’s been here for six years – he went to USC [University of Southern California]; I went to college across the country, so it’s allowed us to pursue our own paths of artistry. It made us grow stronger. We’ve never really had to rely on each other as much as we would have had we been together all these years. It’s going to lead to stronger future collaborations as well. I started basically a year after he did, so he’s inspired me to know that this formula works. We help each other out in different ways. I ask for advice; he comes to me for brotherly love.
OA: You are very comfortable in front of the camera. Are you the lucky few that was naturally born with it, or did you have to work at it? Are you ever afraid to perform?
JW: I’m guessing it’s natural. I was never afraid to be in front of the camera. I was watching old footage of me and my brother and I was always, to some degree, performing in front of the camera. I had a ton of energy as a kid. I still do. It’s never been an uncomfortable thing. I’ve never been shy on stage. I might be nervous going on stage or nervous doing something but, once it’s actually going, I get that odd adrenaline boost from somewhere. In terms of professionally doing it for film, there’s a small adjustment period where it took time to get better at it because there’s certain things you learn that work and don’t work, how things look different on camera than they do in real life. In that case, there has definitely been an acclimation period for learning how to be a better actor on camera.

OA: Words of wisdom for aspiring actors, musicians, graphic designers…artists.
JW: Never stop working. If you’re doing something you love, then it shouldn’t be a problem. You should be able to wake up everyday and be able to pursue whatever you love with the same vigor and passion that you did as a little kid. When people tell us that we can’t do something, we listen to it and we’re like, “Yeah, you’re right. I can’t do that, so I’m not going to try anymore.” You can’t blame it on the industry, you can’t blame it on other things. Do it because you’re passionate about it, and you’ll be doing it for the right reasons. You shouldn’t ever be forced to do something. At some point, if anyone ever said, “Get real” or “Be realistic” and you listened to them, you should think about that moment and erase it from your memory. I think being an artist is returning to that child-like state, that you could do anything you want; not because you knew you could or someone told you that you could but simply because you could. You could because you could. It’s about pursuing your imagination and not letting other people tell you “no.” Make sure you always do what you love and that you’re doing it for the right reasons. If you’re going into the arts, it’s not going to be easy and not going to always be fun. But, if it’s something that you’re passionate about and something you’ve always wanted to do, you’ll be safe. At the very least, even if you’re not making money, even if you’re hungry at the end of the day, if what you’re doing is something you love then you’ll be happy. The more dangerous thing is not someone else telling you to be realistic, but you telling yourself to be realistic. If your life is a tree that branches out with every possible choice, you’ll literally start hacking off limbs of those trees because you told yourself that you couldn’t do it. So, you’re looking at your own tree of life and sawing off sections of it. It’s how society has been for the longest time – that you have to be realistic in your goals. At times, you need to manage your expectations; you need to work on it. When you’ve been an artist in a certain field, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be something in other fields. It’s still important to be a business person in certain aspects of your life, you’re still going to need to be able to handle social situations in dealing with people selling your art or marketing yourself. Art is a life pursuit and you need to make sure that you can sell your art, talk to someone about what you’re doing and sell them on it. You need to not close yourself off to other aspects of life, just because you’re an artist. You need to be balanced; healthy life, healthy mind, healthy body. Getting realistic is getting unrealistic. When people get realistic, they start cutting parts out of their lives and to me that’s the most unrealistic thing that you can do. Especially where we’re living in America, we can do anything we want as long as we put in the hard work and are smart about what we’re doing. It’s good to keep a business sensibility if you’re going to be in the arts—that’s the underlining statement there.

OA: How to stalk Jimmy Wong:

Website: http://www.jfwong.com
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/jimmy
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/jfwong
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/therealjimmy

Interview by Julie Zhan
Photography by Melly Lee

Edited by Connie Ho

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  • Mike Price

    Jimmy Wong is awesome! love his stuff ..good interview!

    • http://MELLYLEE.com Melly Lee

      Thanks Mike!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1056330066 Francis Chen

    Very quoteworthy article! 

    • http://MELLYLEE.com Melly Lee

      Precisely!  Julie has a hard time picking a quote for the title 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Casey-Michele-White/521724377 Casey Michele White

    I know he’s from the Philippines, but I think it still sort of counts.  Don’t forget that Paolo Montalban played leading man in the Rogers and Hammerstein Cinderella remake with Whitney Houston and Brandy.  So ‘Asian’ leading man can be done!  Keep up the great work. ^_^

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