Peter Chao (username pyrobooby) exploded onto the YouTube scene 3 years ago with his controversial, forthright comedy. Today, his videos boast over 159 million views. I sat down with him for an exclusive look into his life, career, and Internet stardom.
Me: How did you get started on YouTube?Peter Chao: My mother used to always ask me, “What are you going to do for a job, now that you’re out of school?” I had no answer for her, and she was very disappointed. So one day, I made a webcam video and told a story about the time I went to a Chinese restaurant run only by Indian people. Another user by the name of MrChiCity3 liked it so much, he favorited my video on his YouTube channel, and that sent a lot of traffic my way... like 15 000 hits the first day. I said, “I think I have something”.
Me: When exactly did you realize you’ve become a YouTube sensation? Was it after that first video?
Peter Chao: With the first video, I had a hint. I thought, “This might work,” but I didn’t know I was going to make a career out of it. So I just kept doing it, and doing it. Once some of my videos got hundreds of thousands of hits, and the next ones got millions, I knew I was really getting somewhere and my character was taking off.
Me: What has been your favorite video so far?Peter Chao: It’s tough to say, because I’m always trying to be better everyday. A lot of my fans like my older videos, and so do I. I like the classic ones, like the one where I hate on Justin Bieber. There’s also the one where I rant on Asian girls not shaving. There’s “Chinese guy searches for a girlfriend”, and more recently, I did a parody of Justin Bieber’s song “Boyfriend” called “Mudabitch”. That, I think is one of my favorites.
Me: I must confess, I’ve been following you for a long time, ever since your earliest videos came out. My friends went crazy over your accent. Why do you think audiences are so drawn to your videos?Peter Chao: At first when I started out, I don’t think a lot of YouTube users had the attitude I had. In real life, I’m actually a quiet, reserved, nice guy. In videos, I let the “anger” come out, and I really give my honest feelings on trending topics. I think people are drawn to the character because I just speak my mind, and I say things that people are afraid to say.
Drawn, but not always positively drawn. When asked if he had ever gotten in trouble for something he’s said or done, Chao recalled a time when YouTube banned his channel for two weeks, prompted by his video “Chinese Guy and Black Man Eat Fried Chicken”. In the video, he is seen using black face.
Peter Chao: [The people behind YouTube] felt that the video was racist toward black people. I had to explain to them, “This was all done for comedy. I’m not really racist against anybody. I take stereotypes and I make them outlandish so everybody can laugh.”
To Chao, it seems like his videos are either loved or hated. The least one can do is develop a sense of humor, he added.
He went on to insist that a sense of humor is something he didn’t always have. As a boy, he tried to be funny, but was always seen as the “un-cool class clown”.
Me: What are the perks of being Peter Chao?Peter Chao: Being able to take care of my mother. Just being able to support my family is very gratifying. To be able to make a comfortable living out of doing something I love – I love entertaining people – makes me very happy.
Me: There have been frequent sightings of Peter Chao in the greater Vancouver area. I don’t mean to come off as creepy, but I’ve personally seen you twice!
Peter Chao: How come you didn’t say hi?
Me: I guess I was too star-struck. I was like, “Oh my gosh, is that Peter Chao?” I didn’t get a chance to approach you.
Peter Chao: That’s too bad. I would’ve said hi back.
Me: Thanks. I’ll know for next time. What was your craziest encounter with a fan?Peter Chao: I actually haven’t had many. A lot of fans come to me, and it’s very strange. Like you said, they would see me, but they would be too scared to come up and ask for a photo. Instead, they just take pictures from far away, which is even more annoying. I would rather you come up to me, say hi, and take a picture. But no, people always try to catch me like the papparazi, like when I’m eating noodles.
Peter Chao: Another fan did come up to me to take a photo, and after that, he tried to untie my shoelaces. I was like, “What are you doing?” and I told him to f--- off. So that was the craziest encounter, but most people are normal.
Chao wants his fans to know that contrary to his public persona, he is actually a very nice guy. So long as people are nice to him, he is almost always more than happy to take a photograph. “Without my fans, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he said.
Me: What are we to expect from you in the future?Peter Chao: I’m going to be doing more high-scale videos more often. For example, videos like “Mudabitch” that take a lot of time for concept. I have people working with me and it’s a long process, but I like the process so much that I want to do more music videos, parodies, covers, and action/martial arts-type-things on top of the videos I’m doing now.
Me: When you started out on YouTube, there weren’t a lot of channels around. Today, it’s quite the opposite. There are so many channels, and so many people trying to get started. What are your words of advice for anyone who wants to be seen on YouTube?Peter Chao: When you have an idea and you believe in the idea, stick to it. For instance, a lot of girls do makeup. They believe that doing makeup is going to draw to a certain market, and it does. Makeup artists on YouTube do quite well as long as they’re good. For comedy, it’s the same. If you have an idea – a good idea – and you stick to it, it’s going to take off. Just stick to your guns. That’s my advice for everybody.
Me: Last question: Will Peter Chao ever take off his sunglasses?Peter Chao: Not literally take off my sunglasses, but if you really pay attention to some of my latest videos, you can start seeing my eyes. I have these new sunglasses that are half-tinted, so sometimes under the right contrast and lighting, you can see one of my eyes. Not two! Just one. But no, I don’t think I’m ever going to take off my sunglasses.