Chengman is one of YouTube’s most popular personalities, with over 30 million total views, several viral hits, and an international fan base. It may be hard to believe that he got his start with a simple home video. This is his story, as told by him.
Me: How did you get started on YouTube?Chengman: It was really random. I never watched YouTube back in the day because I thought it was a waste of time. I was a big nerd back then, so I would always be concentrating on school and sports. Two years ago in 2010, my little cousins asked me if I had seen some videos on YouTube. I had no idea what they were talking about, so they showed me. I found it interesting how people could just make videos and put them online. One day, I decided to make my own video of me acting goofy on a family cruise. I posted it on Facebook, and a lot of my friends liked it. The more I did it, the more people kept telling me to put more videos out, so I just kept doing it.
Me: If you hadn’t been so successful on YouTube, what would you be doing instead? Chengman: I would probably still be doing track and field. Before this, I was doing a lot of track and field, training, and school.
Me: What’s your favorite video?Chengman: They’re all good. No, I’m joking. I have the most fun shooting my prank videos. They give me so much adrenaline, and they’re so out of the ordinary. For normal sketches, I’d say “How Asian Gangsters Pick Up Girls at the Gym”, the one with Dannie Riel.
A significant portion of the population of Vancouver, Canada (where Chengman is based) is of Asian heritage. A census report published in 2006 revealed that 41.7% the city’s population were of a visible minority. 1 in 5 people were either Chinese or Southeast Asian.
This demographic makeup has given rise to a street culture known to few outside the Metropolitan area. Men and women who sport particular street brands and perpetuate a certain look are commonly referred to as “nammers”. The term comes from the word “Vietnamese”, and is seen by some as derogatory because of its association to the Asian gangster stereotype.
Chengman began to play on this stereotype early in his YouTube career. He embodies it in his character Boss Nguyen. He has since done many more sketches under the alias.
Me: What gave you inspiration for Boss Nguyen’s character?Chengman: You live in Vancouver so you would understand. The first video with that character was in “How Asian Gangsters Work Out”. It was hilarious because every time I went to the gym, I would see these Asian guys wearing Versace, Rock & Republic, and True Religion jeans to work out… I just didn’t understand why! So I wanted to mock them. I got a group of buddies together and we started acting like them. That was in my second video and it became my first viral hit.
Me: Are you anything like your character in real life?Chengman: No. The only thing we have in common is we’re both rowdy, but other than that, I’m not a jerk or anything.
Me: What cultural impact do you think you’ve made?
He thought for a while. I explained to him that it was from my observation that the Asian gangster stereotype had never before been made mainstream. He nodded in agreement.
Chengman: You know clothing that’s really shiny and flamboyant? Like Ed Hardy, Christian Audigier, and Gucci? It was already starting to die down, but once I started doing my Asian Gangster videos, people started to wear that stuff more because they thought it was cool. I’m actually just making fun of it, but people don’t understand. Especially the younger ones, they think I’m trying to be cool.
Me: Do people in Vancouver stop you on the streets a lot? Chengman: Not really, I’d say people in Vancouver are too calm. I think they have this mentality where they don’t want to come off as creepy. But when I go to Toronto or Australia, people don’t hesitate. They’ll come up to me and say, “Hey, you’re Chengman! Let’s take a picture.” People aren’t so shy there.
When asked about his most memorable encounter with a fan, he told me about a time when two girls approached him at work. “You’re that guy on YouTube!” they said. He was about to leave for his lunch break, and they decided to follow him.
“We ended up eating together and I didn’t even know these girls. They kept bombarding me with questions. I thought it was pretty funny,” he said.
Me: What can audiences expect from you in the future?Chengman: I used to do a show called “How Heat Score Are You?” and then I stopped it, continued it, and stopped it again. Well I’m bringing that back, so that’s what I’m working on right now. In the future, I’d say a web series about Asian gangsters. I’m planning to do a full season of that.
Me: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? It doesn’t have to relate to Chengman…
Have you thought about this at all?Chengman: Yes. 27 – I’ll be 27. I can’t really say because the Internet’s always changing. YouTube might not be here anymore and there might be a new platform. But 5 years from now I think I’ll still be doing what I’m doing, still producing content online. Hopefully I’ll have a bigger audience and more people who continue to watch.
He's right. YouTube and the Internet alike are unpredictable and constantly changing. The people who last the longest are those who evolve with the tide. With this in mind, Chengman plans to stick around. With 3 established channels and an enthusiasm to take on new projects, he doesn't seem to be leaving anytime either.