In honour of YouTuber Ryan Higa, the King of puns and parodies who shaped gen Z’s childhood

By Malavika Pradeep

Published Nov 6, 2022 at 09:00 AM

Reading time: 5 minutes

Ever since the launch of YouTube on 14 February 2005, the video-sharing platform has witnessed the rise and fall of countless generations of influencers. First came skit-based creators like Smosh, Ray William Johnson, and D-Trix. Then, in the 2010s, the website dipped its toes into gaming content and introduced PewDiePie and Markiplier to mainstream audiences—followed by horror story narrators like Corpse Husband and Cryaotic.

Given the recent surge of VTubers and PNGTubers on our feeds, it’s safe to say that YouTube is one of the most dynamic platforms on the internet today. With every dawn comes a new bar of relevance that needs to be met—and failure in doing so will quickly bury you under the growing pile of creators who have been pushed into the peripherals.

As a result, many YouTubers have since revamped their content altogether. While it panned out well for some, it proved quite off-brand for others. It should be noted that a few of the aforementioned creators have also been linked to controversies and allegations of sexual and emotional abuse throughout their term, which further tumbled their channels beyond recovery.

For OG YouTuber Ryan Higa and his channel nigahiga, however, things were different. Throughout his whopping 16 years on the platform, not once did the quality of his content and viewership dip—and nor was he linked to any unaddressed controversy himself. Nevertheless, in 2020, Higa seemingly fell off the face of YouTube.

In honour of YouTuber Ryan Higa, the King of puns and parodies who shaped gen Z’s childhood
In honour of YouTuber Ryan Higa, the King of puns and parodies who shaped gen Z’s childhood
In honour of YouTuber Ryan Higa, the King of puns and parodies who shaped gen Z’s childhood

A timeline of humble beginnings

Born in Hilo, Hawaii, and of Okinawan descent, Higa launched his main YouTube channel in July 2006 when he was just 16 years old. At the time, he started posting videos with his childhood friend Sean Fujiyoshi, and the clips in question saw them lip syncing to popular songs—later expanding to fast-paced comedic skits.

While the songs were later taken down due to copyright issues, it was on 25 July 2007 that the duo first caught their big break with a video titled ‘How to be Ninja’. While the low-quality skit was riddled with accents and the typical Asian unathletic ‘nerd’ archetype, it ironically poked fun at these stereotypes as both Higa and Fujiyoshi went on to perform handstands and narrate the scenes flawlessly. 17 years old at the time, they then decided to strike while the iron was hot and released two other parody tutorials titled, ‘How to be Gangster’ and ‘How to be Emo’.

Garnering millions of views on all three videos in question, the series literally propelled their channel to the top within a few months. In February 2008, nigahiga became one of the top ten most-subscribed channels on the platform and was the ninth to hit 100,000 subscribers. In September of the same year, it even passed Smosh to become the top most-subscribed channel with the youngest ever creators at the helm.

Mind you, all of this was when YouTube was still in its infant era synonymous with “Hey guys!” intros—so these numbers were pretty impressive, to say the least. Not to mention the fact that you couldn’t monetise your content back then either.

Over the years, nigahiga went on to feature several guests like Tim Enos, Kyle Chun, and Tarynn Nago. Although Fujiyoshi was no longer a consistent part of the channel, Higa branched his content to include advertisement spoofs, original songs, fake trailers, and unpopular opinions. Some of his most popular series were Dear Ryan, where he answered funny questions sent in by fans, Movies in Minutes, where he hilariously summarised the plot of famous films, and my personal favourite, Skitzo—which featured four characters, all played by Higa himself.

Most celebrities have fans, Higa has lamps

Goofy, genuine, and happy-go-lucky: these are the qualities that majorly set Higa apart from the rest of YouTube throughout his 16 years on the platform. Ending all of his videos with an iconic “Teehee,” Higa was one of the most consistent creators who always put his 200 per cent into every piece of content he uploaded on the internet.

This is also what helped Higa draw dedicated fans, who he called ‘lamps’: followers who don’t just blow wind at him when he’s hot, but enlighten him in his darker times. The fandom majorly consisted of gen Zers—don’t come for me, millennial lamps—who spent most of their digital-native lives on YouTube in the late 2000s.

I first stumbled across Higa in 2014, when he did an iconic collaboration with Lilly Singh, aka iisuperwomanii, who I was personally obsessed with at the time. Titled ‘The Rules of Racism’, the sketch was a sarcastic yet realistic take on Asian stereotypes. Sure, it wasn’t targeted towards the easily ‘butthurt’ people and would have probably been bait to cancel culture if released today—but the way in which they boldly called out all the racist stereotypes while actually defying them in reality stuck with me at a time that I wasn’t really confident about my ethnicity.

Towards the end, the duo was also seen teaming up to defend themselves as a community, effectively addressing the age-old comment: “Indians are not Asians.”

Soon enough, Higa started shaping my humour with his unrivalled puns and genius knock-knock jokes. He was the original shitposter on the internet, simply put. As the “Lamp God” hit the milestones of being the first ever YouTuber to amass two and three million subscribers, he also forged his own production team called Ryan Higa Production Company (RHPC), which included Fujiyoshi.

Then, in 2016, Higa—along with YouTubers Philip Wong, David Choi, Justin Chon, and Jun Sung Ahn—went on to create a parody K-pop group called Boys generally Asian (BgA). Even though they couldn’t sing or dance, let alone speak Korean, they made their official debut on 16 May with a music video swamped with BIGBANG references and clean transitions.

The best part? BgA’s debut parody ‘Dong Saya Dae’ unexpectedly gripped iTunes’ K-Pop charts and was crowned second, right after legendary boy band BTS. Their next song ‘Who’s It Gonna Be’ went a step further and nabbed the first spot in 2017.

The eventual exit of Higa

Throughout his time on YouTube, Higa had one professional goal: to be better than his last video and keep improving his content over time—and he did just that. For every spoof, song, or fake trailer that he uploaded, each and every scene boasted an impressive amount of editing, graphics, and original creativity.

Although he did address issues with the platform’s dynamic algorithm and even low-key personal exhaustion, he outdid himself every time and it’s still a wonder how he managed to stay consistent for 16 long years on the platform.

However, come 2018, things were properly set in motion for the OG’s eventual exit from YouTube. September witnessed the emotional departure of Fujiyoshi from RHPC, who announced his plans to shift to California to be with his partner and pursue his true passion for engineering. Soon, Higa’s uploads became shockingly infrequent. In 2019, the creator then released a video titled ‘If I Quit YouTube…’

In it, Higa revealed that he was not having fun making videos anymore and felt like he was falling into the typical YouTuber trap of trying to create content that ‘works’ versus what he genuinely wanted to make. He also noticed a dip in views when he created content with the latter goals. It was around this same time that Higa launched his hour-long podcast called Off the Pill, which has featured celebrities like KevJumba, Andrew Yang, and Jeremy Lin.

“YouTube’s algorithm changed and basically, it became all about watch time. So, you wanted to make longer videos and you wanted people to be watching them all the way through—and for the longest time, I tried to fight that system,” Higa said in a second video. “I always believed that you should focus on quality and not quantity.”

In the video, the creator also addressed the fact that he was almost 30 years old and maybe, like Fujiyoshi, it was time to outgrow his parody skit and YouTube phase. But then came the Paco incident…

Part of RHPC, YouTuber Paco quickly shot to prominence in Higa’s videos following Fujiyoshi’s departure. Personally, I felt like the creator somehow didn’t fit into nighahiga’s brand throughout his relationship with the channel. In mid 2020, however, several women came forth with screenshots and accusations of sexual assault against Paco and this didn’t really shine the best light on Higa and his team.

“I told him, ‘If this is not true, you need to deny it, put out a statement, and I will support you 100 per cent,” Ryan stated on a livestream, regarding his stance on the situation. “But he said, ‘there’s some stuff that’s not true but some stuff is’. And I told him, ‘Well, I can’t support you. This is disgusting and this is not what I’m for.” Higa later suspended RHPC indefinitely and even took down recent videos featuring Paco. Maybe that was the second last nail in the coffin.

2021 witnessed Higa’s last ever YouTube video about the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, he also admitted that the lockdowns and restrictions had been hindering the overall production of videos. Although the creator routinely livestreams gaming content on Twitch and his second YouTube channel called HigaTV, his 21.2 million nigahiga subscribers, including me, still await his magical return as the King of puns and parodies.

The choices leading up to your decision to take a break from YouTube are completely understandable, Lamp God, and I’d like to take this golden opportunity to thank you for being a part of my childhood. Us lamps will be here in case you decide to ride back home from the sunset. Kpoopers for life, remember?

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