Writing decent comedy is amongst the hardest things to pull off in the world of storytelling. And to write comedy that engages 10 million subscribers like YouTube star Nigahiga (real name Ryan Higa) is no laughing matter.
Higa has made a pretty big name for himself since he started posting videos seven years ago, accumulating over 1.5 billion views on his YouTube channel. His sketches have evolved into little mini series within his channel, as various character frequently reappear. Higa exhibits smart writing and smart editing—at times reminiscent of SNL sketches sans the celebrity appearances.
Despite such huge success, Higa's earlier and most popular videos push up against, and often cross the line between the humorous and insensitive.
The use of a derogatory term in How to be a Ninja, the jokes involving vein-cutting in How to be Emo, and just the overall tone of Why Chris Brown Beat Rihanna not only kill the funny vibe each clip builds up, while also perpetuating the idea that the use of such language or these subjects are fair game to be mocked.
The latter video (Why Chris Brown Beat Rihanna) was particularly cringe-inducing not because of the storyline portrayed but because even as the title suggests, it set out to justify—even if only humorously—the use of violence against another human being. And while Higa employs staged violence and physical comedy for comedic effect very successfully in other videos, it completely misses the mark on this one. Higa's clips aren't throways; rather, they're something to be take seriously, especially when some videos are being seen over 25 million times. After all, great viewership requires great responsibility.
To be fair, How to be a Ninja, How to be Emo, and Why Chris Brown Beat Rihanna were videos that were all created by Higa four to five years ago when he was 18 or 19 years old. And while they remain firmly amongst his most popular posts, Higa's craft and approach to humor has greatly improved with experience. He has successfully managed to keep the core of his comedy alive—clever slapstick and physical comedy—while exploring new areas of internet comedy and elevating the production value of his videos. Easier said that done.
But really, like many good comedians, Higa is at his best during his more self-deprecating work. It comes from an honest place that we as an audience can really empathize and connect with. How to Get Girls, Love Literally, and Skitzo—Nose Scar are all really funny, relatively recent additions. And despite his self-disclaimed hesitation with creating a Draw My Life video, it is actually a great window into understanding the motivation behind his videos. And while those videos haven't been hitting the 37 million view mark like How to be a Ninja, hitting 1.5 million views in four days for Skitzo—Nose Scar or 3.7 million views for How to Get Girls is not something to scoff at either.