After arriving in Hollywood from Washington to pursue his dreams, aspiring actor Jimmy Wong found it difficult to gain any traction in his career through the audition process alone. While he had reservations about trying to establish his own identity and brand on YouTube, he took a leap of faith in 2010 and began posting videos on his own terms. Before long he was amassing a major following and connecting with viewers by tapping into many of his childhood interests, including music and video games.
Now a sought after online personality who has starred in cult films like “John Dies at the End” and the web series “Video Game High School,” Wong is currently hosting the popular gaming show “Polaris Primetime” on Disney XD.
We recently sat down with Wong to discuss how he conquered the digital world, why Asian Americans are not better represented in film and television, and what makes “Polaris Primetime” different from other gaming shows.
TrunkSpace: In one way you took a traditional path in working within the entertainment business, but at the same time, you also created your own path and forced the industry to pay attention to what you were doing. Is that an accurate way of describing how you kicked off your career?
Wong: Yeah, it all started up when I came to Los Angeles as an actor. I arrived in the city after YouTube and online content creation had begun. I wasn’t particularly interested in making a YouTube channel or doing skits or bits because at that time, in 2010, it did not seem like there was any serious acting on YouTube. I spent a full year in the grind of rehearsals and auditions and trying to get any job that I could and maybe join the union. After a year of barely any success I said, “You know what, I am going to start pursuing YouTube, but I’m going to do it on my own terms. I’m going to do it with music because it’s something that I’ve studied and grown up doing as a good Asian child would.” (Laughter) I played classical piano for eight years.
That was a big kick off because immediately I saw this response and a growing fanbase that I never would’ve had in my full year of working as an actor in LA. In fact, I think in a month I was already further along and had more progress on YouTube than I did in an entire year. There was a lot of promise there. If I didn’t have that sort of expansion on my channel I probably wouldn’t feel as determined as I am today and I may have looked into buying subscribers on this Website.Fortunately, I had a very organic, gradual following.
TrunkSpace: What’s amazing with that too is that you’re doing it on a global scale whereas if you’re in LA trying to push yourself as an actor, you’re literally just focused within that one somewhat small bubble of the entertainment industry.
Wong: Yeah, that’s a great point. So many of the projects that I was going out for at the time were small student films and small brand deals with local companies. It’s a very insular thing when you’re starting out because you’re just unable to really get that kind of reach. With something like the internet and YouTube, we just know that there are tons of international people who consume this content on a daily basis and are obsessed with it in a great way. It was just a great transition for me to go from one to the other and realize just how different they were.
TrunkSpace: And you’re not only creating content that people enjoy, but you’re forcing studio execs and those who make decisions within the industry to notice you in a way that they may not in an audition alone.
Wong: Yeah, it’s interesting because coming up from the actor’s side there isn’t as much promise for doing YouTube still because a lot of it is personality-based and brand-based. A lot of the major YouTubers you see today are closer to life gurus or fashion DIY gurus that help you learn about certain parts of your life and it is less so actors. While there have been people who have transitioned from YouTube to the acting side, it’s not what your common every day YouTuber/online content creator is. At the same time, you’re right, it does create a lot of value for brands and larger companies to look at someone and say, “Hey, this person has a great influence over so many people. They’re listening to what this person says and they want to be a little more like this person, do the things that they do because it makes them happy, and maybe we’ll make them happy too.” For the business side, it definitely says, “Look, these people have a lot of influence!”
They’re able to connect with their fanbase in an organic and real way. That’s something that a lot of companies I think struggle with because they’re just so big and they’ve got so many parts to the company that it’s hard for them to connect with that everyday consumer in the way that they really genuinely want to. These influencers and content creators are a great bridge for that. If it’s a good collaboration, if it’s something that both parties are interested in, then it’s a win/win for everyone because I think that’s the beauty of the best collaborations from the physical non-digital world