If Asian people are listening and aren't sure what they should be doing, try attacking. We need more Asian attackers. We have a lot of Asian analyzers.
Below is an abridged audio transcript of Episode 17, lightly edited for clarity.
This week we have another well-known YouTuber as a guest - Andrew Fung! Andrew is the younger of the Fung Bros, a Chinese American comedy and rap duo consisting of two actual brothers: David Fung (rapper name D-One) and Andrew Fung (Inglish).
This free-flowing conversation with Andrew touches on topics ranging from:
How he and his brother David got their start in comedy,
The evolution of Asian identity in American culture,
The differences between dating in America versus Asia,
Asian male masculinity, and
Attack vs. Analysis Mode
The Fung Bros are known for their punchy, entertaining videos about Asian food and culture. With over 2 million subscribers on YouTube, their videos regularly receive over a million views. Check out one of their most popular (and our favorite) video, "Things Asian Parents Do".
This episode is a bit more conversational than our usual episodes, enjoy!
I. A Conversation with Andrew Fung
Andrew: My name is Andrew Fung. I am the younger brother of the duo of the Fung Bros. We are YouTubers, comedians. We've dabbled in in rap and other things. We've been doing YouTube for about a strong seven years now. I'm going back and forth between New York and LA representing the 626 but originally from Seattle (Southside Seattle) and then growing up in kind of like a blue-collar suburb, a very mechanical town. Lots of warehouses, sports was king there and I think we had a fairly American Experience growing up.
Lucia: By the way, 626 is a Southern California area code that covers the San Gabriel Valley. We met up with Andrew at his recording studio in Alhambra, which was 30 minutes outside of LA. It's in a small garage that fit two tables and a sofa. The walls are painted in white and gray and the place was decked out with sneakers and basketball jerseys.
Andrew: I think diving into the Asian scene of LA and New York where things are very Asian, especially in SoCal, was definitely interesting. I think that's why we made so many identity pieces about categorizing people because we were just like yo, this is interesting how many Asians there are. I had some Asian friends but not like an Asian world.
Anyway, that leads us to making a lot of Asian material on YouTube about identity, always trying to figure out by asking questions kind of indirectly about why we're treated this way, why are we this way? Our Asian parents series is largely about explaining why a lot of us are the way we are now, not necessarily
just Chinese, even though we have a Chinese mom but you know, the Chinese experiences is relatable to a lot of different Asians. We also ask how are Asians different, what does Asian mean, and stuff like that. These are definitely things that we've touched on.
Oh, by the way David is missing. He's in New York right now. I would say he's the smarter one. So you are with the...
Lucia: ...humble one
Andrew: Right, the humble one
Lynne: You guys have rapper names, right?
Andrew: Kind of, David is D-One. It's a play off of his Chinese name, which is Feng Di wen. And then my Chinese name isn't as easy to translate into English. My rapper name is Inglish right now. But I haven't made a song under that for a while. It comes from seventh grade when I produced my first song for English class. So my name was MC English, like literally English but then everybody's like "You're Asian, so why are you English that doesn't makes sense". I was like, yeah, you're right. So let me change it it more into a name INGLISH.
I gotta be honest, the hottest rap song we did is a collaboration with the Higher Brothers back in the day a couple years back before they really blew up and we were in Chengdu and we hopped on the end of their Cipher which is like a long rap collaboration, which is verse after verse after verse. It's kind of like the BET ciphers, so I would say that would be our coolest song you can play.
Lynne: I'm curious as to when you started getting interested in Asian identity issues, entertainment...
Andrew: I think being the only Asians and particularly the only Chinese around and East Asians in general, like most of my friends growing up over in Kent Southside were Vietnamese, Filipino. We didn't have a lot of money because we had a big family. So we're very middle class, but my parents are educated. My dad was a Ph.D engineer at Boeing. My mom had a law degree but never practiced so she was a stay-at-home mom. So our family kind of stood out in the area as far as our at-home conversations and our conversations and coaching at home was very different from our immediate surroundings.
So if you look at the background of a lot of comedians one, they actually really love rap every one of them does. Two, they often come from a family where their parents are teachers or their parents are professors. Dave Chappelle's parents are professors. Even Talib Kweli's parents are professors. Kanye West's mom is a professor. Louis K's parents went to Harvard. So you don't really think about it but a lot of these people are kids who come from educated families that maybe had no systems, roamed around, experienced things, got mixed up in things and it made them think.
So for us in our area, we were thinking and we just thought about identity because being Asian wasn't normal. We were mostly normal like we did sports. But why are people making fun of my eyes like, you know, you just take it as it is, but you don't really understand why or what kids are thinking. I don't think necessarily kids at that age are fully racist, you know, I think they're just like, "Oh you're different you look different" and you start to realize all those kids heard a bunch of shit at home that you don't hear. But at their home, they probably heard some racist stuff towards black people, Asian people. So I think that, going to school trying fit in, trying to be cool - we did achieve some level of conventional popularity but not on the level that we wanted and not the full respect that we wanted.
You ask a lot of questions and long story short when you ask questions it leads you down a path of identity.
I think David's early trips and our trips back to Asia early on were key. Being proud of being Asian was also key because I think a lot of kids in our area weren't proud of being Asian so they didn't think about it.
Our parents also let us stay up and watch the David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Jay Leno show. We watched SNL as a family. They were letting me watch R-rated movies early on, just kind of trusting that it wasn't going to affect me. They gave us a level of freedom. That's what I think allowed us to be more into entertainment than a lot of other kids that are locked in because I do know a couple other more strict Chinese families in the area that we went to church with and even though they lived kind of in a similar area, they were locked down. But we had freedom to explore and to kind of get a positive feedback loop from other people where they confirm and give you confidence in what you're doing. People think you're funny at school. People are laughing at your jokes.
We went to the same college and David started doing stand up there and we and we just hosted events.
We hosted this mostly black show called retro open mic. It was like the blackest show on campus and it had a lot of people. A lot of people from the community as well and stuff like that just built on each other.
At some point in college, David went to China to pursue some hip-hop in China but at the time it wasn't a good market for it and then I was finishing up college and then we were like yo, let's move to LA, this is what we want to do. We want to do some version of this so.
Our parents didn't like it. They thought it was a phase but they didn't stop us, they didn't yell at us, but they were very very concerned. They were like, okay. Well you guys can always go back to school, always be lawyers, always go back to law school. And then two years in, they were like are you guys successful? What are you guys doing? So I would say they definitely weren't into it. But it came to a point where they supported us as much as we need. Today, they have their concerns, you know, they're still like go back to school. You know, that will make us very proud.
Lynne: Do they watch your videos?
Andrew: Yeah, there was like two years where they would watch every single video and add comments on it. Text us saying “Hey, you know I saw this comment, you have to be more sensitive because somebody said that you were wrong about this blah blah blah". I’d say, “Mom, you don't understand internet trolls”
It's all good now though. It's funny.
Lynne: Going back to your show in Seattle when you were in college in Washington, what was the relationship like between Asians and African-Americans?
Andrew: So amongst the students which was a mixture of African students - we're talking about Ethiopian and Eritrean, some Sudanese, and African American students - they were for the most part pretty cool with it. When we took the spots of two black twins, The Bella Twins, who are really funny and they were from South Seattle and they’re hilarious and you know much respect to them. And then Jaleesa who's running the show. She gives us the shot and Jaleesa is really cool because she's really open minded. I wouldn't say that we became part of the community or embedded in it, even though we were hosting that show. I mean, it's like when Jeremy Lin went into the league and he's blowing up. I think his teammates got love for him but there is some sense where we're not the same. We don't have the same struggles. I didn't come from exactly the same background even though I can understand it. And I know people from that background.
I think we did our best job to be respectful and to be funny and I think it goes to show our flexibility in our sense for comedy and what is funny and our understanding and our depth in urban culture. With East Asians, there is to some extent, you know, disaggregation. Like you gotta be more specific with Asians. There were some Filipino people who didn't really like that we were hosting the show but some black people were like, oh, they're cool. But some other Asians might be like, oh this ain't the type of Asian that's like Urban. This isn't our Urban Asian. They're the light-skinned chinky Asians. I know that those comments were going around and you know, I get it. For example, all the Filipinos were against it first of all, this was just like one person but it was a pretty much of that hierarchy like that ranking of who's the urban Asians and who is allowed. To do this and I really like it.
So I don't think that there's a strong relationship between the East Asian community and African-American Community. It’s generally not there. The show was cool and I give it up to UDub because Seattle is like the only place we could do that. When I got to LA, I was like, oh no way. We're hosting a retro in LA no way.
Lucia: But in that vein of Asians judging Asians, we are our own hardest critics where we kind of look at somebody who's you know on the big screen or we look on somebody who's like hosting a show and then we ask, “Does that person represent me?”
Lynne: Like Crazy Rich Asians, right? You have all these East Asians, very little Southeast Asian representation.
Lucia: Even though it was set in Singapore.
Lynne: Right. So, can this movie represent all Asian Americans? And I think that's a hard ask, like no single cultural entity - whether it's a film or show - can represent everyone in the Asian diaspora, right?
Lucia: Right, but then there's this feeling at least when I spoke with a couple people who felt because it was a show about Asians that they had to support it. But from a creative perspective or from a storytelling perspective, it just wasn't that strong. How do you kind of feel about that dynamic. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Andrew: Yeah, for sure. I think it comes from all ends. It comes from you know, different types of Asians and then also the same type of Asian so I think there is a different kind of judgment. So one judgment is between for example, Southeast Asians and East Asians, there's a certain judgment there, a hierarchy that comes from Asia, all this baggage. It's crazy. Right and then and there is racism within Asians because Asians is a big group. It's a big huge diverse group. Literally, even if you’re a dark-skinned Chinese person or dark skinned Korean you get treated a little differently for not fitting that strict standard of beauty. And Asians are so strict, so achievement-oriented and so hierarchical that it really does affect people.
So that's on one end between like Southeast Asians and East Asians, and then there's this whole thing of like, for example Andrew Yang. We all want him to be the perfect candidate. Here comes this Chinese Taiwanese guy, he’s one of my guys always. We love his policies, he's very smart and he cares - I legitimately believe that to the bottom of my heart. But then aesthetically, we say he doesn’t look presidential, or he's only five ten and a half. Oh he's not bad-looking but he's not like great-looking. Shout out to Andrew. And we're docking all these points but we don't understand that the way other people are looking at him is that he's just an Asian dude, like people already view Asian guys a certain way. So for him to even be that smart and caring about America's problems, him being Asian is not an issue anymore because there's already like a perception of what Asian guys are like. Andrew is being smart, useful, and caring. But then as Asians we're looking at him like “Man, why can't you do this?” And we want him to be perfect, just like we wanted CRA to be perfect. We want Jeremy Lin to be perfect. And these are all things I fully straight up support.
I think that we are our own harshest critic and we are just being like tiger parents on other people.
I mean, people even get at us. We're not the tallest. We're not the greatest, best-looking Asian guys out there. People ask, why are we famous? Why do we get this? Why do we have a platform? Why do we have a voice? I get it - I’m going to call out some of those Asian lambdas. I'm friends with some of them too. But I've definitely felt some vibes from some of the cooler taller bigger good-looking macho Asian guys who kind of look at us and are like why are they representative, why are they the ones we’re sending to the fight.
Lucia: But why do you think you guys have the platform?
Andrew: Because we’re in attack mode. We get at things, we create, we've sacrificed to be honest a lifestyle that we could have had in comfort Comfort is the hugest thing that I think that me and David sacrificed. You know, we make a living and everything. We have some followers and with that comes a little bit of clout but we have just been working and creating and we do not give a shit about anything else.
Lucia: Can you define Attack Mode? And what's the opposite of Attack Mode?
Andrew: So it's very mathematical. But there's like analyze on one end, and attack on another end, right?
Lucia: Sounds like the BCG Matrix right there
Andrew: Yeah, for sure. What’s BCG?
Lucia: BCG is a consulting company and consultants always do their little quadrants.
Andrew: I thought I was just doing X-Y axes. Anyway, I think a lot of Asians are on the analyze side and I think that defines Asians because we're smart. Analyzing manifested in real life would be like really good Reddit comments. A lot of writers are analyzers. It does take a little bit of attack mode to even write stuff and move up the chart so your stuff gets released. I totally acknowledge that but an analyzer for instance like Jeff Yang.
Lucia: Jeff Yang, for context, is an Asian American writer. He is a journalist and also a businessman he is most known for his role in journalism writing a column in the Wall Street Journal called Tau Jones. He's also the father of Hudson Yang who plays Eddie Wong in the hit comedy series Fresh Off The Boat.
Andrew: We all know Jeff Yang - super smart love the guy - and I don't mean this in any shade. I think he's an amazing analyzer but he gave birth to an attacker with Hudson. He's out there. He's performing. Fresh off the Boat. So that's kind of the difference, like the father is a great famous analyzer but he pushes his son to be an attacker. Like an analyzer can rip, they’re critics who have never made anything.
It’s easy to rip something apart, but it's so hard to make something. If you gave those same critics on Rotten Tomatoes $20 million - those people who ripped apart CRA - if you gave them even the full $30 million budget, do you think they're making a movie like CRA? No way, because they're not attackers.
I don't want to make it sound like I'm valuing attackers over analyzers. That's not what I'm saying. We need both. If you just attack without any sort of analysis, it's not gonna be super effective either. But if you made me choose one for Asians at this moment, if some Asian people are listening, asking I don't know what I should do? If you have the attack mode, try attacking. We need more Asian attackers. We have a lot of Asian analyzers, planning. Love them. Amazing analyzers. God these people are smart. I'm reading Reddit posts about us and they’re some hella good analysis. But when you're on the front line, the field looks different.
Lynne: But to your earlier point you have to sacrifice a lot to get into Attack Mode, right?
Andrew: Yeah, when it's clear path, it is easier in a sense where you know what you got to do, when you know, where the next rung of the ladder is. It's a lot easier than free climbing when you're just like feeling around for like the little nugget of rock that you can hold onto that's like what we're doing. So it's just more complicated.
Lynne: Maybe I'm being a little bit too introspective or reflective here, but could it be that not everyone is meant to be an attacker. You have to have a level of self-awareness to know, “Hey, I'm actually not good at execution. It's probably better for me to just provide some analysis and then let the other people do their thing?"
Andrew: I do believe that there are of course people who are born attackers from a family situation. I don't want to just say born like it's in our genes but from you know, all the coac