The Fung Brothers, Andrew and David, are comedians and rappers but are probably best known as Youtubers. You can find their channel here. They were visiting Austin, along with their long time friend/fellow comedic rapper Richie Le, as part of an event organized by the Asian American Culture Committee. They sat down with one of our correspondents for a brief interview before their performance.
How did you guys get into rap?
We started at a young age. Definitely had influence from our older cousin, who is half white, shout out to John, who really introduced us to rap and how kinda cool it was. As young Chinese kids, our dad’s an engineer, we don’t really relate to the music, but we think it’s cool. And I really do think it opened our minds to a different world, a different lifestyle and different opinions ‘cause you’d hear things that rappers say that a regular Chinese person who goes to church would never say. So it would be like, “Oh, what world do you come from?” So we experienced that, and I think it made us rep being Asian more, to be honest because I think, in rap, it’s so much about a raw expression, like representing who you are. Like, “I’m representing the ‘hood. I’m from here. It’s not the greatest place on earth, but I love it, and blah blah blah.” That’s kinda like our attitude with being Asian American. We make songs about it. We acknowledge that there are differences, and we’re not trying to be Asian supremacists, like, “Everything about being Asian is better in America!” Like, no, because America is a different culture, and if you are buying into American culture, then being Asian is not good for everything, but it is for a lot of things. There’s strengths and weaknesses to every culture, but it kinda helps us rep it. Like Tupac [Shakur]. Tupac was repping for black people. Which is not to say we’re the Tupacs of Asians, but if someone wanted to say that, half-jokingly, I’d take it.
What do you think your role is as Asian American performers, rappers, and comedians?
I think a lot of it has to do with media and artistry, and artists are often the people with the biggest voice. Especially artists in the media, which essentially YouTube is a type of media. If you look at it like TV, then yeah, we’re on that. So we’re people who have a voice that people look up to or trust. It’s really an amazing feeling to able to do that, but it’s a lot of pressure because we have to be on point about what we’re saying, too. We can’t fill people’s heads with a bunch of false ideas or things only we believe that are not really true. We can’t sell out because people look to us for some sort of guidance in some way on certain issues, but artists are really the ones who push culture in a way. That’s what we believe. I think all YouTubers, any artists whether they’re a painter or a designer or a YouTuber or an actor or an activist, are the people that have so much power in America, especially in this culture, because people look up to us and people think we are so cool. When people think you’re cool, you’re influential, and when you’re influential, you can spread you’re message. And so it’s important what you’re message is. Not everybody has a message. We, in particular, have a pretty strong message, and we feel pretty dear to it. Will there ever come a time when we stop talking about being Asian? I doubt it. There are so many topics and subtopics to think about when it comes to being Asian. It’s not just like it ends at, “Oh, here’s how to be Asian.” Like, that’s just one little one-percent of it. I think we’ll continue to talk about being Asian for a long time, but maybe in different ways. We won’t always make a list about it, or we won’t always say, “Oh, this is what Asian parents do.” I think we’re done with that segment, so we’ll move on and advance things.
What do you think the future holds for you guys and your careers? How do you think you’re work will evolve?
As the world evolves, because we talk a lot about stuff happening in the world. it only seems like we talk about one topic just because that topic hasn’t been talked a lot about, so we’re going to need to talk that topic to death, and then move on. But I think that’s going to be awhile because things are always evolving. Asian American issues are evolving. What it means to be Asian is always evolving. How the world perceives being Asian Americans is evolving. China’s rise changes the conversation, along with India being the most populated or second most populated, Southeast Asia being more relevant, Korea coming up, etc. Those are all things that need to be talked about, and that’s why, to me, we won’t run out of topics. And it shouldn’t get boring. It only gets boring to people who are little bit more narrow minded and kind of just see it as all just one Asian thing, like “Er, just Asian! I’m tired of hearing all this Asian stuff!” And I’m like, there are so many layers to it, so many different ways and things you can talk about. As far as that goes, that will always be part of our career, but we might have a TV show that’s about food and travel, which is not Asian-based. We might briefly mention that we are Asian in the show, but it won’t be centered around us being Asian. For our YouTube, though, we’ll probably focus 75% of our material on Asian stuff.
You mentioned that it’s important for you guys not to sell out. Do you see your work as truth-telling or as being entertainers or a combination of both?
You’re absolutely right. It is a hard balance because of that. We’ve even been criticized for our videos not being funny enough or entertaining enough. But, the way we look at it, it’s true, and it’s helpful, and adds value in some way to people’s lives, then we can stand by that piece of work. Of course our best work is a balance between information, truthfulness, and entertainment and like silliness and jokes. But we’re not like jokesters. I wouldn’t describe us like that. There are other YouTubers that I can name that per minute have more jokes than we do. Like, we’ll go a whole minute and tell only two jokes. They’ll go a whole minute and make twelve jokes. And you’ll just be laughing and laughing and laughing. But on the other hand, sometimes when you make so many jokes, it does get hard to get out that information, like slip in what you’re really trying to say, because often times being funny does get in the way at times. But if you find that good balance it’s perfect. It’s something you strive for. But yes, we mostly want to be truth-tellers. If that’s how you describe us at the end of the day, and being funny is number two or number three, I’m cool with that. Truth-teller, value-adder, and then funny. Or truth-teller, funny, then value-adder. If you think we’re hilarious number one, that’s fine too; I have no problem with that.
In the past 2-3 years, there have been a few instances where comedians have caused controversy with the Asian American community over material many deemed as racially insensitive, whether it be Colbert or the co-creator of the canceled sitcom Dads. Do you guys view your work as trying to combat that?
Yes and no. I think a lot of what we do focuses internally on the community, and some of it does affect externally. There are things that are like external representations, as in your representing Asians to non-Asians, like for example to the media. Or you’re representing Asians to Asians, and I think 65%-70% we do it [our work] internally, to Asians. And, those things, we don’t really like specifically respond to because what I believe is that by building Asians stronger or having Asians understand themselves better within themselves. Then everybody is going to become stronger and able to interpret or react to those things differently. People can throw their hands up at Stephen Colbert when he made, I know what you’re talking about, that joke. And it was kinda taken out of context, and I get that. Some of the community was like, “No, f- Colbert! Cancel him.” And I’m like, “Okay, I get that.” But then the other side was, “Well, he meant that as a joke. He was being sarcastic.” I understand that too. It’s really somewhere in the middle. I think that people with a wide range of experiences or knowledge are going to more see it that way. It’s not just one-sided. But, if Asians want to step up and start a fire storm, I’m actually ok with that too because that shows that Asians are stepping up and are really voicing their opinion, which is good, too. But then the criticism is, “Oh, look at these Asians. They can’t take a joke!” For me, I don’t really speak up necessarily. We don’t really respond to those things directly. We just more like to, at the end of the day, we’re going to educate you guys on being Asian, and what it means to be Asian, and how you guys can empower yourselves better. Because that’s actually the first step. Because as opposed to taking Colbert down, I’m trying to build you guys stronger so that you can interpret what’s going on better or what I consider more sophisticated, as opposed to being, “Ah, racism!” Yes, it is racism, but there are also layers to that. Stereotypes aren’t just white or black; they’re not just yes or no, is it true or not. Most of them are kinda true for some reason, so understand that. No stereotype is not true, and no stereotype is completely true.
As someone who is half-Asian and half-Jewish, there were times when it was difficult to balance both cultures, especially since my mom is from Hong Kong and my dad is from America. How can someone with a mixed background better embrace both cultures and balance?
I do know that it can be rough for mixed people because you guys feel torn. You’re mom is probably kind of FOB-y, and you’re dad is Jewish so he’s probably kinda nerdy too. I’m sure you’re Jewish side is a lot more funny; they make a lot more jokes. Your Chinese side is probably a lot more strict, traditional, Asian. I would say learn about both sides. I feel like the kids who felt the most comfortable knew both sides. It’s either like you overlook everything and are like, “No, I’m just a person” and you’re one of those people, or the other, better way is to try and understand both sides and be like “This is my Asian side. This is my Jewish side.” If you can find a way to be in between and blend the two, that’s always cool. Or at least, know enough about each culture so that you can switch in between. So, like, when you are with your Asian friends, you’re able to understand all this Asian stuff, you’re cool with it, you can operate. And you can make jokes about it, embrace it. Like you can joke, “I’m a product of yellow fever” or something like that. That’s what a lot of people do. You gotta embrace things and understand it. Maybe not blindly embrace it, but definitely try to understand both cultures. And it is going to require some thinking. Or, again, if you don’t want to think about it, you can just say you’re a person, a human.
Yeah, I know what you’re talking about. Like when I talk to a lot of other half-Asians, they say something like, “Oh, my mom is Asian, which is basically white.” And for some reason it would bother me, but I was never really sure why.
Yeah, sometimes some mixed kids think one side is superior; usually it’s the white side, especially in America. They’ll just write off the other side. For those people, I think they really don’t fully understand both sides. The mixed kids that I’ve met that are truly empowered are the ones that do understand both sides. I know this girl who has won Miss Chinatown; she’s half. Her dad is Jewish, and her mom is Cantonese. And she has both friends, and she seems pretty comfortable with both. I mean, it helps that she’s pretty, but she seems to go in and out pretty well. And that’s also in LA, too, where you kinda have this opportunity where she knows the Chinese world a little bit, and then she can also seamlessly weave into the white world, too. Not everybody has that opportunity because it also depends on how you look and how people treat you because if you look more Asian people are going to treat you more Asian. If you look more white people are going to treat you more white. And in each group people are going to feel like you don’t belong, at some point, but that’s when it comes to empowerment and embracing it. And when people see that you’re empowered and you embrace it and you know what you are talking about, I think that’s really powerful. People will be like, “Oh ok, he’s comfortable with it. He knows what he’s doing. He knows how to handle it. He’s savy. Etc.” But yeah, definitely some mixed kids value they’re white side more, but yeah, I think it’s because they don’t fully understand. It is tough.
You mentioned earlier that there were a lot of mixed people in LA, including some that are your cousins.
Yeah, and there’s more on the way. A lot of women in my family are marrying white people. Which is…understandable. Like, I’m cool with it. But yeah, we’re going to have a lot of mixed family members.
Do you think that this growth in mixed people has lead to the creation of a new sort of culture?
I know a lot of HAPAs tend to hang out with each other, but I don’t know if they have a specific culture yet. To be honest, I don’t think HAPAs have that yet. Maybe in Hawaii. There actually might already be. I think HAPA culture reminds me a lot of Phillippino culture. Phillippino culture is very mixed, too. They’re not one ethnicity; they’re a mixture. But it’s hard to make a blanket statement about them. It depends a lot on their goals. You have people who want to live a chill life. Some people want to live a meaningful life. Some people have a mission in life. Some people want to have a Wikipedia page about them. Some people want to be good to their families. Those will shape their type of lives. I think what you think you want out of life helps determine your experiences and how you are going to feel about things because if you just want to live a chill life, live and die in Austin (which is not bad at all), - if you want to just hang out here, meet somebody, get married, have some kids, stay middle class – you’re not going to encounter a lot of problems. But if you try to be a politician, try to be an entertainer, try to start something, try to mix in with a bunch of different types of groups and try to be really proactive and be like really alpha about your goals, you’re going to encounter more resistance, probably, from a lot of different groups. It does matter what you want to do with your life. If you put yourself out there more, you’re opening yourself up to criticism and scrutiny. And if you keep it all to yourself, nobody is going to mess with you.
Have you guys gotten a lot of blow back for your act?
Yeah, definitely. Every time you are putting yourself out there as a voice, people will examine your stuff, pick up on things, interpret it differently, have a different perspective. Then they’ll have something to say. But a lot of times people, they’re never going to do it themselves. So if they try to put their standards on you of what they think they would do. But a lot of people, they see you’re influence, and they go, “Oh if I had that influence, I wouldn’t say this or I would say this. Why don’t they do that?” But guess what? They have the same opportunities you had. They have just as much of a voice as you have. Everybody is working with the same tools, 24 hours a day. But it’s sometimes, people who can’t do it themselves, they want to put some sort of imaginary judgment on you, despite them not even having the heart to go out there and do it themselves. That’s why I stopped judging people. Why don’t you be the change? If you would do it differently, why don’t you go and do it differently? And sometimes it can be as simple as people in power that have that same perspective versus someone who is not in power. So sometimes these activists, these people who criticize, they get into power, and they switch their whole flow up. And then they start talking like that same person that they were criticizing. But, it’s not ridiculous to me because I understand that that’s, depending on your position, it’s going to benefit you differently in the long run. You don’t know unless you’re in that position. And for us, so far, our opinions have been polished and everything, but they’re generally similar to what they were before.
Who’s better: Houston Rockets or Dallas Mavericks?
It’s close, but I’ll give it to the Mavs. I’m not feeling Houston right now because of how they did Jeremy [Lin]…Oh yeah, f*** [Kevin] McHale, man!