Jimmy Wong is the new popular kid on the block. His creative response to an offensive on-line video drew millions of viewers and has sky-rocketed him as one of the voices of digital Asian America. In response to a racist March video rant by UCLA student Alexandra Wallace that vented her frustrations over Asian students apparently using the phone loudly in the library, Wong produced a one-of-a-kind, witty musical response video to Wallace. The video went viral and to date, has had over 3.3 million views. (To view it, visit www.youtube.com/jimmy.)
After a laugh-filled lunch at Tamarind Tree with the internet phenomenon, Jimmy Wong sits down with the IE for an interview. (Special thanks to Nellie Fujii Anderson).
Q. Why did you think it was necessary to respond to Wallace?
A: I wanted to create something that was different than everything else that was put out there, and I felt in terms of the Asian community needing a voice, it was very necessary to be level-headed. I wanted to show people that there are other ways of dealing with it – it’s not necessarily taking the high road, it’s more of just not taking the same road as she did – you can choose a different path.
Q: What inspired you to respond to Wallace’s rant with a song? Why a flirtatious song?
A: Fortunately, I was already doing music on my [YouTube] channel. I think a song was the most appropriate response for what I was currently doing. I watch a lot of Flight of the Conchords and they do a lot of the musical parodies. I thought it’d be the funniest and best way to go about it. She obviously misunderstood what the people in the library were doing. With her accent, she was portraying someone of a Chinese background, but then she mentioned the tsunami. So it’s clear that there’s a lot of misunderstanding going on in her part, so I thought, if I could throw that back at her and twist that into something much more positive, that would be the funniest and best way to go about it.
Q: At what point did you realize that your video went viral and was starting to change your life?
A: The next morning [after posting the video], I woke up and there were e-mails in my inbox and I was like, “Cool! People liked my video!” Then it exponentially exploded. When I saw that the video had gone up to 500,000 hits and was not showing any intention of slowing down … it was just time to grab the leash and hold on, and see what happens.
Q: How easy was it to come up with a concept, song – the whole production?
A: About 8 to 9 hours. I started at 1 a.m. at night and finished at 9 in the morning. I had the basic concept already in my head. Obviously the “ching chong ling long ting tong” part needs to be the chorus – I felt that was the crescendo of her speech when she did the impression with the phone. I listened to her rant three or four times, transcribed everything and wrote the specific points that I thought were the most ironic or funny. Writing the lyrics wasn’t actually too hard because she wrote half of it. Then from then on out, it was just sitting with a guitar and figuring out what I wanted the chords to be, and how to make the chorus as catchy as possible.
Q: What do you think makes for productive conversations or messages in regards to racial or offensive comments?
A: I think the way I went about it is one of a few ways you can effectively deal with racism in the media. Because she posted an online video, the most common response would be to do a video.
It’s not that that she dislikes Asian people; she just has a problem with people being loud in the library. I think the best thing would be to just have an open and honest conversation with her and try to find out why she’s saying the things she is.
Q: Have you dealt with and responded to negative comments to your video?
A: I’ve seen a few. Every one person that says something negative, there’s another 80 that immediately jump to the other side to retort them in defense of my video. And I think it’s because the video has such a positive message to begin with.
Q: What are some great comments you’ve received in response to the video?
A: People have tweeted at me or have said, “My husband wakes up now everyday and says, “Honey, I ‘ching chong’ you.” [People use the] words that are in the song [and] totally diffuse the power that the words originally had, because now they have been translated to something completely different. So it’s really great to see how people incorporate what I’ve established into their world and make something positive out of it, as I have.
Q: How do you think Alexandra Wallace would respond to your video? What would you say to her?
A: In my ideal world, Alexandra Wallace is a changed person and she fully accepts the consequences of her actions and is doing better with all these death threats she’s been receiving and looking back to going to college somewhere and continuing her academic career.
Q: You’re performing at the Triple Door [April 14] for a Japan relief fundraiser coordinated by local API professionals. How are you giving back?
A: Right now, everything that I’m selling on iTunes and Bandcamp, I’m donating 100 percent of the proceeds to a charity of my choice. Currently it’s all going to benefit Japan, post-quake and tsunami. That may change when I realize in the future that I need to pay rent but for the most part I’ve been able to support myself. I think I’m going to be donating around $5,000 dollars this time around.
For Jimmy Wong fans out there, he says he is working on releasing an album or EP in the summer or fall 2011 and hopes to follow that with a US tour. Also keep an eye out for him in TV or film roles, as he’s still pursuing acting. Wong releases new music or comedy-based videos every Monday and Friday on his YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/jimmy, so be on the lookout for that!