Ryan Higa has claimed the “niga” part of his immensely popular YouTube channel Nigahiga (pronounced NEE-gah-HEE-gah) comes from a Japanese word meaning “rant.”
But it’s a joke: Higa, who doesn’t speak the language, is no Angry Young Man. (Never mind that the closest word in Japanese that sounds like “niga” actually means “bitter.”) The 25-year-old Hawaii native comes across as one of the nicest-seeming superstars on the Internet, and the secret to his success is that he’s mastered the art of being funny without resorting to mean-spirited jabs or gratuitously crass gags. On-camera, Higa has the disarming charm of a Jimmy Fallon or Ellen DeGeneres.
In fact, his most-watched video is “Nice Guys” (nearly 60 million views), a musical bit in which he plays one of two high-school nerds who decide to try to pick up girls by becoming “the ultimate douches” before reverting to nice-guy mode.
Like other digital celebs, he’s constantly engaged with his followers, most of whom are 13-25, and incorporates their comments and questions into his segs. “I don’t think it’s a secret: When I make a video, I’m always thinking about the fans,” he says.
Higa’s arc to YouTube fame began in 2006, when, as a teen on Hawaii’s Big Island, he began posting lip-synch videos with his friends. Many of those early uploads were removed, because they included copyrighted music — so Higa went on to write his own songs. Nine years later, Nigahiga has nearly 15 million subscribers for his sketches and musicvideos. A second channel, HigaTV, counts 3.5 million subs.
“I try to keep the topics trendy,” Higa says. “If it’s a rant, it’s something I feel strongly about, and people will watch it because they either agree or disagree.”
Then again, even Higa’s diatribes aren’t too serious. His “Rant on Asian Dramas” is really a spoof on formulaic genre films, while the tantalizingly titled “F— the Police!” video starts out with him griping about getting pulled over for speeding before seguing into farcical scenes about how to weasel your way out of traffic tickets.
After leaving the Aloha State, Higa attended film school at the U. of Nevada and now resides in Las Vegas. What’s next for him? Like other major digital personalities, he’s eyeing a bigger canvas for his shticks: “When the time’s right, I’d like to make a movie,” he says.
Nigahiga by the numbers
*Data provided by Tubular Labs
Total views: 59.8 million
Total comments: 179k
Total views: 4 million