Eugene Lee Yang has become one of the most recognizable names in social media. One fourth of the Try Guys, he’s taken over YouTube with some of the most amazing, awe-inspiring, and absurd challenges.
Both a nominee and a host at this year’s Streamy Awards, we caught up with Yang as he prepared for the festivities. He promises some there are some tricks up their sleeves as they channel old Hollywood for their performance. But most importantly, he’s looking to celebrate the internet in a positive way, looking past its often toxic nature.
“I think for us, we've always made it a part of our brand to be as open minded and as positive as possible,” says Yang. “It feels like a lot of times, when the news picks up internet stories, especially over the last year or so, they tend to be really negative, and they somehow then reflect really poorly upon the community that watches videos online, which is a lot of young people. And I don't think that's what people really feel like represents them. I feel like people want to be positive, especially in this political climate. So, we're trying to bring that flavor and that message through our hosting and really try to lift everyone up instead of knock them down.”
With the Try Guys months into their independent endeavor, they’re pushing that message more than ever. Although they maintain a good relationship with Buzzfeed, having created their series for that platform, they’ve begun producing their own content as a production company.
Free from the corporate lifestyle, they’ve had more time to create quality content. More importantly, they’ve been able to connect more with their fans. And in doing so, they’re creating content that reflects the such diverse cultures that make up their following.
“That's kind of the underlying idea of everything,” he says. “To try to empathize with different groups and show it through a comedic way. So, that’s kind of our mission statement in a lot of ways.”
The series has tackled such tasks as Irish step dancing, K-pop makeovers, and even child labor. But Yang’s fondest memory is of their drag video in season one.
“It was the right a time for it,” he says. “Drag Racehadn't really completely broken through to like every 12-year-old straight girl yet. So, it was sort of like a good intro, where we were doing it respectfully, and we had drag queens come in and mother us for the video. But that was one where I saw the power in which we could explore community in a way that felt like it was not making fun of it and not treating it like it was other. It was just very much like we're the others, we’re the ones who are open to it.”
#tbt to 2014 when @theonlymayhem blessed me with the rare opportunity to be her drag daughter for the day and taught me how to tuck. Now my mama’s slaying the game on #rupaulsdragrace! Drag is both art and livelihood for the amazing queens who share their world with us every week so please support your local shows and respect these entertainers online. I see Mayhem and her sisters perform as often as I can and can’t wait to see her snatch the crown! #teammayhem
Yang recognizes his unique position as a viral creator within the Try Guys. As they’ve continued to cross cultural lines in their mission of inclusion and representation, they’ve reached a market that few queer creators can access.
“I think as four cisgender guys, we’re very much seen as mainstream,” he says. “Who then could reach to the Midwestern moms and the older conservative gentlemen who watch the videos. There were certain things that I was actually very, and I hate to say, I was calculative about, because I knew that I was sitting on a goldmine that a lot of people from other communities don't immediately get to access, which is I got into everyone's homes, and they all liked me. It’s like, how can I get people to trust me implicitly so that they can accept the message? And then as I let more out towards them, they can then ingest it in a way that isn't immediately politicized in their mind.”
Although he’s embraced his straight, Midwestern following, Yang seems more skeptical of his gay following. Particularly, from other gay men, he finds himself in a strange dynamic. While he recognizes the thirst among his fans, it comes with a bit of baggage.
“I'm aware of comments that have always sort of been around how I look,” he says. “And it's interesting, because the core of my experience has always been very othered. Because of my background, growing up Asian in a town with no other Asians, that compiled a lot of great mental blocks, emotionally. Sure, I haven't come to terms emotionally with my own attractiveness in my mind, but I have been able to watch myself as an attractive, like piece of visual content in a weird way, through my work.”
It’s that otherness that Yang is most passionate about exploring in his future work. As he and the Try Guys continue to create addictive content for their following in the millions, he’s ready to make something of his own, as a storyteller and a performer.
Having recently partnered with Avalon, he’s creating a show that focuses on otherness. A passion project for the last decade, it’s inspired by his own experience as a gay Asian-American.
“In a lot of ways sort of explores what it means to be a living within the hyphen in America, being American and something else,” he says. “Whether it be a minority, racially, sexually, there's a lot of content there that I am exploring through very unique characters that I'm dying to get on the screen. Because it is very separate from the work I do with Try Guys. This really is the heart of what I've always aimed to do as a director.”
See Eugene Lee Yang and the rest of the Try Guys host the Streamy Awards, Monday, October 22 at 9pm on YouTube.