Boba Talk: Fung Bros
Welcome to our second Boba Talk here on Giant Robot Media. Boba Talk is a series where Asian American creatives, entrepreneurs, and artists talk unfiltered about what it means to be Asian American.
In this Boba Talk, we talk to the Fung Bros, the brother duo Andrew and David Fung. Andrew and David are some of the top influencers of Asian culture on YouTube (with 1.6 million subscribers), having created hundreds of videos on Asian food, culture, identify, and lifestyle. In addition to all things Asian and Asian American, Andrew and David also talk about hip hop, basketball, and street culture. Their street Q&A sessions help raise awareness and discussions of Asian American issues and their content inspires many young Asians/Asian Americans to embrace their culture.
The Fung Bros have just recently moved to Los Angeles and are setting up a new media company. They disclose their future plans in this Boba Talk, and more.
Full audio podcast of the Fung Bros Boba Talk.
By George Ko
Photos and Video by George Ko
D: What’s going on everybody? This is David.
A: This is Andrew.
A & D: We are The Fung Brothers.
A: And you are watching a Giant Robot—
A & D: Boba Talk!
Being back in Los Angeles
D: Yes. The Fung brothers have moved back to LA recently. We’ve just been back a few days, really.
A: So we moved out. We lived in the LA area including the 626 for about five years. We then moved out for about 14 months and lived in New York, lived back in Seattle, traveled around Asia, and now we’re back in LA. And we have a whole new mindset, kind of refreshed perspective and we’re ready to get a lot of things done. We’re trying to build a company right now.
D: Sometimes you gotta get out and see things and even when you travel it’s not enough. You have to go and—
A: Do things.
D: Lift your roots up. And then go plant them into other places. But to be honest, at the end of the day, for media, entertainment, Asian American Pop Culture, the Asian-American Sub Culture, there’s no better place than LA. Plus, you can film 340 days a year. It would only rains 20 days.
A: You really know what’s funny? I guess it wasn’t so obvious to us at first, why we needed to be in LA, but everybody was just like, “Oh yeah, you guys should move back to LA.” Even my parents were like, “Yeah, that’s where you guys made all those videos and where you guys built your careers. Why don’t you guys move back to LA?” And we’re like, “Oh, I guess it was a lot more obvious to other people.” But I think we just had to see the world and we had to live in New York because we love New York so much, which we’re going to go back to a lot, but as far as starting there, it’s tough.
Building a Media Company
D: Basically, our new found mission is to build a media property, a media company that doesn’t require me and Andrew to star in every video. I don’t know if you guys are watching, or have ever seen The Fung Bro’s Channel, but there’s a variety of topics and they’re all hosted by me and Andrew. So essentially, it’s me and Andrew hosting an entire MTV channel in terms of the diversity of topics. Luckily, we're kind of into a lot of different stuff. But at the end of the day, you don’t ever want to feel like you have to be in every single video for the rest of your life.
D: You would never want to run an entire channel as one person. If you look at the roster of hosts that an actual channel has, they probably have like 15. You know what I mean?
A: We are trying to also do this to help other people out and put them on. I think by increasing the talent that we have on our channel it’s just going to build more personalities, more social media influencers, and everything like that. I think there’s a lot of people out there who actually really want to get to media but they feel like they kind of need some structure, but they can do the work if they’re put into that system and that’s what we want to do. We want to create a system for people to jump into and be part of it.
D: I want to provide opportunities for Asian-Americans, but really anybody who can’t really find their place in mainstream media. There are barriers to entry and you have to look a certain way and be a certain height and—
A: Have a certain nose shape—
D: Yeah. Speak a certain type of North American-Midwest English. You know what I mean? And Shoutout to channels like BuzzFeed and other channels. BuzzFeed has done a good job of building out stuff for geeks. BuzzFeed is a place for geeks that can go and make a bunch of videos and get a bunch of hits and those videos add value. For example, if people didn’t wonder about some of those topics, they wouldn’t do that. So I think for us we just have topics that we want to talk about and we have people we want to plug into those systems.
A: And even though there are as many voices that are getting put on by media companies such as BuzzFeed, or even Complex, or Vice, there are so many more voices out there that are relatable that need to be heard and there’s an opportunity for that. We have the mindset and the perspective to do it but right now. We’re just in the building process trying to find the right people to help structure the system.
D: That’s the thing that a lot of people don’t know. You can work as hard as you want as an individual but unless you build an infrastructure that’s perpetual and automated, you’re not really building any sort of company. You’re not really any different than just like somebody who’s just like a traveling musician and just doing a bunch of shows.
A: Well it’s like working at a barber shop. If you’re just working there, you got to keep cutting hair to make money. If you maybe own the shop, then money comes in and you don’t have to cut there anymore.
What are you eating for this Boba Talk?
A: All right. Let’s explain what I’m munching on right now.
D: So, we are now in Alhambra, California, which is in the San Gabriel Valley. Shout out to the 626 and this is Creme Bee and they serve organic honey flavored dessert treats, often times with soft frozen yogurt. Shout out to Cherry (the owner) and her family.
A: This is delicious by the way and let me tell you about the honey. There’s a real difference between organic raw honey versus the honey that you get out of the squeeze bottle, like at your grocery store.
D: It tastes completely different.
A: It tastes more fragrant. It doesn’t taste like there’s sugar in it. It’s just good. Soft serve in honey is just such a simple treat, people didn’t think it would be so good.
Struggles in the Industry
D: We want to build a media property that definitely helps out Asians but other representative groups as well. I don’t want to only limit it to Asians but obviously being Asian, I understand that struggle. If you look at the American sociological environment right now – it’s very tribal. Right? America is a very big, diverse country and it kind of reached the breaking point where everybody’s confronted with these issues of diversity. The hesitancy to embrace it has always been there but now it’s really coming to a front. It’s unavoidable now. People can’t sweep in underneath the rug anymore. It’s too crazy right?
A: It’s out there.
D: It’s out there, man. That’s why in America, if you look at any of the big pictures (movies), it’s kind of crazy right now. It’s a crazy place.
A: There are a lot of conversations that need to be had— that’s something that I think should happen.
D: For example, let’s just talk about it in terms of media, in terms of Asian media representation because this is obviously more of our focus. As far as Asian media representation, Asian Americans had some professional success in this country in terms of more “faceless” careers, like engineers, sort of back end people. If you look at politics, there’s not a lot of Asian politicians, but there’s a lot of people who are policy writers, a lot of people who support infrastructure on behalf of the left or right or whatever 3rd, 5th party, it doesn’t matter. Do you know what I’m saying? But we’re not really included in the discussion. If you look at the left or the right because we make up such a small portion of the population, nobody’s really asking us what we think. And to be honest, I don’t even think Asians know what they think because we’re not even united as a group.
Let’s go back to the entertainment thing. We are born into American culture, as Asian-Americans, right? We come from a different society with different rules, different view of entertainment, and we all want to rise up this structure that’s not necessarily built for us. The stories that make money and stuff don’t really have to include us. Why would they include Asians? We weren’t even in America in the 1950’s in large numbers, so why would they? Now we are trying to figure out our place.
A: Yeah. There are a lot of conversations happening talking about how the similarity of Asian groups, or how a smaller group of Asians are trying to decide who and what is the group of Asians, or how Asians want to be represented. But I think there’s a lot of disagreement. There’s not only disagreement, but there’s also not enough discussion.
Some of these discussions are only happening in certain bubbles and pockets of Asian-Americans. You hear, “Yes, we know what’s best. We know Asians.” I mean, first of all, saying all Asian-Americans need to agree to one view is problematic because there’s sub-communities within Asian-Americans that are very different. Are we talking about just Chinese people, or are we talking about Vietnamese people? What are we talking about?
D: I definitely think Asians are trying to be viewed as regular Americans and have that recognition as being American to the extent that other minority groups have in America and in Western society. But we’re struggling to do it because it’s tough to get Asians to agree on something because we come from different places.
A: Came in different immigration waves.
D: We eat different food. We celebrate different holidays. We came to America with different government status, socioeconomic status, and philosophies about assimilation. It’s very difficult to get us on the same page. You need to be on the same page for any type of movement to begin.
A: Obviously in America, we kind of get “blanketed” as Asian. Everybody’s like “All Asians are alike.” But if you go back to Asia, and just spend some time in Asia, you’ll see we’re not.
D: And that’s why I have to shout out to Giant Robot because Giant Robot has always been about the Pan-Asian narrative. I appreciate that you guys do that. But, I do think there are some structural issues in Asian America media. For me and my brother, we just like to talk about things. We like to raise questions. I can’t change the world. I can’t change the way anybody’s life is except my own. All I want to do is just raise questions to spark discourse and ask people, “What do you think about this?” Maybe, through raising these questions through our media people can talk about Asian American issues. But I would caution anybody who thinks “i really need Asian-Americans to be unified and feel Pan-Asian, next year.” Good luck.
A: I guess the piece of advice I would say to those people though is to highlight the similarities amongst Asians that we have and the unifying aspects. I’m not going to say we’re all the same or that we came here the same way or come from the same background but there are a lot of similarities. So I guess, a piece of advice for you guys, talk about similarities. But also acknowledge the differences.
D: It’s going to take time. One thing I would tell Asian Americans is to not have your happiness hinge on whether or not we got a straight Asian male lead.
A: —Romantic lead.
D: —Romantic lead in a movie. If you just crunch the numbers of society’s algorithm, it’s just not going to happen. What I would say, to be honest, and this is actually a controversial opinion—
A: Maybe uncommon.
D: Yes, uncommon. You can enjoy a movie from Asia where there’s an Asian guy as the lead. If you can’t enjoy that and you only want an ultra American story just starring an Asian guy, then you might have a problem with the way you are consuming your content. A lot of people were complaining about the great Matt Damon, the person in the Great Wall. They couldn’t even name one Asian actor to replace him. There’s people complaining about Matt Damon and if you suggest someone like Jiang Wen, this dope northern Chinese actor (played Baze in Rogue One alongside Donnie Yen), people be like, “Oh, forget him.” Ok, now what? Forget Jiang Wen, but forget Matt Damon? So who should play the lead, John Cho? I don’t understand what people want. It’s about the Great Wall, so you’re definitely not going to put John Cho in it. Shout out to him, but I wouldn’t want to see him in the Great Wall.
A: I do think that nowadays, especially with the rise of Asian media, we are going to have to ask ourselves, as Asian-Americans, “am I looking at this movie through a very narrow Asian-American lens?”, or, “am I looking at it through a global lens because I’m trying to understand what they’re trying to do with the movie?” I think that I’m trying to separate the two as I get older.
D: Also, are you supporting other minorities? Are you watching other minority movies? If not, why would they support us? Because we’re kind of all tied into this. In 2045-2050, all the minorities together will equal 51% of the population of America. But were so split amongst ourselves. Let alone, some groups of Asians are fighting with other Asian groups.
There’s an old analogy about an elephant. There’s five blind scientists feeling up the elephant— not feeling up the elephant, but determining what the elephant is by touch. One guy has the ear, one guy has the nose, and one guy has the leg. The scientists are like, “Yo, an elephant is like a big floppy ear. ” But they are only seeing a narrow portion of the elephant because the elephant is so big. To be honest, a lot of Asian people are kind of feeling the ear of the elephant.
A: As much as we like to say that we’re Asian American, being Asian and Asian American is not separate. I mean, especially now, with how media is structured with Hollywood’s studios getting bought out by Chinese companies and the influence of K-Pop, and K-Drama’s, Asian culture affects us in America. That’s why we care about Asia, personally. I think people do need to care a little bit more about what’s happening over there.
Hip Hop and its Influence
D: I definitely think that hip hop had a big impact on our self-identity because hip hop is a lot about knowledge of self. I’m not talking about hip hop, to be honest, the way some people who are not really into hip hop might perceive it, like a lot of hyper, alpha male, masculinity, like the debauchery and things like that. Those are aspects of it for sure, but it’s so much more than that. It’s really about knowledge of self and where we come from. When you look at a lot of rappers, they are actually really conscious of this. Generally, our people, probably do not or not that much into knowledge of self.
A: Hip Hop is definitely the most self-aware kind of revolutionary style of music; the most rebellious. It’s helped us learn about ourselves and also helped ask a lot of questions.
D: We grew up in a very diverse neighborhood where there wasn’t a lot of Asians around. There were not a lot of Chinese people around growing up. Seattle has a Chinatown that we spent time in, but it was not in our immediate 5-10 miles that you grow up in as a kid. Andrew and I have been representing Asians to our local community since we were kids. I remember being the only Anime-Asian. They called us that because you look like an Anime character. People used to call me Krillin from Dragon Ball Z and Ash Ketchum.
I think I have a lot of experience representing and understanding Asian identity as the only Asian person amongst non-Asians, as the only Chinese person amongst other types of Asians and I think that’s why we have such a different perspective on it than so many other people.
A: Basketball plays a role too. Being a street sport, anytime you go to any park, you’re going to be playing with other people. That’s a lot of experiences that a lot of other sports don’t give you. I definitely think that basketball and hip hop are huge influences in our experiences and our perspective.
Going into our music, we teamed up with our friend Dough-Boy, who is a producer from Hong Kong, we put together an album in two and half weeks. We recorded this entire album because we wanted to get back into music and create some original stuff. We filmed a bunch of the music videos in Asia while we were out there.
D: Yes, and I thought it was important for us to lyrically be bilingual. So there’s a lot of Mandarin and some Cantonese in there. It is true that rapping in English is that what you think of first. However, more recently, Korean rap has become really popular. But for us we wanted to do languages that aren’t very popular in rap, which include Mandarin and Cantonese. We wanted to represent what we bring to the table. And I do think that Chinese people are little bit different. Chinese people may be as into rap as Japanese, Koreans or even—
A: The general population.
D: Because we tend to be more into our own ancient culture. We also have our own type of rap, like Kuaiban (oral storytelling performance similar to rapping).
How the Fung Bros Eat all that Food
A: Okay, so how do we eat all that food during food videos? A lot of people ask us how do we not get fat for eating a lot of food? And second, do we finish all that food? Number one: we do kind of eat a lot but we definitely make sure we get a lot of exercising. Sometimes, if for one video it’s the big meal that we ate that day, we’re not going to eat that much and we’re not going to stuff ourselves, like go to buffet later that night. We try to exercise a lot: play a lot of basketball, hit the gym a little bit.
D: I think one thing that I have to come clean and say is that we actually have a film crew there with us and they definitely eat more of it than you think, so it doesn’t go to waste. I mean, we do not eat it all and rack up crazy caloric amounts. It’s eaten though. It never goes to waste.
Touching Experiences with Fans
D: There so many touching experiences that I can think about that are definitely meaningful but the one that stands out to me is this one kid came up to me, saying that we did this Chinese-Vietnamese, Chiewchou episode. She was saying that it’s so hard for her to explain her identity being a Chinese from Vietnam because that is its own thing, the overseas Chinese that are in Southeast Asia for 200 years. They have their own thing and she never could explain it to people until we did a video about the Chinese Vietnamese identity, that had Olivia Thai, Kane Lieu, and Ie Tran, who are Chiewchou, which is like a Chinese sub-group that moved to Vietnam. So, for them to say, “Yo, you pretty much allowed me to feel comfortable with my identity because I know it’s okay to feel a little bit of this and a little bit of that.” I always remember thinking woah, thanks because I didn’t know that there was so little material about Chiewchou in a pop, commercial way. Anytime you can help people. That’s a good feeling.
A: Anytime someone has said you guys make me proud to be Asian or actually, this is on a deeper level, a lot of parents, young parents who have kids are five or six or seven—
D: Asian-American parents.
A: —they come up to us and are like, “Thank you because you guys are helping teach my kid about Asian-American culture and Asian culture, the job that maybe I’m having trouble with, but you guys help me out.” Because obviously, if you’re already a second-generation parent and your kids are third generation and unless you’re really teaching them every weekend and spending time with grandparents, they could easily become super Americanized.
D: And we don’t do it necessarily the same way as other people. Shout out to all the Asian-American studies professors. We don’t do it, like they do it, right? We’re doing it by showcasing the food, etc.
A: I think it’s cool to know that parents are using us to help explain to their kids or make their kids feel more proud of their culture and kind of keeping it going. We are not trying to say that every single bit of information that was in the food video of the person that we brought in is always a hundred percent of everybody’s experience. Asians are very diverse and I think within sub-Asian groups there is a lot of diversity and different experiences. But I think as long it encourages discussion and curiosity about Asian culture, or even the culture that we’re into in general, like basketball and hip hop, that’s cool. That’s great for us. I love that.
D: One time these kids sent us an Instagram video of them turning up at a hot pot spot. I believe they were in Texas or something or some place you wouldn’t really think that there were a lot of Asians there. And they were turning up at a hot pot spot playing rap music and like eating hot pot. They were just like, “Yo, we never would have did this unless we watched your video: making us feel more comfortable at hotpot.” And they were Chinese. I was like, “Yo, this is really gratifying.”
A: Making aspects of Asian culture lit.
Perspective of the Asian Parents
D: So how do our parents feel about the work that we do? I think that our parents are proud. I do think that they have questions when we first started like: is this the right path? Maybe I kind of want my son to be a lawyer, a professor, a doctor, pretty typical of a certain type of Asian parent. But obviously, if they didn’t have the activist bent to them, I don’t even want to use the term activist, like some sort of progressive, pioneering-inclination in themselves, they wouldn’t have raised two sons that ended up, probably like this. Ultimately, they reconciled and they’re like, “I’m cool with it.”
A: It’s up to you to convince your parents, so whether you show them other examples of successful Asians or you show them that you really have the passion and you have some talent for it and you know what you’re doing. Because for parents—I mean if you think coming from an old school, immigrant mindset, they only know what they know. They only see like, “Well, there’s no Asians in Hollywood, so don’t go into Hollywood. You’re not going to be successful.” They’re just afraid for you. They’re just being cautious but—
D: They want you to live a good life.
D: And everybody’s concept of a good life is different. But think about the era they were raised in and especially if you’re 10 and you are Asian-American right now, you’re going through something different than if you’re like 30.
A: You have hundreds of example that you could show if you are a kid.
D: Yes. Your life is different in general. But from my generation, which is the people who are like around 30, for sure there was a lot of pressure to follow conventional structure and not enter fields where there weren’t any systems and infrastructure to follow.
A: Show them that you did the proper research and even then they’re still going to have their doubts, but it’s all good because once you get into the Asian newspaper, it’ll buy you some time. That’s not the only solution but those things help: something that they can understand, something from the community, but—
D: It’s difficult, man. I’m never going to tell people it’s easy. I remember six years ago, a lot of YouTuber’s we’re just go to these audiences and go, “Forget it. Just do what you want.”
A: “Follow your dreams.”
D: “Just follow your dreams.” Man, that’s some dangerous advice. Because some people, to be honest, are not even good at what they want to follow and they haven’t put the work in.You have to put the work in, you know what I mean?
A: Follow your work, follow your passion, follow where you have put your time into.
Giant Robot Shout Out
D: Shout out to everybody at Giant Robot. Shout to Eric, especially man. I remember picking up a Giant Robot Magazine from my aunt, who’s like 45-50 right now.
A: She’s an architect in LA.
D: She sent us a copy of Giant Robot when we were like, maybe 13. So that was many, many, many years ago. So I got to say that was a part of our journey and I have to say that Giant Robot had its effect on what we do today, for sure. To know that there was somebody that deep in the game, doing it, when nobody else was doing it. And now obviously, there’s a lot of people but Giant Robot is still going. It’s about to reinvent itself. Shout out to George Ko—
A: George, Giant Robot, Eric, shout out to you guys. Thank you.