YouTube funnyman David So talks comedy

March 25, 2015
David So inside the Korea Times Los Angeles in February

David So inside the Korea Times Los Angeles

By Tae Hong

You know David So.

He’s that guy on YouTube, the one who hit back against that UCLA girl who talked down on Asians in the library that one time. You know, the one who has all those jokes and opinions and things to say about, seemingly, everything.

The question is, why do you know him?

So — whose last name, by the way, is actually pronounced “Seo,” meaning he shares his Korean name with heartthrob actor Seo In-gook — hit one million subscribers with his funnies earlier this year.

The South Korea-born, Sacramento-raised, 27-year-old comic who makes people on the Internet laugh can’t so much as visit local Los Angeles without getting asked to pose for fan photos these days — a sign, more than anything, that what he does works.

His fast-talking channel’s got a bit of it all: vlogs, shorts, the occasional star. (Watch enough hours, and you’ll even spot K-pop’s Jay Park.)

There never was a target audience in mind. If you like what you see, keep watching. If you don’t, he laughs, “F— off.”

“YouTube isn’t, in my opinion, a platform for artistry,” he said. “It’s any kind of idea that will pop off, and you ride that tailcoat until it dies out. Find something new that’s hot, find something new that’s hot. And those are the people that do the best on YouTube.”

So’s good at keeping peoples’ attention. It’s how he makes a living, he said. Entertain them every 10 seconds, or they will switch and go somewhere else.

It’s a model that allows for less storytelling than one you’d find on a traditional comedy stage. It’s a bi-weekly challenge that has him working, working, working.

And he loves it.

In 2011, touching on social injustice — a case involving a UCLA student complaining about Asians in the school library that received national attention — made So an almost-overnight YouTube sensation. The video alone has garnered, to date, more than 5.5 million views.

While those discussions are not his primary focus, So doesn’t avoid them, either. Forthright opinions about the major issues in the country, most recently issues like the Ferguson situation, draw viewers to him, he said.

“I think they like the rawness that I bring,” he said. “It’s very unadulterated opinions. It is what it is. … A lot of people don’t want to talk about [issues] because they’re afraid of backlash. They’d rather stay away from people’s judgment, but when you have somebody who will speak for them, it makes them feel better.”

(Screen captures from davidsocomedy)

(Screen captures from davidsocomedy)

To So, his comedy is fully Korean, no matter that it is spoken in English. It comes from Korean conversations he’s held with his family — his Jeolla-do accented, oft-foul-mouthed mother in particular — and from the melting pot of values he ingested from living in a culturally diverse neighborhood in Northern California.

He’s got a bit of advice for people who look up to him as a role model, as a Korean American who’s made it doing a job that’s outside the orthodox box.

A kid once asked So, who was performing at a university show with a crowd of about 300 people, how he felt about Asian parents not letting their kids do what they want to do.

“I hate my parents,” the kid told the comedian. “I’m here at this college, and I don’t want to be here.”

“What is your talent?” So asked the kid. “What do you want to do?”

“I want to be a singer,” the kid said.

“Great. I’m going to give you an opportunity right now to sing in front of everybody. Take this mic, come up here and show everyone your talent,” So said.

The kid refused.

So said it’s a problem he runs into often, and it’s something of which young hopefuls need to be reminded.

“I’m glad you see me as an example of doing something outside of what [Asians] normally want you to do, but are you good at it? You want to be in entertainment, that’s good. But are you good at it?”

His own answer to that came when he was a young adult.

So started out as a musician, but it was comedy he took on the road. It was a calling, something for which he came up with ideas 24/7. Equipped with a notebook filled with jokes in hand, he would travel across the country, from his hometown to San Francisco to Los Angeles, Chicago to New York, in search of audiences to test jokes on.

“I liked stand-up because I liked getting up on a mic and I liked making people laugh. That was the thing that fed my drive,” he said.

At the same time, it was no easy feat juggling the comedy, the music and various part-time jobs: intern pastor to follow in his father’s footsteps, Men’s Warehouse salesperson, running his parents’ black beauty supply store.

He soon found it would have to be one or none. That one was choosing YouTube as his primary platform. Recognition and the million subscribers came as a result of time and effort, he said.

“I think you’re allowed to do one thing really great, and then other things will fall into place,” So said.

It’s the stage at which he finds himself now. Make it on YouTube? Check. Steer toward another interest in acting and making short films? Working on it.

Plans moving forward surround, of course, keeping up the channel, but they also involve So trying a hand in making short films.

All of it comes down, really, to his personal experience and how he can share it with the world.

“Comedy, for me anyway, is about sharing your life story,” he said. “How can I create content [people will] relate to, and how can I create content they will watch?”