Chris Lam knows how to make a hit. Chances are, you’ve probably shared one of them.
Starting his career at BuzzFeed, Lam is a YouTube content creator, producer, and host extraordinaire who covers nerd and LGBTQ culture. Even if his name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, you will recognize his videos.
Behind 80 million views on YouTube, his videos have clearly resonated with many. With videos like “9 Questions Gay People Have For Straight People” and “Native Americans Try On ‘Indian’ Halloween Costumes” — you might sense a pattern with his content.
Always with a little humour and levity, Lam brings marginalized voices and stories to light in his content, and found a captive audience doing so. He’s not afraid to challenge mainstream norms and still have a laugh at their expense.
After all, his very presence in entertainment challenges assumptions. As a self-described queer Asian-American geek who saw few, if any, role models who looked like him growing up, he had to create space for himself in an industry that has historically ignored voices like his.
So whether he is nerding off on anime or teaching straight guys about the artistry of drag, you can expect this content creator to always be repping his team colours so that he can show others that their voices matter too.
Taking The Leap
Lam didn’t make the jump into YouTube right away. He first started on a career path that might be more than a little familiar to our readers: engineering. After getting his degree and landing a cushy job in his field, he realized this career was not what he wanted.
Growing up watching YouTubers like Lilly Singh, Michelle Phan, KevJumba, Natalie Tran, and Wong Fu Productions, inspired him to try something different.
“I started making videos in senior year in college just for fun and after I graduated, I realized by then I didn’t want to do engineering anymore,” Lam said. He would eventually use these videos to apply successfully for a job at BuzzFeed.
The career switch didn’t come without pushback. He was giving up what was supposed to be the dream, a stable well-paying career, to pursue the infamously fickle entertainment industry. And his parents made sure he didn’t forget that.
“I still vividly remember the fight I had with my mom,” he said. “It was when I was still looking for jobs and my mom just had this sudden outburst telling me there are no Asian people in entertainment so I don’t know why the hell you are trying to do this. She literally said to me, I’m going to allow you to do this just so you can see how hard you’re going to fail.”
His mom’s reaction was hurtful but he understood where she came from.
“That statement really hurt me but I’m also not mad at her for that. It can be an unfortunate Asian immigrant mentality to think progress needs to be made in entertainment but it’s not going to be us. Someone else can do it for us.”
He had to prove to his mom that he was serious about his new direction, that there was a future in media that included him. “It took me working really hard and showing her that this isn’t just me being a whimsical artist that’s flowing with his desires in the wind. When I got the [BuzzFeed] internship, it was an amazing feeling because I could tell my mom I got a job offer to do exactly what I want to be doing.”
Lifting Up New Voices
“Does Sailor Moon count?” Lam jokes when I ask him about his first experience feeling seen in media.
The issue of representation has always been close to his heart. While other Asian YouTubers he admired planted the seed for his eventual plunge into media, mainstream recognition of intersectional identities was still lacking.
“As someone who is gay and Asian I don’t know if I’ve seen a piece of mainstream media that I’ve felt completely represented by,” he said. “Usually if it’s an Asian thing, it’s filled with straight people. And if it’s a gay thing, it’s filled with white people.”
Lam is trying to be the representation he wants to see in the world. But that can be a tall order for a queer Asian who is pushing against the status quo. Has he ever hidden his queerness from his work?
“That thought has never crossed my mind because … representation is something I always think about. I try to be artful about it but I do try to remind people that this is my whole personhood as much as I can.”
“I was really adamant and passionate about this idea of collective allyship,” he said. “It’s easy for me to make work about my own community but what about the people who aren’t here who don’t have the resources or the platform to make their own work.”
Currently, he is working on a fun review series called “Straight Men Watch Drag Race” that is, well, as comical as it sounds.
“I wanted people who were open but not very knowledgeable about gay culture to watch the show [Drag Race] and use that as a teaching moment [in the YouTube series], because that’s what the show has been lauded for, helping with the acceptance of queer culture.”
Chasing Your Dreams
Disapproving parents. Torn between cultures. A lack of representative role models. For many North American Asians trying to make it in the creative industry, these struggles might sound familiar.
Lam is no different, but having been through it, he has some advice for others pursuing their dreams.
“I know that we’ve all been raised to always think about our families and what we owe our parents, but at the end of the day, your life is your own,” he said. “Don’t have this romantic view that the world is going to be in technicolour once you take the leap. It’s going to be a lot of hard work and it’s going to be important for you to just treat difficulties and obstacles as just a test of how badly you want this.”
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