Celeb Tosh Zhang: YouTube gave me my break

Actor Tosh Zhang wants you to know junior can find success even if he doesn’t have a degree.

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Tosh wears jacket and jeans from G-star Raw, T-shirt from Forever 21 paired with his own Necklace.

You probably know him best as second sergeant Alex Ong in the Jack Neo’s three Ah Boys to Men films. But before actor Tosh Zhang, 28, found success on the big screen, he gained fans for his straight-talking YouTube vlogs, or video logs.

Indeed, Tosh, a FLY Entertainment artiste, was not one to shy away from controversy in his vlogs as he wanted to share his thoughts with the world. The affable self-described introvert notes that it also allowed him to put his videography skills to good use.

“At that time, I was doing some Final Cut Pro (film editing software) editing in polytechnic was also working as a videographer, so I had the equipment and the technical knowledge. I also had the fire to say something. So, everything [matched] up well.”

Indeed, Tosh has YouTube to thank for the unconventional start to his successful entertainment career. Does he believe then that not all roads to success start with a university degree?

“A lot of kids, they feel that without a degree, they can’t make it in society.”

Tosh says, “I’m from a neighbourhood school and only have a polytechnic diploma ― a lot of kids feel that without a degree, they can’t make it in society. But I want them to feel empowered. If I can do it, you can do it, too!”

So how did Tosh get his break? He shares his secrets…

What made you start your own YouTube channel?

At first, I was watching a lot of American YouTubers and there were only a few of them at that time, like Nigahiga and Timothy DeLaGhetto. I watched their videos and I felt that maybe I can try this out. I have a lot of opinions and I wanted to share them. So, I started with a small camera in my room, stacked it up on boxes to create a tripod, and recorded whatever I wanted to talk about.

How do you come up with the content for your videos?

I only make videos whenever I felt like I have something to talk about. Sometimes, I will do two videos in a week, sometimes a video in two months. I go by my feelings, because when I feel like talking about something, that’s when I know I can come up with interesting things to say. It is always very random.

How long does it take for you to make a video?

It takes about one whole day. I would have to start in the morning, film for about four to five hours. Because I would say everything I want to say, review the footage, and see if I need to do another take. If everything’s all right, I will take another five to six hours to edit it. So, I will upload it at about 7pm after I’ve finished working on it.

How did your parents react to your YouTube videos?

They chanced upon them on Facebook ― their friends were sharing them or something, then my mum watched them. It took her a while to get used to it, but she started sharing my videos to support me. My cousins found my videos hilarious.

Did you ever think that YouTube was going to lead you to a career?

I always felt like YouTube was something that I will do in my free time. But, when I received the e-mail inviting me to the casting from J Team — director Jack Neo’s film production company — that’s when I felt like, wah, this is really going somewhere and I should go and try it out! It was about a week before I was to fly off to an Australian university to study. Jack Neo said that he was on YouTube, and my videos just kept popping up on his recommended feed. At that time, he was looking for vloggers, YouTubers, online personalities for the film Ah Boys to Men.

When I told my mum about this movie, she said, “You don’t even act. You’re a video editor. I already paid for your first semester and accommodation.” I told her to just let me try and defer one semester. At least after the movie, I will have experience working on a real film set. Plus, I was going to study film, so I managed to psycho her. She agreed and somehow, it worked!

Any concerns that your controversial YouTube videos would hurt your acting career?

No, it shows that I went from a computer screen to the silver screen. In fact, some people have more respect for me because they’ve seen my growth from YouTuber to TV and movie actors.

Tosh’s tips for being a successful YouTuber… Next!

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Tosh wears T-shirt and jeans, both from G-star Raw, sneakers from Urban Revivo and wrist watch from D1 Milano Knit.

Ever been afraid of saying something that’s too controversial?

The more I’m afraid of a subject matter, the more I do it. The worst feeling as a YouTuber is putting out something and nobody says it’s good or bad.

Do you think being controversial holds the key to being a successful YouTuber?

If you keep going down the controversial route, over time, your viewers won’t take you seriously. So, I try to always have a balance. Recently, the videos I do tend to be less controversial because I’ve also grown out of that phase.

Is it possible to make a living from YouTube?

Yes, definitely. In the past, it was very difficult, you’ll definitely have to have a day job. But now, you look at people like Jian Hao, Wah!Banana, Night Owl Cinematics… they are no longer kids making videos, they have become professional companies producing content and they are expanding it to other businesses. I have a lot of respect for all of the different channels that are doing this.

“The worst feeling as a YouTuber is putting out something and nobody says it’s good or bad.”

Who is your biggest YouTube rival?

I’m not really in the YouTube game now but I guess I’m most similar to DeeKosh. His videos actually took off before mine, so, I can’t really say he’s my rival either. I’m also friends with him, but our styles are similar in a sense that we always talk about random things, talk very fast and in an over the top manner, and Dee Kosh sometimes will say some very controversial things also. So I guess we are similar in that way.

Complete this sentence: My fans like my videos because…

I’m real with them. I don’t hold back. They know I won’t sugar-coat what I say to them. That’s why they like me in the first place.

If a parent were to ask you what’s so good about being a YouTuber, your response is…

YouTube gives your child a platform to express themselves, and to explore their interests. The most important thing is getting encouragement from parents, because you are their role model, guardian and friend. So, everything you say to the child has a huge effect on them. So if you encourage them, and tell them to give it a try, it’ll help a lot.

If a tween wants to start a YouTube Channel, your advice is…

Try to do things that are different from what other people are doing. There’s no longevity in doing the same thing as everyone else, it also doesn’t help the YouTube community grow. Also, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. If you put out a video and it doesn’t work, at least you know, so just keep trying different things.

Another piece of advice is, always be yourself. Don’t try to create a persona that is so different from you that if it gains attention, you have to keep being that person. Because if you put your true self out there and people gravitate to you — that’s real love for who you really are.

How about dealing with haters and nasty feedback?

Pick your battles. There are times where you should just ignore them but there are times when you should put them in their place. I usually choose to reply to haters when I know I can create something viral out of it. Like, if I can play off something that the person said, and create a post…at least here’s some traction. But more importantly, don’t take it too seriously. I always imagine a hater won’t think too much about you, so you shouldn’t think so much about them as well. Try to ignore them as much as possible.

What’s next for you? What can fans expect this year?

I’ll be busy filming Ah Boys to Men 4, I’m not sure what will be happening in the film ― I’m excited to find out as well. I will also be doing two travel programmes coming out later this year, which I’m very excited about!

This story first appeared in issue #02 of SmartParents Junior magazine.

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