I'm running a little late, but we're on Asian time today (which is not as late as general PoC time, but still late). I run into Min Jung Kim, today's emcee and organizer, and Annie Koh in the doorway to Theater Rhinosceros. Haven't seen Annie in at least three years. APAture OG, Annie is, the youngest of the first crop. She got a grant from the Yale Asian American Alumni group to pay for her to do a summer internship at an Asian American org, and she chose KSW. Great timing, because when Annie came out in May 1999 APAture planning was hella heating up and I really needed help in the office.
Annie threw up the first KSW website in a week (that's right, we didn't have a website until May 1999), which was a cool blue affair with b/w photos of KSW artists as icons. We also put together KSW's links page, which was the first, and may still be the most extensive, Bay Area and Beyond APA nonprofit resources page. Annotated.
Annie turned 21 in the KSW office. She had a strange position at KSW: younger than the majority of artists and volunteers of that time, but in a leadership position. Maybe this is what convinced her to stay. Her internship at KSW was supposed to just be a summer thing. In the fall she was going back east to train at ... MASSPIRG was it? She went, did the training, and then came right back, a week before APAture. And stayed for several years in the Bay Area before moving to Korea.
She and Jane Kim flanked Julia Kim that fall (1999) when Julia started Locus 1640, which came out of the opportunity offered by the mostly unused bar space on the ground floor of the Korea House restaurant building (at 1640 Post St.), which Julia's parents owned. Yes "Locus" referred to the fact that there was an actual locus, which they were using to gather young Asian American arts and pop culture stuff.
From the beginning, there was a strong distinction in the minds of the organizers of both organizations, between what was Locus and what was KSW. Although Locus arose in the aftermath of the first APAture, and was empowered by its zeitgeist, it wasn't by any means an offshoot. Locus was ... younger. KSW-next (the KSW next generation group that organized APAture) was about younger folks incorporating themselves into the older KSW. Locus was about new technologies and new forms. KSW was about how new technologies and new forms drew from traditional forms, and how they were incorporated into the traditions. Locus could have consolidated its separate identity, but instead it lost its space, its locus, and became the wandering LocusArts. While still "younger" than KSW, it began to draw more and more on the resources and collaboration of older orgs, especially when it located itself at Galeria de la Raza for a few years. And when it joined KSW at Space 180 a few years ago, one really had to wonder, at least from the outside, what the distinction between the two orgs was now.
I write all this because APAture's LAP-POP is the second edition of a Locus event (started two years ago), and the perfect example of the official melding of Locus and KSW, which happened this summer and will be formalized at an event this fall. Annie's presence here underlines it, as does Min Jung's.
1:16 - Min Jung Kim: welcome. LAP-POP a showcase for blogger Asian American rock stars. Intro Ellen.
1:17 - Ellen Oh: Welcome; APAture founders in the room. How many people are attending first KSW event? About half the people raise their hands. So for them Ellen gives the KSW/APAture speech. Thanks to Min Jung and Glenda for putting this together. LAP-POP has been around for a while but this is the first time we've presented it at APAture. Thanks to sponsors. Intro for Glenda, new member of KSW's board.
1:20 - Glenda Bautista: former director--one of many--of LocusArts. Has merged with KSW in late August 2008. This is the groundbreaking stuff they'd like to continue with KSW. Intro Annie Koh. Was APAture OG and LocusArts founder.
Random pointless thought: damn, I haven't seen her in years.
1:21 - Annie: Lives currently in South Korea. Moved to SF for the first APAture. Can't believe baby's all grown up. Almost in middle school. Her website is a preemie, not properly born yet. The stories she wants to tell aren't always hers. Info about cultures and communities in Asia aren't accessible to English-only readers. New York Times Korea stories are by expat bloggers only. Annie's also an expat blogger, but identifies and Korean and Korean American. Frustrated by lack of info available.
"Movement": reading piece about subway. Turns into a description of moving through the city. Annie: interested in stories we see from outside faces pressed in. Voyeuristic peeping into people's lives from public transit.
They're doing "taxi driver restaurant" culture in Seoul. There are no diners in Korea, everything's 24 hours. Ask the drivers where to eat, they know really good food for really cheap. A culture of taxi drivers. Class distinctions clear in Korea and drivers are very upfront about their critique of society. Putting together a book: guide to taxi driver restaurants in Seoul and also interviews.
Showing web-only clip of trying to fit into Seoul. No matter how much her face looks Korean, at heart she's American. "Chromomorphosis." (I can't find where the actual clip is. Can any put a link in the comments?) First one-minute film. Annie wandering around Seoul in a (obviously green) dress that changes color as she goes into different areas of Seoul. Indy rock music background. Simple. Interesting how long a minute is when there's no dialogue or text. Time for a whole day's images.
1:31 - Min Jung: Annie has a wide creative capability: poetry, live SPAM-eating, etc. Never takes herself seriously. Intro Hasan Minhaj, whose name rhymes with "awesome." (ETA: no it doesn't, bitch. I had to go in later and correct all the "Hasams" I wrote to "Hasan." "N" not "M.") Named up and coming comic to watch by NBC. Has a show at punchline tomorrow.
1:32 - Hasan Minhaj: was at APAture last year and had a great time. (I remember him from the comedy night last year. It was a good set, but being tall and good looking doesn't hurt him at all in the memorable department.) He's gonna do a stand up routine. Bit about: had a full time day job before for the health benefits. To get the benefits he had to fill out an application and decide what racial box to check. Why don't they have a category for Indians? Half the world's population. Okay, that's a slightly new spin on an old subject.
Bags on Alaskan natives. They have a whole category but has anyone ever met one? (I raise my hand. Bitch, I lived with one. Well, she wasn't from Alaska, but she was Inuit. He doesn't even know the word.) Alaskan natives need to picket his next show! (Seriously, it wasn't that offensive, but also not that funny.) Dumb jokes about how there aren't any live Native Americans. "Dead people are more important than Sanjay over at Oracle." That's not cool or funny. And it's not apparently deliberately uncool. Well, I can't really tell. That's the problem with politically incorrect humor: if it's not perfect, you can't tell if the comedian is trying to be funny or if he's really that ignorant, which is not funny. Blah blah, round up to the nearest ethnicity. So he plays the race card in HR. "Something's not right? Is that because I'm black?" Okay, that would be funny if ... I don't know, he seems to be off today. And maybe the joke's context needs punching up? Not sure.
Talks about working at Microsoft and wanting to kidnap Bill Gates. What would you do if you had that much money? He would wear a cape. Again, I think he's off today b/c I want to enjoy that joke but it doesn't hit the bullseye. Jokes about "pardon my French." Turns it into another black racist joke. Running gag about how he wants to be black. Kinda funny. Gets some mileage from repeating "a friend's racist jokes," and talking about how uncomfortable it makes him. Boo. "Captain Planet" racist TV show from childhood. Everybody has a real superpower except the Indian kid, whose power is "heart." He's also the only one who doesn't have a girlfriend. He has a monkey.
Riding a line with these racial jokes that only works if the jokes are really funny and he's really working them.
Brings up Kanye West and gets a single, solitary hiss. Bags on Kanye for his ego, as performed in concert. I've never heard any Kanye ego jokes, but I feel like that topic is overplayed. Maybe it's just Kanye who's overplayed.
Show tomorrow at Punchline. Will be doing stand up and sketches.
1:51 - Min Jung: our next performer is Eric Wu of Eric Conveys An Emotion.
Eric Wu: Wasn't expecting to be here. MJ facebooked him two days ago. Started his website ten years ago in college one night when he was bored. He put together a bunch of photos of his face expressing different emotions, and emailed them to friends. They sent him requests. It became a user generated content thing.
So today he'll bring people on stage for a face-off contest. Invites all presenters today to come on stage. They do, all except for Annie who has disappeared.
Face battle: Eric will call out an emotion to depict. Then they will turn around and flash that emotion and hold it for a few seconds. Audience will clap for the winner. Yes, this is awesome! Too bad it's not at night and people aren't drunk!
First team: Dino and lolcatz Eric: "sad." Dino looks like a classic harlequin. "angry." Dino is winning this one. No doubt. Audience concurs.
Second team: MJ and Ernie: "surprised." Pretty equally surprised. But MJ broke character. "annoyed." Ernie is funnier. But I wouldn't want MJ annoyed at me. Ernie won, clearly, but MJ got a lot of love.
Third team: Hasan and lolcatz Kari: "fear." Hasan gives fear and Kari crouches down so you can't see her face. "shy." Kari has a better shy but it's funnier on Hasan. (Sudden typical gender role moment. Men don't do shy-face, even when they're shy. It comes out as truculence instead. Wow, that's the whole plot of Pride and Prejudice right there.) Equal clapping. Tie breaker: "suave." Eric: no that's sexist (hunh?) "indecisive" is shouted out. "constipated." Hasan actually bears down on this one ... and clearly wins.
All three competing at once: "sauve." I have just enough time to think "Who's gonna do finger guns? Probably at least Dino," before Dino does finger guns. Ernie is winning for me; he's moving around, stroking his face and chest. Hasan does James Bond, but his face is kinda frozen. Hard to tell who won. Tie breaker between Ernie and Hasan. "intrigued." Hasan balks but is slapped down. Ernie does sexually intrigued. Hasan does confused. Ernie wins, of course.
Time for final face-off between Emotion Eric and Ernie, the winner. Eric asks audience for the emotion. I call out "O-face". They have to do it once the audience starts chanting "o-face, o-face."
I shouldn't have shouted that. I really didn't want to see this. Ernie does a whole scene, ending with a cigarette. He blinks rapidly at the beginning. That's classic. You don't wanna know what Eric did. Eric insists that Ernie wins. End of Eric's segment.
2:07 - MJ: intros Ernie Hsiung of iistix, little. yellow. different., 8Asians.
Ernie: asks audience if they want funny or sad first. Sad.
Reads a post titled "Word Association": (I'm noticing that Ernie's T-shirt says "Sometimes, when I'm alone, I google myself.") Christmas. His sister is bipolar schizophrenic. Her drug cocktail keeps her psychosis in check. Her manic phase is like a game of word association. Ideas lead from one to another. Tries to find method to her madness.
Reads another post titled "Change it to the Butterflies": divorced parents. Needs to buy mom new computer. He's doing his mom in Mandarin. (ETA: I mean that he's doing an impression of her, bitch!) He's worried that mom will find his blogs, but English to Chinese translation is a failure so far. Buys her an iMac for Christmas. Sets it up. Sets up her Yahoo, because he works at yahoo. She wants the butterflies (MSN). She likes the butterflies. But she doesn't have an email address. So he just wasted his money. Somebody leaves a comment as his mom, calling him her "little Asian David Sedaris."
2:20 - MJ ten minute break.
I go outside and bust into a conversation between Amy Lam and Brandon Bigelow. Amy is a longtime KSW participant and member of the Board. Brandon is a new member of KSW's board, came on board from Locus with the merger. I make some obnoxious jokes about how Locus should promise in the wedding ceremony to "love, honor, and obey" KSW that go over like lead balloons. If I ever learned diplomacy at KSW, it's aalllll gone. I guess political incorrectness is catching.
2:37 - We're back!
MJ: has been blogging ten years at minjungkim.com. When she started, she'd been writing as humor columnist at Ernie's site (iistix). There weren't a whole lot of Asian American women bloggers at the time and was periodically freaked out b/c she wrote about a lot of personal stuff and had a lot of stalkers. Her dad was worse at internet/computer stuff than Ernie's mom. She had to teach him how to double-click. Kids of people from his church would find her stuff and she passed it off as her Koream Journal writing. Her dad is an interesting caricature on her blog. One of the reasons she moved to Cali (from Michigan) was to escape her family, so she could embarass them online, by telling stories about them: like her Dad trying to set her up with a peach farmer in Fresno, or wanting her to go to church to meet boys, or wear a skirt because she has "nice leg."
Her older brother didn't know she was blogging until he was working at startup in Korea, and one of his golfing buddies said he was in love with this girl in California who blogged about people bothering her with weird stuff like asking her in grocery stores what a ripe zucchini looks like. She had a lot of traffic from Seoul. Thanks to bloggers today who put themselves online.
After 12 years in SF, involvement with KSW and Locus, she and hubby are moving to Seattle. This is her last event. Big general Awwww. She's remembering when her Dad came to visit. She was showing him the sites. He's impossible to have conversation with, especially if a TV is on. But she took him on a tour of SF and she was bringing him back from dinner in East Bay with Korean Catholic friends from church, wearing a short skirt, just to prove herself. He was tired on the way back and he started singing to San Francisco to take care of his daughter. (She does the song.) And she's thinking "Oh my god, I'm so gonna blog about this!" Thank you to SF for taking good care of her. Thanks to everyone she's met in SF. Everybody sings her Dad's song: "San Francisco, take care my daughter. Okay."
2:46 - MJ: showing her film. "BA-AME" Best Asian American Movie Ever. by MJ, Dino Ignacio, and Glenda Bautista.
Voice over from MJ and Dino about identity. Images of food products and stereotypically chinky things. Lots of giggling from Glenda in the audience tips me off that this is a parody. Damn, I wasn't sure. It's perfect, especially after seeing the shorts last night! Voiceover: fists in the air, dragons, if dragons had fists, fake sad melancholy tone. Robots and zombies. I think I like ham sandwiches. Books and Koream Journal magazines. Glenda comes down some stairs and kicks the shit out of poor Dino, who is filming the chinky floor design. Do you think Chi-hui is going to show your piece of shit film at the film festival? No one wants to watch your bad vacation video with spoken word poetry over it! We're making a film, asshole! Stop oppressing me! Much cheering. (The film will be up on YouTube.)
2:52 - Eric Nakagawa and Kari Unebasami, founders of icanhascheezburger.com Yay! The lolcatz people!
Dino accidentally turned off the projector. Tech moment. I'll take this moment to briefly outline who these folks are. If you've ever seen these, the lolcatz are photos of cats with captions directly on the photos in lolcatz language, which is bad grammar and internet-style typos. The classic one is the photo of the cat that says "I can has cheezburger?" They have a website collecting these pictures. (If you read on below, you'll find out how they started and what it's all about.)
Powerpoint presentation. Eric: A lot of people didn't know they were Asian. They're from Hawai'i. Met MJ a year ago. Had no idea it would become this ridiculously popular. They love helping people making their sites better and get more traffic so ask lots of questions later.
Eric: Didn't know what the lolcatz pictures were called before but started calling them lolcatz. These are pictures of animals or things with captions on them. Kari: hard to describe what it is without sounding dumb. It's just finding pictures of animals that are funny and putting text on them. Eric: it can take an hour to explain it.
Eric: how it started: nighttime, at work, abusing chat privileges. My job sucks. Kari: Had the cheezburgerpic and sent it to Eric to entertain him. She files away pictures in "cute" or "funny" folders. Eric: sometimes you see something on the internet that has to be erased. He felt really happy. So he bought the domain name with the text and sent it back to her as a joke. She said okay let's make it a blog. The whole thing happened in less than 24 hours. (On Dreamhost originally?)
Eric: initially Eric took "chz" and Kari took "tofu" usernames. They had avatar/icons of burgers, pixellated. There were forums out there that had already collected all these pictures. Kari: but they were just image dumpsites: some with captions and some without, but no organization. They put them in a blog and added tagging, Web 2.0. Added tags on Wordpress. But nobody can use their tags because they over-tagged.
Eric: it was just for them but people liked it. They were always talking to visitors. LolLanguage developed during conversations in comments. They put in adsense (advertising for blogs that pays bloggers). Kari: their first goal with ads was so they could buy Nintendo Wiis, then we can quit and retire.
Eric: So we started getting popular. Got boingled and got 17,000 visitors. Xeni Jardin (of Boing Boing) loved them then. People trying to figure out what was going on and we couldn't help them. A lot of people popped up with rules. It started hitting big newspapers and magazines.
Kari: XKCD (web comic) was the moment they made it. Eric: it's great when your mom sends you a link to your own site. Getting into XKCD was it. Growing pains: it was always the two of them. Awake 20 hours a day blogging about cat pictures. Both had full time jobs at the beginning. But then their hobby became more interesting, fun, and popular than their jobs. He quit his job in May. Millions of hits a month. Once he could pay for rent, car, food, he was gone. They didn't sleep. The viewers wanted t-shirts, collectibles. Quadrupled workload. Kari: they were doing fulfillment as well. One package for one t-shirt, one button. They still don't sleep.
Eric: Lolcat generator makes lolcat phenomenon really accessible. Were getting 2000/day in September. More and more submissions so they started letting people vote after they filtered out the graphic and violent ones. That's when the site stopped being about them.
Traffic graphic. Tracking for this started Jan 07. Traffic quadrupled in a year. Then the server balked and they had to take site down and put up a donation button. Moved to megacheez server. Went through quota in fifteen days 2-3 terabytes, paying hundreds of dollars a month. Kari: They really only needed so much space for cat pix storage but needed more bandwidth for traffic. Each terabyte costs $1000. Never disabled hotlinking. Kari: that's how the site became popular. They didn't want to disable that. Eric: that was scary. So they wrote to Wordpress (their blogging service) and asked for help. They had one mill hits/month at the time. Asked Wordpress, can we do a VIP account? Eventually they let them on. Then they could stop caring about servers and went back to focusing on the site. Not getting distracted by traffic.
Then there were spin off sites everywhere. Arizona Bank did an ad for a free cheeseburger aimed at college students that bit the original cat pic. In 2007 Halloween people were dressing as lolcatz. Saw the language everywhere. Eric shows walrus bucket saga and gets a big laugh. Glenda runs up on stage and gives Eric a bucket. Eric loves the lolrus. Lolcode created. Geeks get involved. Kari: started out as a joke. Eric: lolpresidents. big laugh. lolbots. loltrek. There was stuff people made that we didn't get, but said go ahead and make it. Kari: lolgayz and lolbrarians. lolbible with ceilingcat. (I loove the lolbible!) They're 75% finished with Bible translation into lollanguage. Lolspeak. If you go to the site, that's all they use in comments.
Why so popular? It's fun (communist cat image). Cute and geeky. Techy. Serious. Sometimes they're perfect in themselves and aren't a reference back to another. Kari: explains Ceiling Cat. "Omnomnomniscient" cat. Eric: ceiling cat is the all-seeing and basement cat is his counterpart. Shows bukkakitten and gets a lot of groans. Got them in trouble. Relevant. Azn cat (siamese cat "me no rike remonade") Kari: this is the most controversial. Eric: People said racist. It's teh internets!
Eric: They had a million pictures submitted that had never seen the light of day. Ppl came up with all kinds of ideas: make a book. Had a lot of time on their hands. They were finally able to stop working on the site, end of July. Were working 20 hours a day on the site and very burnt out. Found a guy to help. Kari: at some point they couldn't figure out what was funny anymore. Eric: at the beginning it was just their humor, but then it switched over to being the community. They'd have to ask ppl what was funny. It was hard to find help, to find someone who would find things that you think are funny. Kari: started out as their thing and it was hard to open up.
Eric: Transitioned off to Ben CEO and he hired real people. The site started floundering but when Ben took over it tripled in traffic. Doing a lot of sites with focused niches. They took a break and decided to do a book. Ben gave them a hard drive with a million pictures. A folder with literally a million pictures. His hard drive crashed. He's writing scripts just to look at these photos.
The book is real world. Getting okays from ppl was complicated. Didn't understand why ppl wanted a book. Book in stores Oct 7th.
They're doing lolzoo at SF Zoo this Saturday at 1 pm. They will adopt an animal, and have a caption contest. Last photo is happycat eating the cheeseburger.
Q & A: I ask about the bible wiki. Do they know the people who do it? No. They leave it up to other people to run with the concept and don't need to know or give permission.
Can they locate the people who make the photos to get permissions? Eric wrote a program to find email addresses from the submissions Were there ones they couldn't find the owners for? Yes, there's a lot of really great stuff that they couldn't use.
What's the submission to accepted ratio right now? Gone up. 8000/day and choosing 20. First have to sort out NSFW images and inside jokes. So ratio is more like 1/500. There are other sites too. Ihazahotdog, with dog pictures. They have an Engrish site. Failblog.
How did they deal with copyright? Had the publising company contact each person. They're all credited in the back. Had some classic ones and ones that no one had ever seen. Only about 100 made it. People were demanding money. Totally different from internet, really want everything under control.
Glaenda: the book is available on internet. Thanks for coming.