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Meet the Viral Influencer Making Chinese and American Netizens Laugh

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Digital Existence is a series where we explore how technology and the internet impact everyday people’s lives in China and beyond.

Given the cultural differences between East and West and the existence of the Great Firewall, you might think Chinese netizens and internet users in Western countries would rarely laugh at the same joke, but 25-year-old influencer Griffin Gu is proving otherwise.

Better known as GG and @GGnoHadid on social media, Gu is famous on both TikTok and its Chinese counterpart, Douyin, with more than 1.4 million followers on Douyin and over 82,000 followers on TikTok.

His online popularity certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed. Incredibly, last year, the Fast & Furious team invited him to interview Vin Diesel in an effort to promote the ninth addition to the franchise.

A recurring theme in his videos is comparing life in China and the United States. A prominent example: In one of the videos that launched his career as an influencer, he contrasted flight attendants in China with those in the United States.

Now, with the introduction out of the way, let’s explore who is this influencer is and how he has managed to make both Chinese and Western audiences laugh.

Study? No. Make Douyin Videos? Yes.

Born in Beijing, Gu graduated from Boston University in 2018 with a business degree. He currently works as an aviation consultant and moonlights as a Douyiner and TikToker.

“So in the daytime, I’m putting on a boring, corporate, professional face, and then I’m just playing my parts,” Gu tells us about his experience navigating the two different roles. “But then at night, I have to switch it up a little bit and become dramatic.”

While his videos function as a cross-culture comparison between the US and China, he also analyzes how English is used in both countries.

When asked why his videos focus on English, he shared that he started to learn the language when he was in kindergarten and has always been fascinated by linguistics.

“Every single one of us has our gift. And for me, it is linguistics,” Gu tells RADII.

During his senior year in college, feeling exhausted and bored after a lengthy study session for finals, Gu decided to make a Douyin video comparing flight attendants in the US with the ones in China. Little did he know that a video made out of boredom would be the start of his career as an influencer.

“My first viral video [on Douyin] was all English. No subtitles. No anything,” says Gu, “I never planned my social media career out.”

According to Gu, the flight attendant impression video accumulated more than 3 million views when he first uploaded it, despite being posted in English and made with almost zero planning.

Though it may seem random that he chose to compare flight attendants, Gu explains that he has always been an aviation enthusiast.

“I was always fascinated by huge metal [objects], and I love every single little part [that goes into building them],” says Gu. “[In] each part of my life, the milestone is always somehow connected to aviation: how I started my social media career and then my first job as an aviation consultant.”

@ggnohadid

They be hitting on those ice bag all day long #flightattendant#cabinecrew#mandarin#chinese#funny#joke#foryou#fyp#culture#language#college

♬ original sound – GGnoHadid/GG没有Hadid

After the success of his first video, the creator started to post content documenting his daily life, though, unfortunately, his followers did not resonate with it. Nevertheless, he kept experimenting with different content styles and eventually found the niche his Chinese audience enjoyed: cultural comparison videos.

Transition to TikTok

The 25-year-old influencer enjoys watching TV series like Modern Family in his free time. It was the show’s family matriarch Claire, played by Julia Bowen, that helped inspire Gu’s popular mother-and-children video series.

@ggnohadid

Chinese mom vs US mom #asiantok#chinese#mandarin#fyp#foryou#comedy#joke#grocery#asian#mom#gourmet#international

♬ original sound – GGnoHadid/GG没有Hadid

 

In addition to network TV programming, he likes watching YouTube to see the way people interact. “The way they talk and the way they interact with each other is very unique to me. It’s such a cultural shock,” says Gu.

For a while, Gu stuck to making content for Douyin, focusing on his Chinese audience because he feared the same material wouldn’t resonate with Western viewers. As a result, he was hesitant to join TikTok.

He tells RADII, “There’s always constant differences [between China and other countries] and sometimes even tension going on, so I chose not to go into it [TikTok].”

But an unpleasant incident of intellectual property theft prompted the creator to explore TikTok.

It turned out Douyiners were not the only ones enjoying Gu’s content: a TikToker copied one of his videos and posted it on the short video platform. The video went viral, and its success made Gu rethink his avoid-TikTok strategy.

“Well, I guess I do have a chance,” says Gu, recalling his thinking at the time. “I reached out to her [the TikToker who copied his video] because I felt like that’s very offensive to me. So I wanted my voice heard.”

After he reached out, the TikToker apologized to Gu, and the encounter marked the start of the creator’s journey to becoming a TikToker himself. The episode would turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

“So, at the end of the day, I need to be thankful for that [incident]. I need to thank her for copying my video. Because otherwise, I wouldn’t even be on TikTok or Instagram.”

@ggnohadid

I spendt time effort and energy just to confuse myself with water and waters #language#english#chinese#mandarin#joke#fun#funny#relatable#student#college#unversity#esl#struggle

♬ original sound – GGnoHadid/GG没有Hadid

To establish his presence on TikTok, Gu started to post lots of his old videos from Douyin. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to resonate with the international audience — that is, until he found a topic that both Chinese and global netizens enjoy: comparisons between English as it is taught in China and the English used in the US.

The video making this comparison accumulated more than 454,000 likes on TikTok, with one user commenting, “No matter the country, there will always be formal speech and slang.” The same video has more than 166,000 likes on Douyin, where a Chinese netizen wrote, “It’s like when we speak Chinese, we also don’t follow grammar.”

Building Cultural Understanding

Gu’s career as a social media influencer took off in 2020 when anti-Asian sentiments were rising in the US. As an influencer whose work emphasizes the cultural differences between the US and China, Gu thinks raising awareness of cultural differences can help to build intercultural understanding.

“I’m not in a position to educate anyone or change the status quo. I myself am still learning,” Gu shares. “So, really, it’s just to create exposure to the cultural differences and make people appreciate or even aware that there is a difference. That’s the thing I think I can do the best to help bridge the gap.”

Indeed, on Douyin, Gu uses his unique sense of humor to share American culture with his Chinese audience. He imitates the Kardashians and white girls drinking coffee and recommends American TV shows to his fans.

@ggnohadid

it almost feel like a c✨ult #foryoupage#foryou#whitegirl#joke#funny#comedy#coffee

♬ original sound – GGnoHadid/GG没有Hadid

On TikTok, he brings Chinese culture to his Western followers: comparing American moms with Chinese ones, highlighting Chinese experiences, and encouraging others to tip in Chinese restaurants in the States.

@ggnohadid

It’s all about the strokes #chinese#language#international#college#student#unviersity#mandarin#english#esl#culture#spellingbee

♬ original sound – GGnoHadid/GG没有Hadid

Given his popularity on Douyin and TikTok, it is fair to say Gu’s content has succeeded at its goals — building cultural understanding in China and America and giving everyone a good laugh in the process. The 25-year-old has undoubtedly used his linguistic and imitation skills to impact people positively.

Gu tells us that for him, as cliche as it sounds, the most significant result he has achieved is making his audience happy.

“I feel like being able to lighten up someone’s day really just warms my heart. It just gives me more energy to create [content] and gives me more encouragement,” he says.

With the ongoing pandemic, 2021 was a year of closed borders, travel restrictions, and both literal and symbolic division for many of us. Gu’s success offers hope that despite not seeing each other, despite how polarized the world can be, we can still find common ground and be united by laughter.

Cover image via Griffin Gu

Kayla He
    Born and raised in China, Kayla received her BA in Communications and Public Service from the University of Pennsylvania. She currently works as a staff writer at RADII and is passionate about telling stories related to social issues women's empowerment. You can find her exploring coffee shops in Shanghai in her free time or rushing for Duffy and Friends plush toys at Shanghai Disneyland.
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