Doing HappySlip videos is like "having my own one-woman show in theater," Gambito says.
These days, the Internet is a rich source of untapped talent and an instant soapbox for the opinionated. Anyone with something to say can start a blog or website and find an audience or, if they’re lucky, a loyal following. HappySlip.com
is one such website, featuring a series run by Filipina-American Christine Gambito
, who herself is better known as HappySlip
Since her first video, “Instant Vlogging!,” came out on September 7, 2006, her videos (or “vlogs,” short for video log) have had over 52 million views. Her YouTube channel, which is the 13th most subscribed channel of all time, now has over 250,000 subscribers from countries like India, the Netherlands, Italy, the United States, and, of course, the Philippines. She earns from ads flashed onscreen while her videos play on YouTube, as well as banner ads on HappySlip.com. It’s a response Gambito was unprepared for, and one that still amazes her. “I still get surprised when people write me from different countries, or if people recognize me when I’m out and about because I make these from home! How could this laptop be a portal for so many people to know my weird sense of humor?”
Her experiences growing up may have had a hand in cultivating that now-famous sense of humor. She does the Filipino accent so well, but Gambito was actually born in Virginia, U.S., and being surrounded with dozens of Filipino relatives provided endless fodder for HappySlip material. In fact, it was her mother’s words of advice that provided the inspiration for the show’s title. “Christine, be sure to wear your half slip!” was her mother’s reminder every time she wore dresses and skirts, except she pronounced “half slip” as “hap e-slip.” Gambito used the term for her series, which she hoped would make people “slip into happiness.”
Gambito came up with the idea for HappySlip Productions out of a desire for a creative outlet. “It’s like having my own one-woman show in theater. Having it online was more of an issue of convenience. I thought, ‘Well, now I can create whatever I want, post whenever I want, and people can watch whenever they want!’ The prospect of having an outlet in this way and the hope that it could provide a little bit of income one day is what got things started.”
HappySlip's "family portrait": (clockwise from left) Christine, Dad, Cousin Minnie, Auntie Baby, Mom, Lola
Her family doesn’t mind that she uses them in her skits; they even encourage her to produce more videos. Perhaps it wasn’t a surprise to them that Gambito would end up doing what she does today. As a child, she already showed promise as a performer, doing stand-up comedy during her family’s holiday gatherings and imitating her relatives. She also acted in high school theater productions and auditioned for mainstream acting opportunities. After a while, however, she went down a more practical route. “I always planned to do something in performing arts, but felt that I needed to have a practical skill to, well, eat. So I studied nursing and worked for a couple of years, but always knew it was just there to supplement.”
Soon, Gambito realized that she could launch her own show on YouTube. She set out to create her videos from scratch, writing the scripts, shooting with a digital video camera, doing her own hair and makeup, and editing them on her laptop. Today, she posts a video once every two weeks, each usually taking four to eight hours to record and six to 16 hours to edit, depending on how complicated the scenes are.
Apart from using situations inspired by her relatives, Gambito gets her ideas from other real-life occurrences or her own quirky observations. She shares, “I simply love to put stories together, imitate people, and just entertain people, period.”
At a YouTube meet-and-greet at Washington Square Park, NY.
And entertaining people is something she does very well. Given the nature of the internet, news about HappySlip spread quickly, catching the attention of Filipino users who were instantly entertained by her depiction of Filipino family life, so naturally, a visit to the Philippines was in order. Gambito’s January 2008 arrival in the country was met with enthusiasm from the blogging world, and she describes it as an emotional homecoming; it was her first time back in the Philippines since her last visit at the age of one. “It was like coming home to another part of my heart. I could finally see this beautiful country with my own eyes, and better appreciate where my parents had come from and what they had to leave,” she recalls, adding that her visits to the country have been the best experiences she’s had as a result of making her videos. Because of the wide reach of her videos, Gambito was appointed by the Department of Tourism
as a Philippine Ambassador
, a challenge she gamely took on. During her stay in the country, she toured places like Cebu, Bohol, and Palawan, documenting it all on video to take her many fans on a ride across the Philippines.
But while she has a slew of fans, there are also those who are less than impressed by the work she does. Internet stars are usually the target of brutal critics given their visibility and accessibility; Gambito is no exception, but she has learned to shrug off criticism. “I don’t let those people discourage me, because I would have given up a long time ago if that were the case. I just try and focus on the projects ahead and make sure that I’m proud of what I’m putting out there. After that point, it doesn’t matter what people say. If I create out of an inspired place, then hopefully it will encourage inspiration elsewhere.”
The right inspiration is exactly what is needed for Filipinos online. Gambito is well aware of the Filipina’s poor image on the Web. There are numerous websites that promote Filipinas as mail-order brides, and Gambito says she would like to think that HappySlip helps combat this impression. She says, “We see the choice of words that accompany Filipinas in different ads, making it seem as if we are commodities and something to be owned. Hopefully, HappySlip videos will encourage other Filipinas to showcase their talents, and not be defined by negative ads or other things that restrict the image of Filipinas.”
Gambito is proud of being able to express her creativity with her storytelling and isn’t in a rush to steer HappySlip into a different direction. “The Web has allowed me to show what I uniquely do. It has opened doors that otherwise would have never opened. I am content with making videos and very much appreciate the intimate connection with the audience. To be able to have this as a full-time job is a dream come true and I’ll just enjoy however long I can have it this way!” Spoken like someone who truly has a lot of happiness to share.
Must-see videos on HappySlip.com:
• MORE PROCESSED MEAT December 13, 2008
Gambito sings about the staples that go into the ubiquitous balikbayan box to the tune of “The 12 Days of Christmas.”
• PEELINGS February 25, 2007
The clip features Gambito and her mom during a visit to her aunt, who extolls the virtues of the Filipino cure-all, Vicks Vaporub.
• MIXED NUTS November 16, 2006
Gambito plays all the characters in this clip of her trying to tell her mother, her aunt, and her father about a near-mishap on the road.
(First published in Marie Claire, April 2009; photos courtesy of Christine Gambito)