You know a ProZD video when you see one: they’re nerdy, hilarious, and short, and steeped in the sort of deep geekery that has recently come back into vogue. He lampoons anime tropes, common role-playing game frustrations (think: that one character who only has one voice line for a specific action), and the intricacies of tabletop game mechanics. The experience is perfectly viral; which is to say that if you’re at all familiar with the subjects covered, it feels as though someone has reached into your brain, rooted around a bit, and come back up for air with a thought you’ve felt but never said out loud.
What’s different about ProZD, who’s otherwise known as the voice actor and YouTuber SungWon Cho, is how everything he makes is just nice. Online gaming and anime spaces are notoriously toxic — think Gamergate and Twitter anime avatars — and it’s genuinely refreshing to come across work that feels authentically nerd-centric but without the trappings of, say, Trainwrecks’ fandom. On YouTube, it’s gained him around 2 million subscribers; Cho’s voice acting work has appeared in games and animated series (like Netflix’s Tuca & Bertie). And he’s also worked as a live-action actor, most notably in “Anime Crimes Division,” which spoofs anime and detective tropes.
“I think I’m just a nice guy,” says Cho. “I don’t feel the need to be a sort of edgelord, who tries to offend people — that’s just not in my nature,” he says. “I just make what I like to make.” He takes pride in being genuine. “There’s no reason to be a dick if you can help it.”
Cho’s videos are consciously and conspicuously low-budget — “I use my phone, because I don’t care,” Cho says, though he notes that he could get a nicer setup if he really wanted one. “Who knows, maybe one day that’ll happen, but I just find I’m lazy, and it’s almost kind of funnier that it’s just slapped together.” Shooting takes less than an hour for a short skit, though it can get much longer if the idea is more involved. But editing takes forever. “Something a lot of people don’t realize about YouTube is that if you don’t hire your own editor, you’re doing all the editing for every video. So it’s just hours and hours of editing work,” Cho says. He also plays just about every character.
Most of Cho’s videos are similarly low-brow / high-funny: there’s the harem anime parody (“The Tomoko Chairem Anime”), the role-playing game send-up (“King Dragon”), and the many, many skits that distill mundane scenarios to their essence. (To name a few: “when a song comes on shuffle that’s more intense than your current mood is ready for,” “when a friend starts watching a show you love,” “googling your symptoms,” etc.)
Even with all the work that goes into them, the storylines aren’t planned. King Dragon and the Tomoko Chairem Anime were both on-the-spot ideas — although in each, the videos connect to form a larger, interconnected world. “My canon is rock solid,” Cho says. And it is. The King Dragon RPG, which started from a throwaway Vine, revolves loosely around Dennis’ (the player’s) quest to save Prince Horace from King Dragon (and, of course, the death of Archibald, who’s betrayed by the dastardly Lysanderoth). In the Tomoko Chairem anime, the titular character Tomoko is surrounded by a bunch of cute boys who are also furniture — Lamp-senpai, Refrigerator-senpai, Bed-chan, and The Twins (two chairs) — until Refrigerator-senpai kills Lamp-senpai. “I had no choice, Tomoko,” the fridge says immediately after the murder. “You have no idea how high up this goes.”
“I make sure that stuff works within what’s already been established. And I like to throw back to stuff,” Cho says. “It’s just building and building with absolutely no plan. Who cares? They’re just dumb little videos.” Although, he notes, people will track the themes and storylines that happen to come out — which is exactly what Cho wants to happen. “I get a kick out of it. Because I just think it’s funny to build a story out of nothing.”
And those stories tend be to the kind of material that conclusively prove the nerds have finally won. Think about it: Game of Thrones — a television series based on an unfinished collection of high fantasy novels (naturally a trope in high fantasy novels) — is by far the most popular show in America, even after its much-maligned ending; Avengers: Endgame, the conclusion to a decade-long superhero saga based on Marvel’s comic books, had the highest opening weekend box-office gross ever; and these days it’s even cool to play Dungeons & Dragons. Jocks are out, man. ProZD is in.
These days, YouTube is Cho’s main job — although that was never his goal when he started posting videos he made with a friend while he was in high school. “YouTube honestly, as a career, was kind of an accident,” he says.
Cho started out making videos on other platforms, like Tumblr, Twitter, and Vine. Eventually, he says, it snowballed. He remembers because it was Christmas Eve 2016; the subscriber numbers started going up, and didn’t stop. “It was like a nice Christmas present,” Cho says. “I just found it very surreal.” The reason, he thinks, was a video he shot where he jokingly tried to sing all of the (infamously high) high notes in A-Ha’s song “Take On Me.” “I didn’t think anything of it. I just threw it on there just for fun,” he says, though he thinks it may have gotten a boost from somewhere like Reddit.
The success he’s found since has happened in the way that internet fame usually does: people relate, and then they follow. Cho says his fans tend to be between 18 and 35, and nerdy — because “my videos have a lot of nerdy jokes and content.” And that’s the throughline: Cho does a lot of different things, but they all relate to each other on the level of nerdery.
Even so, making things online can be difficult. And, as Cho says, it’s the same with voice acting. “I think a lot of people don’t realize that a lot of it is just having to deal with rejection. Because you’re not going to get 90 percent of the auditions you go for because so many people you’re competing with are so good,” he says. The hardest thing in that space is dealing with rejection. YouTube, on the other hand, is a different beast entirely. “I think burnout is something that a lot of people struggle with,” Cho says. “I try to mitigate that as best as I can, by making stuff that I’m interested in and not only trying to produce content that pleases my audience.” A lot of big creators burn out because they feel stuck doing the same stuff they’re not passionate about, he says. It’s hard to balance the wants of your audience with the wildness of creative development.
Which is a real concern, because these days, most of Cho’s income is from YouTube — sponsorships, mostly, and then ad revenue. He gets voice acting gigs, which pay well, but those advertising partnerships are where the real money is. “I’m actually in a pretty fortunate position, where, right now I can kind of just make videos when I feel like it,” says Cho, adding that there was a time where he felt he had to post every single day. “But I’ve definitely slowed down lately, just because things have been going good. And since I’ve moved to LA, I’ve gotten a lot of voice acting roles,” which, as he notes, has been his focus anyway.
“If I could get to a point where YouTube is just a hobby again, yes, I would do that,” says Cho. “If I’m doing enough acting, like, where I don’t have to worry at all about doing YouTube... if I don’t have to worry about it as a job? Yes, I would definitely do that for sure.” He doesn’t feel stuck. What he does feel, though, is grateful.
“Ideally, I would love for more and more people to know, ‘Oh, he is a voice actor who also does YouTube,’” says Cho. And he’s getting there. “But at the same time, I’m very grateful for people who like my YouTube stuff. And you know, who gives a shit? Whatever you know me for, I’m just glad you like what I do.”