Jonny Long: US College Drop-Out Turned Chinese Media Sensation

By Matthew Bossons, December 6, 2017

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When he arrived nine years ago, Jonny Long had no idea where his China adventure would take him. Originally from an area north of Detroit, Long was still a junior studying IT at Central Michigan University when he was approached by friends asking if he wanted to join a year-long cultural exchange in Guangzhou.

Soon, ‘one year’ in China had turned into two as Long decided to stay and take a crack at entertainment. Starting as a performer at Guangzhou’s China Hotel, A Marriott Hotel, Long went on to win the city’s prestigious Battle of the Bands and eventually to shine in his current gig as a Chinese Internet and television personality.

Now, with over 140,000 subscribers on popular live-streaming site YY Live, Long has a heap of TV and film appearances to his name, including Guangzhou Running Man, Big Bang and 2017 rom-com Love Contractually. We caught up with Long to chat about his time in China and, as always, ask some silly questions.

Tell us a bit about your first real job in China, post-cultural exchange days.
I ended up working at the China Hotel at the martini bar by the pool, but I was singing and playing guitar, not bartending. It was tough, it was a lot of work time-wise. I had to do four 45-minute sets, six nights a week. I was singing 50 or so songs a night.

What’s your current live-streaming gig with YY Live like?
So, mostly I’m just chatting with people online, singing and playing drums. I have a pretty cool setup now that allows me to switch cameras – I’ve definitely put my IT skills to good use. Anyone that wants to visit YY Live can watch my live-stream. I don’t know exactly how many people are there watching, but it’s a decent amount of people. I can chat with them, they can send me gifts and they can ask me to sing songs, or I can just sing songs if I want to.


How many hours a day are you live-streaming?
I do about four or five hours a day, roughly two to three hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. I usually start in the morning at about 8am and go till 11am, and in the evening 4-6pm. 

Tell us a bit more about these ‘gifts’ your online viewers give you?
It’s all virtual gifts. For example, if someone gives you a ‘piece of candy,’ that is worth RMB0.1. But the [monetary] value varies depending on the gift. 

Have you had anyone recognize you from your media appearances while you’ve been out on the town?
Yes, actually, I have quite a few times. We used to have a lot of billboards around the city advertising for Guangzhou Running Man, so people recognized me from that. A few days ago when I was in the train station, someone came up to me and was like, “Aren’t you Long Ze, you’re from America and have been in China nine years?”


Any plans to leave Guangzhou for Beijing or Shanghai? 
I have no plans to leave for the time being. I will hopefully be traveling more, but for now I am happy where I'm at and have no plans to leave. Career-wise, Beijing would be the best place for me to be and if I have to move to Beijing then so be it, but no plans for that as of now.

What’s next for your career?
My big focus now is trying to get in more movies and the company that I'm with is helping me find more film roles. If I can get on the Spring Festival Gala in Beijing, that would be amazing. Obviously that is ‘pie in the sky,’ but it’s a goal and it’s not impossible. So yah, movies are the goal right now – as well as releasing an album in the next few years. 

Tell us more about this album, what genre of music are you looking to tackle?
Upbeat pop music, you know, like Bruno Mars and Maroon 5. Ideally, half the songs would be sung in Chinese and the other half in English. I’ve been wanting to do this for years, so I’d like to actually make it happen.


If you had to offer one piece of advice to aspiring live-streamers, what would it be?
Consistency in your live-stream time: choose a time that you can consistently do and stick to it. Try to put the time in, because for the first little bit you might not have a lot of people [watching], but over time you will connect with people. 

And now for some fun questions. If you had to ‘bro out’ with one Chinese celebrity, who would it be?
Wang Leehom, because he is awesome. He was actually born in New York state, is currently based in Taiwan and is famous in China. He is super talented and I love his music.


Are you a bigger fan of Xu Zheng’s Lost in Thailand or Lost in Hong Kong?
I am going to go with Lost in Thailand, that was a great movie. I loved both of them, but Lost in Thailand was my favorite.

Favorite place to visit in China?
I spent a month in Haikou before and I really liked it. Sanya is a little bit hot, but Haikou is on the northern part of Hainan and it’s a little breezy, I really liked it.

Least favorite Chinese dish?
There is a ton of stuff I love, but for dislikes I would have to say bitter melon, because I encounter it a decent amount and I just can’t do it. See, I don’t particularly like chicken feet, but I can handle those. Bitter melon I just can’t get down.

The interview above has been edited for clarity and length. Watch Jonny live on (search ‘Jonny龙泽’).

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