Q&A with Minji Chang: Real talk and stories from one of my favorite podcast hosts

Looking for a heartfelt and honest podcast? Well, “First of All.”

During my semester “abroad” in Los Angeles, I discovered the joys of podcasts. Well, one of my bosses at my internship listened to podcasts all the time and that meant I did too. I have a few subscriptions on rotation, but there’s only a few I go out of the way to listen to when new episodes come out.

The “First of All Podcast” is hosted by independent creative artist Minji Chang, and full disclosure she’s also one of my past internship bosses (at Kollaboration) and a dear friend of mine. She’s ridiculously inspirational, so it only makes sense that she moved into the podcast space. Her show is a “real, unfiltered conversation on career, family, love, and modern culture.” Each episode invites you in to Minji’s virtual living room, and it really does feel like you’re hanging out with her talking through some shit. Sometimes she has guests, other times she’s solo. I might be biased, but catching up on “First of All” is one of my favorite ways to self-care.

I knew I wanted to feature Minji and her awesome podcast in my own way, and reached out to interview her for my blog. However, this Q&A is actually almost a year late, we talked in the fall of 2017. I got super behind on life but I didn’t want to flake and leave this unfinished. So forgive some of the more outdated questions and references, and enjoy my one-on-one with Minji.

Me: Where did the idea for “First of All” come from?

Minji: Marvin (Yueh). He actually suggested it when we began “Kollab Cast” cause he’s always bubbling over with these ideas. He was just trying to think of different things as one-offs and was like, “Oh this is going well, and you have all these very strong opinions about these things, why don’t you make your own thing?” And I was like, “Leave me alone, I’m making this thing. What more do you want from me, man?” It’s very sweet of him to say that you should record these things and people will listen. It’s very flattering thing for someone to say. So he came up with it.

Me: What was the final push that you said, “You know what? I am going to do this.”

Minji: Probably this summer, and kind of encapsulating the transformation of Minji Chang. I feel like I hit a really frustrated, negative spring this year. I kind of lost my mojo in a lot of ways, and I was upset with the state of the world for a lot of different reasons, and I just found myself feeling really discouraged, and really angry. But it just felt like, “What now? What can I do? I don’t even know.” That was how I felt leading up into late spring, early summer.

Then I went to Kollaboration Atlanta and that show gave me a really amazing surge of hope and positivity. I wasn’t expecting it at all; I was very tired, I was very mentally, physically, emotionally drained, but that show gave me a surge of life again. I was like, “You know what? This is was I need.” These are my people, I was around artists that I really liked, they were new and fresh, and they reminded me we all have our ways that we’re gonna try and make the world a little bit better. And I gotta go do my thing, I just have to. I credit Kollab Atlanta–– it wasn’t the only thing, but it was a big catalyst in getting my butt moving, which is a big deal.

Me: How’d you decide the format? Sometimes you’ll do interviews, sometimes you’ll do in my opinion, stuff like that.

Minji: I was experimenting, I basically gave myself freedom for the first ten episodes. Because I had practice with “Kollab Cast” and talking that out with so much Marvin these past 135 weeks that I felt pretty comfortable. If I have a guest, I know how to interact with guests, and if I feel compelled to challenge myself to go solo, that’s something I can play with. I did have structure going in, but it was loose structure, and that was on purpose because I wanted to see what resonated; not only with the audience, but also with me. If it felt authentic, or if it felt like I was just trying to force it. That’s the tough part if you have a program. 

Me: Why’d you choose a podcast instead of a vlog?

Minji: Editing. Literally, that was a huge part of it and then I think… that’s something I want to address on the podcast–– I mean I’m an actor so this is just a given, but I have a lot of issues with my image, with my body, and with how I look in general. That’s super annoying, but I genuinely felt like a podcast was a medium that allowed me to be a little bit more uninhibited. So I felt like it was creating a number of different barriers to just get something out there that I didn’t really want to deal with. 

Me: In your mind, who is “First of All” meant to be for?

Minji: I personally think it’s for everybody. Originally I only wanted it for women, but I really changed my mind. I want many men and women to listen to it because I think… I’m a big feminist, and I think that for feminism to progress, for equality to exist, I think all parties need to be in on the conversation. I don’t want it to be exclusive. So given that I’m a woman, and I’m Asian American, and that I’m whatever, that point of view will always be available. It won’t be devoid from the conversation. It’s for open-minded people, people that are curious and usually think deeper.

Me: Have you noticed a change in how you think or react to things since you started? Like, “This’ll be an episode someday,” or, “I should get this guest for this reaction.”

Minji: Kind of yeah, absolutely. The main thing that I think has changed, because I have been podcasting for a while, but with “First of All” is that I feel a little bit bolder because I have this platform. I have this way that, in my mind, I’m like, “Oh, I would really want Meryl Streep.” And like, you know what, I could. Why not? I could email her publicist and be like, what’s up? It’s made me less scared, in a way. I’m scared for different reasons. I’m like “Oh shit, people are listening to this and I have to be mindful of XYZ.” I want to be honest, but I also don’t want to offend people. I don’t think that’ll come up. But it has in a way made me more bold and creative. Like I could ask this person, or I could ask this person.

Me: How are your metrics going just in general? (*Author’s note: This is one year out of date by 2018.)

Minji: They’ve been growing. But I don’t care… If there was like millions or thousands of people listening in every episode I think it’d probably freak me out really quickly. People have been sharing it, it’s incredible. It’s been growing each week, slowly it’s been growing, slowly but surely. It’s really exciting, and scary, and weird, and all the things.

“I’m saying what I say with the intention to reach as many ears who need to hear it as possible,” Minji Chang, host of “First of All Podcast.”

Me: Why’d you choose Patreon and what do supporters expect?

Minji: It’s to be a physical manifestation of things I’ve been struggling with, to address them. As a human, I’ve had a lot of thoughts and a lot of ideas, but as a woman I’ve subliminally felt really inclined to put a cork in it a lot of the times. I’ve never been conscious of it until the last several years. I mean I’ve always been semi-aware of it, like “Why am I so annoyed?” Oh, it’s because my idea was shut down, or someone says my exact idea, who’s a guy, and all of a sudden his idea has some sort of substance that I didn’t have. So in various ways I’ve been kind of self-minimizing myself and kind of putting myself in a category where like oh, I can’t ask people for money. Why not? If you make something that is of value and that you make your living so that you can survive and eat and continue to make other cool stuff.

I just notice that when it’s other people, if they’re making cool things, I want to support them. I feel happy to back their Kickstarter or like their album. I know it’s a small contribution, but I know that it’ll help make their thing a reality. But for myself, I’ve had a lot of issues asking not only for money, but for help. But as a business I’m really trying to grow my self-awareness, my need to ask for help, my transparency–– all of that. I want to be one my own two feet, and I also know it takes a village so I’m willing to ask for that help. I’m not demanding it of anybody, I’m asking for people who feel compelled to and find value in what I’m making and helping that grow.

But it’s a challenge for myself; the main thing is to be able to learn how to ask for help, but also to stay accountable. Having a Patreon has made me more active, honestly. If I didn’t have something where I have to do something every week  because people are literally paying me to do it, I wouldn’t–– being totally one hundred–– I’m sure I would have fallen off. Even now, I’m not even ten episodes in, I probably would have missed a week. I would have been like, “well you know, people don’t care” and whatever.

Me: What’s been your favorite part of this whole process and the learning experience?

Minji: Being on my own. Going back to the Marvin thing, I did find a lot security in having a co-host and I would kind of default to Marvin in a lot of things. That’s great, he would step up and I loved it because Marvin is always in the background and this is him in the foreground producing (“Kollab Cast.”) He would take a lot of the initiative, which I think is great, so I got to kind of sit back and participate as a co-host. But this, this is my show, show there’s a lot of responsibility and vision that’s all my own. I really think that because it’s building something, not something physical, but building something. I actually went back and listened to my very first episode, and I was like, “Wow, I sound really different.” Even within a few episodes I think I’ve become a lot more comfortable and I could hear it in my voice. That’s a fun part, it’s to kind of document my own growth in that way.

Lily: I was really touched by Episode 8, “Thoughts on Life and Death (In Memory of Irene Cho)”. You mentioned that one of the talks you two had in Salt Lake City was when she told you that she believed in your projects and dreams, which was so important to hear. How much do you think your podcast is doing that for your listeners? Because you’ll say a lot, “go and do it. Go and follow your passions.”

Minji: The funny thing is I don’t know who listens to it. It’s funny cause I was a guest on another podcast called “The Show Radio” (?) and they’re awesome. It’s two co-hosts, one’s in New York and one’s in Hawaii. The Hawaiian host, her name’s Daniella– she’s awesome and she’s the mother of a thirteen year old son– she’s second generation, her grandparents were immigrants to Hawaii, and she never looked at her heritage the same, or with the same perspective. The first one she listened to of mine was the “Surrender Part 2” podcast where I go off about Charlottesville and Trump and everything.

And she said it really inspired her to remember her roots. She has a son and she has a responsibility to him and that she has all these feelings and thoughts about racism but she never speaks out about them because she’s scared about who would say what to her. But she said that whatever I said in my rant really touched a cord about how important it is to say what you think and you need to let people know what you think and feel and that’s the way we’e going to create change. 

Hearing that directly from her in the last hour was really… I mean like, I know you listen and I’m so touched by it, but she’s a complete stranger and I’ve never met her. And she said that it really motivated her to look at things differently, and I was like, holy shit. It’s really inspiring. It’s really humbling.

You can subscribe to “First of All” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and most where ever else people listen to podcasts. Her Patreon page is here, and be sure to follow Minji’s Instagram too. “First of All” is a part of an Asian American podcast network, the Potluck Podcast Collective. They have a bunch of really cool shows hosted by AAPI across the diaspora, be sure to check them out. (Also, I might be a guest on a few different episodes too.)

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