Eddie Huang, author of the memoir Fresh Off the Boat which inspired the hit TV comedy of the same title, visited Adelphi to give a motivational lecture. We here at HCA had the great honor of interviewing and getting to learn about his life and success.
Her Campus Adelphi: What inspired you to write your book Fresh Off the Boat?
Eddie Huang: When I was leaving Orlando I was like 18. We were both going off to college and I was like, “Man, I never wanna come back here. It was really tough growing up here trying to figure out who I was. Being an immigrant was a strange thing at that time and Florida was a strange place. I ended up going home after a year away. But I never really fit into Orlando. I didn’t really understand it. And I was thinking there’s gotta be other immigrants out there who think every place in America is like New York or DC or urban thing. You think it’s the American dream and you end up somewhere very urban-slow and you’re like, “where am I?”
HCA: How were you approached about making it a TV show?
EH: A friend of mine had been pitching ideas for TV shows and he was talking to this executive producer Melvin Mar. He said to Melvin, “Have you read this book ‘Fresh off the Boat?’” Melvin hadn’t. So my friend gave him the book. He loved it and then he came and found me when I was in LA.
HCA: How does it feel to inspire the 1st Asian-American family-centric TV show in nearly 20 years?
EH: I’m proud of it. How I feel about the show has been documented very well. It’s kind of a watered down version of my life. But if people wanna read the real thing they can buy the book. And I’m really happy of the impact of it. I run into people on the street who feel excited and represented. When it’s your own life and it’s happening to you—I mean I grew up with a lot of domestic violence in my life—it’s hard to laugh at it. I see my parents in a different way [than portrayed on the show]. It’s a little goofy. But I try to remember, I watched Margaret Cho’s show. A lot of people criticized it and weren’t too happy. But I remember watching it as a little kid and I loved it. So I’m glad people enjoy it and are happy and I don’t wanna be in the way.
HCA: What do you credit most of your success to?
EH: That’s a good question. I really think I have this weird drive to want to do the right thing. I always heard stories about my grandfather. He was working in the internal ministry in Taiwan. He died about a month after I was born, but I heard a lot of stories about the dude. He had gone to Taiwan with the KMT. The Chinese nationals had lost the war so they all fled to Taiwan. There was a lot of corruption with the native—aboriginal Chinese. When the Chinese came, they brought roads, electricity and a lot of modernization but they took away lands from the aboriginals. And even though my grandfather could’ve been corruptive and taken land—he was around a lot of corruptive people—he didn’t. My family, my dad’s side, didn’t have much money because he was a clean dude. I’ve known a lot of people inside and outside my family who said, “Your grandfather was a really good guy.” He could’ve screwed a lot of people but he didn’t. So I always looked up to him even though I don’t really remember meeting him.
The other thing was my grandfather on my mom’s side died when I was really young. It’s in the first chapter of my book. I remember going to his funeral when I was 7. He killed himself in the basement and I had known what happened. I didn’t know how to deal with it. I saw my family fighting over his money and business. My mom and dad had decided to go outside of the family business and do their own thing. At Christmas everyone else had said to them, “You’re not part of our family anymore!” Of course we’re part of the family! We’re all blood! Everyone was fighting over money. They were mad that my family had started their own business. I remember watching it and thinking, “Man I hope I never grow up like this and become this ugly. It really stuck with me. From that age I just wanted to do the right thing. It really tore my family apart. We had to leave Florida.
I was picked on a lot. When you see other people getting picked on, you just wanna do the right thing.
HCA: Which accomplishment in your life are you proudest of?
EH: That’s a good question too. I think I’ve stayed true to myself. I haven’t lied. When it comes to all of my work—the book, the show—I always answer the questions as honestly as possible. If I contradict myself in answers I’ve given in the past I have no problem admitting it. I’m mostly proud of being true to myself and not lying to people.
HCA: Do you have any regrets about the opportunities you have or haven’t taken in your life?
EH: Yeah. With my second restaurant I opened, I shouldn’t have been such a dumb*ss about it. I was selling all-you-can-drink Four Loko and throwing really dope parties. I really regret that. I don’t regret much else. I used to regret that I had gotten a scholarship to go to Syracuse for college and not going. But honestly, I don’t think I’d be the same if I had gone.
HCA: What are some words of advice you could give to people aspiring to do as much as they can with their lives?
EH: There’s a few things I always tell people. You can’t be afraid to fail—especially when you’re young. You earn the right to be creative as an artist and take chances. I’ve always worked double hard. I always had a job just to make money and then something I was doing that was artistic or inspirational. I’ve met people who are like, “ I just wanna quit my job!” and I say to them, “Why don’t you just get it started on the side?” Work twice as hard. I find it interesting when people think being artistic means being poor and a burden on other people.
I also think it’s very good to question what you’re doing, but not to the point where you care too much about what other people think. It’s not about what other people think. It’s about what you think. I question what I would think of myself. Not what other people would think.
Just live your life making sure you don’t have regrets. If you wanna do something, there’s a million things that can go wrong, but it only has to right once. You can go on a million bad dates, but you only need to go on one to meet one good person. So keep doing it. I’ve been engaged and unengaged many times but I don’t regret any of it. It’s part of the process. Just talk to yourself, listen to yourself, and be honest. We all die. You don’t wanna die with regrets.
Eddie and I thanked each other for the good questions and great, inspirational answers. I loved talking and getting to know him so well in just a few questions. Be sure to check out Fresh off the Boat on ABC Tuesdays 8/7C