YouTube sensation Cody Ko graced a virtual stage Monday for a comical interview hosted by Duke University Union’s Speakers and Stage committee.
Ko, Trinity ‘12, is a Canadian YouTuber, comedian, podcaster and rapper. After graduating from Duke with a computer science degree, Ko founded an app and worked as a programmer while simultaneously growing a large following on Vine and YouTube.
In a moderated question and answer session, Ko answered inquiries about topics including his undergraduate experience at Duke and his climb up the social media ladder.
After working two programming jobs and taking some time off to backpack through Asia in between, Ko quit his job to focus on social media full-time. Best known today for his YouTube series “That’s Cringe” and his podcast and musical group “Tiny Meat Gang,” Ko now boasts over 5 million YouTube subscribers and has generated almost a billion views on his channel.
“Very happy to be here, seeing as this is my alma mater,” Ko said, kicking off the event. “I do these pretty often now where I talk to colleges, but this one is definitely special. When this came in the email I was like ‘hell yeah, I’m doing this for sure.’ Go Blue Devils.”
Moderators Max Miller, a junior, and Catherine Oliver, a senior, started off the night with questions about Ko’s Duke experience. Ko was recruited to be on Duke’s swimming and diving team.
“We were at a meet in Montreal and my coach was like ‘Hey, the coach from Duke is here. You’ve got to dive well in front of him.’ And I was like ‘All right, got it. I’ll put on my best performance. And also, what is Duke University?’ Had no idea what it was,” Ko said. “I Wikipedia-d it on my computer and it was like ‘ranked 8th best school in America,’ and I was [like] ‘Oh f*ck, this is real.’”
At Duke, Ko pursued a degree in computer science and a certificate in markets and management and eventually became captain of the varsity swimming and diving team. As a senior, he created an iPhone application called “I’d Cap That” that quickly rose to the number one free app in the world on the App Store.
“One of my big takeaways from doing computer science … is to get under the hood and figure out how shit works,” reflected Ko. “Which is the reason why I wrote that app; I just wanted to teach myself how to do iOS stuff. And that’s the reason why I started producing music myself, and making beats and everything, it’s because I wanted to get under the hood and figure out how it works.”
When the event’s moderators asked where Ko preferred to study at Duke, Ko joked that he does not remember studying a single time.
“My least favorite class was probably Biology of Dinosaurs because it was so easy and I got a D, somehow,” Ko said. “I was the only person, I’m pretty sure, that got a D. It’s a class made to just give you credit.”
Speaking about his social life in college, Ko shared that he regrets some things about being in a fraternity at Duke.
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“Arriving a Duke being a Canadian kid, I was a snowboarder, skier, and a diver from the country in Canada,” Ko recalled. “That was me moving to North Carolina all of a sudden, becoming a frat boy basically, like I changed my identity completely. I went home for the summer and my friends were like ‘I don’t even know you!’”
He also told a story about him and his fraternity brothers damaging a house they stayed in during beach week.
"This is bad to admit but we still have the email from the owner of the house that we stayed in," he said. Like I told you, I was a shithead frat boy and I regret it. And I regret the fact that I'm telling you this story right now."
Given recent controversy regarding Greek life at Duke, first-year Victoria Kovarik reflected that “it’s interesting how he was in a frat.”
“He also said he regretted it, which I also think is reflective of what we’re currently experiencing. It shows that even as a prominent figure on social media, he’s still in the loop,” Kovarik said.
Ko took the opportunity to inquire about Duke’s dorms and traditions, and even asked after some of his favorite Durham restaurants.
“Is Elmo’s still there?” Ko asked, laughing. “It’s my favorite place of all time. I dream of that place.”
Ko shared that he lived in Edens quad as a Duke student, which was exciting news for some current Edens residents.
“I think that my biggest accomplishment is that he lived in Edens and I live in Edens,” Kovarik said. “It’s cool to have that connection even though it’s small. I already texted a friend back home and was like ‘Hey, guess what. I live in the same dorm as Cody Ko.’”
“It’s like a degree of separation,” first-year Dagny Edison said. “It shows you’re weirdly a lot closer to celebrities than you think you are.”
After the moderators’ exhausted their Duke-related questions, Ko shared reflections about his professional accomplishments. In particular, Ko spoke about how he conquered his fear of performing on stage and even started making music.
“I have so many things working against me, you know, I’m like this nerdy white guy trying to do rap music,” said Ko. “I think that’s probably why it’s so fulfilling coming out with a new song, because I managed to pull it off again somehow and people aren’t cringing too hard so this is an achievement.”
“From selling tickets to our very first batch of shows to getting on stage in front of almost 3,000 people in Australia—that journey was just full of fear, and doubt and exhaustion. But I can look back on it now and be like, it was one of the best experiences of my entire life and the most fulfilling, too,” he continued.
Some students were captivated and inspired by Ko’s reflections.
“The thought that we could’ve been in the same room, or the same hall as someone who has that much notoriety—it’s just absurd,” said first-year Rosa Golchin, who is also a staff reporter for The Chronicle. “I guess it just reminds me of how great of a school Duke is. Maybe the person living next door to you could be the next Cody Ko.”
Correction: This story and its headline have been updated to reflect that Ko did not say that he regrets joining a fraternity, but that he regrets some of his actions as a fraternity member, and the story was updated to include a story about beach week that properly illustrates Ko's regrets. The Chronicle regrets the error.