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What You Don't Know About Anna Akana

Anna Akana's nomination in the YouTuber of the Year category at the last Shorty Awards marks just how far this aspiring standup comic turned internet star has come in the five years since she broadcast her first video on the platform. Specializing in comedy sketches and thought-provoking vlogs, Akana aims to blend satire with social commentary, discussing farting in business meetings one week and rape the next. Her YouTube channel now has close to 1.7 million subscribers and that figure shows no signs of slowing, but what exactly is all the fuss about? From family tragedy to current controversies, here's everything you don't know about Anna Akana.

Her dad was a US Marine

Akana had a very strict upbringing thanks to her father, who spent 23 years as an officer in the United States Marine Corps. According to Akana, the parenting techniques employed by her dad involved an Army-style wakeup call at 6AM every Saturday, with an early start on her lessons expected even on a weekend. He had his daughters adhering to a "one sport, one instrument" regiment, though even under military lockdown Anna found ways to unwind. She admitted to secretly smoking weed in her bedroom from time to time, something her dad was aware of but couldn't do anything about—seeing as every time he tried to catch her in the act, she'd pretend she was deeply engrossed in a book, and "you can't really yell at your daughter for getting high and then reading," as she puts it. In the end, Akana was grateful to her father for instilling in her the value of productivity.

She's multiracial and proud

While her family name is quite clearly Japanese, she's described her overall background as "Japanese, Hawaiian, Filipino and a bunch of white stuff," a mix she's proud of but found to be an obstacle after she dropped out of community college in 2009 and headed for Hollywood in pursuit of a career in the performing arts. "On the one hand, there's so little of us [Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders] that it's a much smaller competitive pool, but on the other hand, most of the roles that we are afforded are very stereotypical," she explained. "You're either a computer hacker, a doctor, or the best friend that's smart or highly sexualized." Despite her multiracial ancestry, Akana personally identifies as an Asian American and was the proud recipient of the San Diego Asian Film Festival's first annual Digital Pioneer Award.

Her sister committed suicide

Anna's 13-year-old sister Kristina committed suicide in 2007, shocking her friends and devastating her family. Anna had planned to follow in her father's footsteps and join the military up until this point, but fell into a depression after the unexpected death of her sibling, losing purpose and direction. She shut herself away from the world for months on end until by chance she happened upon a Comedy Central special with Asian comedian Margaret Cho, a professional hero of hers who would also turn out to be a personal inspiration. It was the first time she'd laughed since her sister's passing, and it felt so good that she decided there and then to "devote her life" to comedy. "I have been just chasing laughs since then," Akana told NBC News.

Social anxiety turned her to YouTube

When she turned 19, Akana decided to follow her new calling and throw herself into the comedy club circuit, performing standup routines in front of large audiences that usually included her mother and father. Even with her parents in attendance, however, Akana started to struggle with the idea of putting on live shows in front of a roomful of strangers, and before long was experiencing severe panic attacks as a result. After two years of suffering from crippling stage fright, Akana discovered the potential of YouTube. From the comfort of her own home, she was able to launch her own personal channel and bring her brand of comedy direct to viewers, conquering the insecurities that plagued her but never ignoring them in her videos. Akana has called her YouTube channel a "kind of library of all my issues I've lived with."

YouTube opened the door to acting

Whoever said being a YouTube celebrity isn't a real job needs to Google the name PewDiePie—the most successful YouTuber ever, he's a millionaire several times over thanks to his hugely popular channel. For Akana, however, YouTube stardom isn't the end goal, but simply a stepping stone into acting. While she isn't even close to being on the same level as PewDiePie (the world famous Swedish vlogger has over 51.7 million subscribers at the time of this writing) as far as top earning YouTubers are concerned, she's still been able to make enough money from her YouTube exploits to fund her own projects and get herself noticed as an actress in the process. In 2015, she played Batista in the comedy short Wrestling Isn't Wrestling, a mock case study of WWE superstar Triple H, and in 2016 she starred as a blind Jedi Master in the Star Wars fan film Hoshino. Her short film Miss Earth proved to be so popular that Verizon commissioned a six-season run on their go90 streaming service, renaming the show Miss 2059.

She's slowly breaking into the mainstream

If you don't use YouTube or haven't caught up with go90, then the chances are you aren't familiar with Akana, though that doesn't necessarily mean you've never seen her before. Some film fans will no doubt scratch their heads trying to remember where they've seen her face, and it's time to put you out of your misery: the biggest flick she's ever been involved with is 2015's Ant-Man, in which she played a guerrilla journalist featured in one of Michael Pena's hilarious flashback stories. Her most prominent role, on the other hand, came in 2016's Dirty 30. Starring as the bitchy villain alongside fellow YouTube stars Mamrie Hart, Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart, Akana proved that her particular brand of comedy translates to the big screen well, and she recently bagged a role alongside Maria Bello in the upcoming fantasy drama Undying, set for release in 2018.

She's a self-confessed crazy cat lady

To call Anna Akana a cat lover would be a gross understatement. With six furbabies currently living under her roof (Libby, Abby, Jimmy, Congress, Ghost and a kitten named Beetle that she recently added to her feline family after some friends found it abandoned in a dumpster), Akana readily admits she falls into the crazy cat lady category. A number of her videos involve her and the cats reviewing bizarre products, from kitty costumes and pet strollers to cat wine (yes, that's a thing), though from time to time she gives them more of a starring role. Akana's most memorable cat video chronicled the beginning of the so-called feline wars, with Congress donning a Halo-style Exoskelton and killing off Akana's boyfriend and sound guy before being tricked out of his armored suit by his owner. Akana goes on to reign over the world with her kitties by her side, each with a Exo-suit of their own. It's about as crazy as crazy cat ladies get.

She starred in the first ever scripted Snapchat series

YouTuber of the Year wasn't the only category in which Akana received a nod at the eighth annual Shorty Awards, with her work also being acknowledged in the Best Web Series nominations. The award eventually went to Good Mythical Morning, a YouTube talk show presented by comedy double act Rhett and Link, though Akana's SnapperHero won praise from the Shorty panel for its originality and unique take on fan service. The story followed fictional superheroes and villains (Akana was joined by fellow YouTube royalty Freddie Wong, Harley Morenstein, and Jasmeet Singh) whose powers can be altered by the viewers. The show was designed exclusively for SnapChat and, much like ordinary Snaps, would only be available for a short amount of time—12 episodes were aired in 2015, with each being available to view for just 24 hours. Creative director Shaun McBride compared the viewing experience to "a slice of cake. You eat it, and it's really delicious, and then it's gone."

She teaches standup comedy to bullied teens

When camera manufacturer Canon set up their Rebel with a Cause anti-bullying campaign, they asked Akana to take part in some of their workshops, not because she uses (and endorses) their products, but because she has personal experience with the often devastating consequences of bullying and knows that comedy can be a tool for healing. During a recent session at the Groundlings Comedy School, Akana showed an audience of teenagers how they could take their personal experiences with bullying and turn them into their own standup material. "When you're joking about painful experiences, one of the most powerful things is that you can take your power back," she pointed out. "I remember the first time I was able to make a joke about my sister's suicide. It felt so good because I was in a place where I could laugh. It had less power over me."

She saw Carrie Fisher having a heart attack

Akana was sitting next to Carrie Fisher on a December 2016 flight from London to Los Angeles when the Star Wars legend went into cardiac arrest. Fisher was attended to by the United crew until the aircraft landed at LAX and she was able to receive medical attention, though she later died in the hospital. The shocked YouTuber revealed details of the heart attack before media outlets caught wind of it, telling her followers that Fisher had "stopped breathing on the flight home. Hope she's gonna be ok."

The tweet was met with a mixture of shock, sadness and a general disgust that Akana saw fit to share details of Fisher's critical condition with the world before the authorities were able to inform her family. One user replied with "Congratulations for your moment of glory tweeting about this, Anna Akara. The biggest step of your career." Many were nowhere near as friendly as that, but Akana defended her intentions, claiming that if she herself were in the same position as Fisher's family then she would have wanted to know as soon as possible.