By Marc Ang
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 8/31/21 – Comedy InvAsian 2.0 is a culturally important festival, as Asian Americans grow in numbers, fuse their identities in the second generation and become players in the greater mainstream American society. This energy was certainly captured by the variety of backgrounds with each of the 8 performers in the 2 day festival held at the Japanese American Museum. The talent was filmed and a lucky live audience in the intimate setting allowed for a select audience to see these talents before they rise up and become the next Jo Koy, who is now selling out large venues.
Joining me to cover this event was my friend and local up-and-coming comedian, Joe Luu, who gave his thoughts on all eight of the performances. Joe, like me, understands the importance of humor as a vehicle to helping the greater society understand the uniqueness and quirks of growing up Asian in America and the true way to push back on #StopAsianHate.
Overall, we can both agree that comedians have a big task: to have enough material and range to make 30 minutes interesting, compelling, humorous and wide ranging enough to keep the audience’s attention. Every comedian passed that bar and together, created an understanding of the Asian diaspora through 8 different personalities.
A few weeks ago when I watched Filipino American comedian Jo Koy at the Encore Theater in Las Vegas, I was amazed at how he was able to entertain an audience for over an hour and keep it interesting. But that’s because he had range: he was able to interact with 3 audience members and improvise, creating a natural conversation, but he also integrated practiced material that included making fun of the Filipino culture, COVID and fatherhood. He had enough elements to draw from a range and left us feeling like we knew this comedian better as a person through smart humor and entertainment.
“Crazy Rich Asians” presented a skewed version of what it means to be Asian and the greater society is slowly understanding the nuances of what it means to be Asian American, even Asian Americans themselves. This learning curve does not come with its challenges, as the sense of identity and context for a second generation child of immigrants, presents its own learning curve. Many don’t embrace their culture until they get older, and during that journey, some may get stuck at points and limit the range they could one day exhibit.
There is a clear difference between what an Asian male goes through compared to Asian females, and while we don’t want to tokenize or overly try to balance the sets as perfectly 50/50 (which the overall lineup did have), Saturday night effectively became the male portion (75 percent) and Sunday afternoon became the female portion (75 percent). Balancing it 50-50 would have been beneficial, since there were common themes across the board, but hey, I understand scheduling can be a challenge. There are clear differences between the genders, influenced by dynamics from our old school Asian cultures and this came into play with the overall performances.
The males generally drew upon their life experience, and so did the females. But stereotypes became very clear, unless you had someone who busted those stereotypes. Joe and I thought that the most interesting one was Aidan Park, a Korean American comedian who is gay and HIV positive. Joe likened Aidan’s energy to that of Jim Carrey’s, with his exuberance and his ability to talk to about heavy issues in a light hearted manner, the hallmark of a powerful comedian and communicator. In fact, Joe liked Aidan so much, he invited Aidan to perform at his American Legion veterans event, which is dominated by Asian veterans. So in the end, Aidan wins the unofficial Joe award for best comedian of the InvAsian.
George Wang’s unique background as a Chinese guy growing up in the Latino hood, connected to many Angelenos in the audience. I remember as a child how much I connected to the Mind of Mencia. So many of us Asian guys can relate strongly to our inner city upbringing around blacks and Latinos, either joining their cliques and gangs, or getting beaten up by them. Similarly, Vinayak Pal channeled the Indian stereotypes of IT nerd, and got many laughs from leveraging his background and his love for gadgets. Eli Nicolas also brought a unique flair, with his mastery of sound effects, adding to his fun presentation and skateboarder background. His ping pong skit from pink holes, was one of the unforgettable moments and he used sexual humor tastefully. Some comedians take it too far, but the men were overall balanced.
The first exposure to the female comedians was on Saturday night and Rosie Tran had the monopoly. Rosie, while she gave us many laughs with her sexual humor, fell into a cliche and perhaps the saddest of stereotypes. While we can get some laughs of the “me love you long time” routine, and the reality is many Asian females are perceived this way, thanks to Hollywood, we were left wanting more from these talented Asian female comedian up and comers. Even the heavier set and self deprecating Cambodian, Lin Sun, played on her weight, with jokes like after your 5th drink she would be bangable, plays to the same stereotypes from a different angle. This does not take away from the belly aches they gave us from the laughing.
The other two females played a different angle. Jiaoying Summers and Nishy XL played the accents and the tiger mom jokes and are naturally more focused on entrepreneurial leadership. Meanwhile, as I had previously interviewed both of them before the weekend, I was most fascinated by their business and charitable backgrounds. While we can get lots of laughs from their emulating of accents and playing on stereotypes, I would love to see them bring in more of their personal experiences in business, negotiations and charitable work. There is plenty of humor and plenty of their resume that can come out. The females in Comedy InvAsian would be an even greater force to be reckoned with, should they break out of the box.
Overall, I am thankful for executive producers Koji Steven Sakai (Little Nalu Pictures), Victor Elizalde (Viva Pictures), and Quentin Lee of Margin Films, for taking the first and important pioneering step, promoting the best way to heal racial divides and bring the community together: through humor and showcasing diverse backgrounds under the pan-Asian umbrella. I can’t wait to see what they do next and what each of the 8 comedians will do in the future. I foresee great things for each and every one.