8Questions with Barney Cheng, Director of “Baby Steps”

Back in September 2018, I did a review of a movie Baby Steps on 8Asians. The movie was written, directed and starred Barney Cheng. I was still so intrigued with the movie, that I got in contact with Barney and asked him to do this 8Questions segment for 8Asians.

Before we get to the questions, a little bit about Barney from his wikipedia page

Barney Cheng is a Taiwanese-American actor, director, writer and producer. Cheng was born in Taipei, Taiwan. His family emigrated to the United States when he was 12 years old and he grew up in Brea, California. He speaks Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese Hokkien fluently.

and from his own official site:

Barney Cheng landed on the Hollywood map as an actor in 2002 with his acclaimed performance in Woody Allen’s Hollywood Ending.  The New York Times described Barney’s comedic timing as “surgically precise.” The Orange County Register raved that Barney “steals every scene he’s in.” Barney accompanied Woody Allen to promote the film and to open the 55th Cannes Film Festival. 

On to the questions:

1. How did you get the idea for the movie Baby Steps?

I came across a story about a gay couple from Israel. They wanted to have a baby, but since it was illegal for gay couples to hire surrogates in Israel, they flew to the U.S. to work with an American egg donor. They flew to India to transfer the embryos to an Indian surrogate. Nine months later, they traveled across the globe to pick up their baby. I was intrigued by the couple’s emotional and physical journey, and I could see that as a movie. Then I thought, “What if it were my life? What if I had a partner, and we decided to have kids?” Baby Steps was conceived.

2. You wrote, directed and starred in Baby Steps, how similar are you to the main character Danny?

Very different. The movie is fictional. I’m single and don’t have kids. However, the film is inspired by the relationship between my mother and me. She definitely evolved throughout the years. The more than 20 years of her evolution — coming to terms with my coming out to full acceptance — was captured in the 90-minute film!

3. What advice would you give a gay Asian American who wants to be a parent?

To be visible, open and out. It’s important to be proud of who you are and be a role model for your child. Being in the closet conveys a message of shame, and that would be detrimental to the child’s development.

4. I read that you showed Baby Steps in mainland China. What was that like?

The State Department under the Obama Administration hosted U.S. embassy screenings of the film in six cities in China. At the screenings, the staff at the American consulates handed out study guides to highlight American culture and LGBT marriage equality. After the screenings, I was surprised to learn that many Chinese audiences didn’t think that the story was plausible. It seemed like a fairy tale to many Chinese audiences. Many of them just couldn’t imagine coming out to their parents and getting the kind of acceptance that Danny received. They also couldn’t imagine living openly as gay people and having children as gay parents.

5. Who are your role models and influences on your work?

I don’t have specific role models for my work, but as a storyteller, I always aim to be authentic, real and truthful.

6. Compared with Danny, how supportive have your parents been in your career, life, and movies?

I remember when we were filming Baby Steps in Taipei, my mother would make me breakfast each morning to make sure that I was well-prepared for the long, hectic day ahead. We would have early 5 o’clock calls, and my mom would get up at 3:00 a.m. to make me breakfast. She didn’t have to say anything, but I felt that she cared. Taiwanese parents rarely say explicitly “I love you” or “I care about you.” They show through actions.

The movie was released theatrically in Taiwan. When we were promoting for the release, it was very important to me to be an openly out filmmaker and actor. One of the important themes of Baby Steps is being open and authentic, and our promotion campaign had to be consistent with that vision. My mom joined me on a TV talk show to promote the film. My mother openly shared her struggles of coming to terms with having a gay son. She invited all of her friends to see the film in theater. And my mother enrolled friends and relatives to join her at marriage equality rallies in Taiwan. Through Baby Steps, she “came out.”

7. Do you have any new projects in the works you can tell us about?

I’m developing a TV series called “Curated Lies,” and it centers around an Asian-American family in a wine country. I’ve recently finished filming a transgender love and acceptance video for the Asian-American LGBTQ community. It’s called A Love LetterPlease check it out: https://youtu.be/irjUBWxgSPY

8. Where can someone watch “Baby Steps” now?

All digital platforms. We recommend Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/yawje8ry

Q&A with Paget Kagy of ‘Kat Loves LA’ and EXCLUSIVE new episode early release

By Dawn Lee Tu

Exclusive for 8Asians readers, check out Episode 6 of Kat Loves LA here before it gets released on 1/28!

Star, writer, and producer of Kat Loves LA, on not denying your Asian American identity, making that big leap into acting, and her love of rom-coms…

Paget Kagy (pronounced KAY-gee) is no stranger to talking about representations of Asian Americans in Hollywood. Kagy describes her parents as strong Asian American figures in her life who “always spoke about Asian American representation in the media and they were very well-educated in that way.” Her father, a successful lawyer, published Transpacific Magazine, one of the first Asian American magazines in the U.S., in the late 1980s which had a lasting impact on Kagy. He often spoke about “how there were never any Asian American role models in the media who weren’t stereotyped.” As a result, when Kagy took that leap into acting, she knew that she would create content and write roles with Asian American leads.

When Kagy began to write her web series Kat Loves LA (KLLA), currently available on YouTube, she was set on challenging Hollywood’s notions of being able to cast Asian Americans as leads in a mainstream and universally appealing and entertaining way.

I chatted with Kagy about the impact her parents had on her decision to go into acting, a very traumatic audition for The Lion King, and whether or not Kat finds love by the end of Season 1.

How did you grow up? What were some formative experiences?
I was born in LA and I grew up here to two Korean parents and they moved here when they were really young so they’re extremely acculturated. My dad went to law school at UC Berkeley and my mom’s very well-educated. I’ve always strongly identified as Korean but when I was growing up, I was one of maybe three other Asian Americans in my class which was predominantly Caucasian. So I remember having a confusing relationship with being Asian because I didn’t see anyone who looked like me who was setting the standard of beauty or popularity in the school I went to or in the media.

I do remember how kids can be cruel … kids would say, “go back to China” or they would pull back the corners of their eyes. I just thought that was the way the world unfairly saw Asians. I would always fight back but it was tough feeling like you’re an outsider just because of the way you look. I used to remember feeling like I wasn’t pretty or attractive. I didn’t set any kinds of standards of beauty or anything and it just made fitting in a little bit harder. I wasn’t a loner; I had friends but it was just kind of like a struggle that I internalized to a certain extent.

I guess it didn’t help that I was also kind of weird as a kid.

Continue reading “Q&A with Paget Kagy of ‘Kat Loves LA’ and EXCLUSIVE new episode early release”

Fun, irreverent Alice Lee on playing a badass in Philip K. Dick’s ‘Electric Dreams’ Series

By Dawn Lee Tu

PHILIP K. DICK’S ELECTRIC DREAMS – SEASON 1 – EPISODE 106 – “Safe and Sound” (photo: Elizabeth Sisson © 2017 Sony Pictures Television)

Alice Lee has been in the game for a decade and there’s a good chance you’ve seen her before.

Her impressive body of work includes Broadway (award-winning Spring Awakeningand Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark) and off-Broadway (Heathers the Musical), indy film (Jack, Jules, Esther and Me), television (Switched at Birth, Son of Zorn, The Mindy Project, Two Broke Girls), to reality-music talent show Rising Star. She finds time to cover songs and release original music on her YouTube channel. Lee is also the fresh-faced Asian customer service agent in the Discover Card commercialthat always sparks a fresh round of “Spot the Asian,” my favorite game to play while watching TV.

She can be seen in Safe and Sound, premiering January 12th on Amazon Prime Video. Safe and Soundis an part of Philip K. Dick’s anthology Electric Dreams, a sci-fi anthology series of ten epic, ambitious and moving standalone episodes, each set in a different and unique world – some which lie in the far reaches of the universe and time and others which are much, much closer to home. While the stories may be worlds apart, central to each is the poignant and warm exploration of the importance and significance of humanity.

Each episode is inspired by one of Philip K. Dick’s renowned short stories and has been adapted by leading British and American writers including Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Outlander),Michael Dinner (Justified), Tony Grisoni (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), Matthew Graham (Doctor Who), David Farr (The Night Manager), Dee Rees (Mudbound) and Travis Beacham (Pacific Rim) among others.

Lee and I talked over the phone about her latest breakout role, balancing her love for singing and acting, and how she cultivates her creative energies.

Continue reading “Fun, irreverent Alice Lee on playing a badass in Philip K. Dick’s ‘Electric Dreams’ Series”

Did Jesus Die in Ancient Japan?

Twenty thousand people every year visit Shingō Village in the Aomori Prefecture (referred to as: Kirisuto no Sato or “Hometown of Christ” by locals) that claims that Jesus visited Japan during his lost years and then returned after escaping crucifixion by having his brother take his place on the cross, making his way to Shingō where he became a garlic farmer, married a local woman, and had three children.

Today, in Shingō, you can visit Jesus’ alleged grave site and museum. Next to Jesus’ mound is another mound where Jesus’ brother’s ear is buried along with a lock of hair from Mary—both of which, according to the legend, he carried with him when he fled execution.

Just in case that’s hard to read:

When Jesus Christ was 21 years old, he came to Japan and pursued knowledge of divinity for 12 years. He went back to Judea at age 33 and engaged in his mission. However, at that time, people in Judea would not accept Christ’s preaching. Instead, they arrested him and tried to crucify him on a cross. His younger brother, Isukiri casually took Christ’s place and ended his life on the cross.

Christ, who escaped the crucifixion, went through the ups and downs of travel, and again came to Japan. He settled right here in what is now called Herai Village, and died at the age of 106.

On this holy ground, there is dedicated a burial mound on the right to deify Christ, and a grave on the left to deify Isukiri.

The above description was given in a testament by Jesus Christ.

Sound ridiculous? That’s because it is. Especially when you consider the fact that only one percent of people in Japan identify as Christian. But let’s pretend for a moment that there is something actually to this whole thing. How do people know Jesus visited Japan and then later died there? According to the legend, in 1935, Jesus’ last will and testament was found, which proved that he had not only been in Japan but died there. The document was “coincidentally” burned during World War II, but “luckily” someone had made copies.

What’s the proof that Jesus was actually in Shingō? Here is the “evidence” that is often cited:

It has been pointed out that some of the traditional clothing of the region included toga-like robes worn by men that were unlike other Japanese clothing, as well as veils worn by women, all of which seem more like something from biblical Palestine than Japan. In addition, some of the ancient traditions of the area included other things that are considered to be decidedly non-Japanese, such as carrying babies in woven baskets, wrapping them in robes embroidered with something akin to the Star of David, and marking their foreheads with crosses of charcoal. Even the regional dialect is said to have connections to the Holy Land, with some words resembling Hebrew more than Japanese. Even the name of the village itself was once Herai, which is remarkably similar to the Japanese word for Hebrew, Heburai. On top of all of this, it was once said that many of the villagers had decidedly foreign looking facial features and even blue eyes- let’s ignore that Jesus most certainly did not have blue eyes- that were seen to be a sign that they were descended from someone of non-Japanese origin. (Source)

My favorite part of the myth is Jesus’ supposed decedents have not let the fact that they are related to arguably the most important person to ever walk our planet get to their heads. In fact, a reporter asked one of them if they were going to do anything for Christmas and this was their answer:

“I’m not really planning anything at all for the 25th as it doesn’t really matter to us,” said 52-year-old Mr Sawaguchi. “I know I am descended from Jesus but as a Buddhist it’s just not all that important.” (Source)

Thankfully, it appears that most people in the village don’t actually believe any of this. They seem to mostly want to play along because it brings tourists—from I imagine all over the world—to a small village no one would visit otherwise and spend money at the museum gift shop.

“We’re not saying that the story is true or what is written in the Bible is wrong,” a village official told the BBC. “All we are saying is that this is a very interesting old legend. It’s up to the people who come here to decide how they interpret it.” (Source)

Are you interested in visiting Kirisuto no Sato? It’s apparently quite a commute from Tokyo. For specifics, check out CNN’s Travel article.

What do you think? Any chance Jesus didn’t die on the cross and ended up in Japan as a garlic farmer instead?

Follow me at @ksakai1  

8Questions: Comedy InvAsian with Atsuko Okatsuka

comedyinvasianfeb11

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to produce a one hour special for the super talented Dwayne Perkins called Take Notes. (If you want to check it out, it’s on Netflix). It was a fun and great project to work on. That’s why when director/producer Quentin Lee and I were trying to figure out our next project, doing a stand up series featuring Asian Americans made sense. Comedy InvAsian is what came out of those conversations.

Comedy InvAsian, a six-part live stand-up series featuring some of the country’s top Asian American comedians as well as talented newcomers, each performing one-hour specials. Our first season includes Paul Kim, Atsuko Okatsuka, Kevin Yee, Joey Guila, Robin Tran and Amy Hill.

I decided to ask them all 8 questions. Finally, the last comedian is Atsuko Okatsuka. Here is a a short bio and a video of her work:

Atsuko Okatsuka is a standup comedian, actress, and filmmaker. She is the co-founder of Dis/orient/ed Comedy, the first ever all Asian, mostly female standup comedy tour. She has performed on Comedy Central Presents: Stand Up, Asia! and opened for Margaret Cho at The famous Wiltern in Los Angeles.

1. On a scale from 1 to 5, how would you rate your childhood and why? (With 1 being the perfect All-American childhood and 5 being completely and utterly traumatized.)

I’d rate my childhood at a 4 because while it wasn’t completely traumatizing, I did move to the States without my knowledge that we were staying here.  My grandma told me we were coming to the States for a 2 month vacation and then we overstayed our Visa.  So there was that.  And also, my mom’s schizophrenia made life a wee bit difficult to navigate at a  young age.  But hey, I’m now an American citizen.  Just in time for what’s his name to be President.  What a blessing.

2. Tell us about the moment you knew you wanted to be a comedian/actor.

I used to jump on opportunities to break awkward silences or tensions in rooms, particularly during tense family gatherings.  If I was able to make even one person at the table break out into a smile or laughter, I felt that I was doing my job as a sort of mediator.  So at a young age, I knew there was joy in wanting to be some sort of funny person/performer.

3. How did your parents react?

My grandma who raised me is supportive for the most part.  For her though, the ideal situation is that I continue having gigs like my community college or high school teaching jobs while I continue doing comedy and performing “on the side.”  My mom too.  But, as I continue to perform at bigger venues and receive bigger opportunities (i.e. Comedy Central taping, being written up in LA Weekly, etc.), they approve more and more of me doing comedy.  Family reactions are very predictable… yet we’re trained to be scared & surprised when they feel disappointed.  Haha.

4. If you weren’t a comedian/actor, what would you have been?

Wow I really don’t know.  A motivational speaker?  But a funny one.

5. How funny are you in real life?

I’m silly.  This feels like a trick question but if you’re asking if I make people laugh in real life, yes.  I live for it.

6. This isn’t a question, but a statement. Make me laugh.

When I told my mom I was doing an hour of stand up, she was like “AN HOUR?? Are you going to talk about me?”

And I was like “Yeah mom.  And… a  lot of other stuff.”

Then she was like “Oh good, good.  So you’re not going to talk about me for a whole HOUR.”

And I was like “Oh, no, mom.  That’s– only in therapy.”

7. Tell us about your worst troll or heckler and how you responded.

I only had someone start responding to my rhetorical questions and thoughts while I was on stage out loud during the show.  To which I stopped while I was saying and told him, “I’m so sorry sir, but you’re not on the line up tonight.”

8. What advice would you give to young Asian American comedians/actors?

This is our time!  Get out there.  And if you’re pursuing comedy, I’d love to sit down and talk you through it or help you in any way I can.

Atsuko will be performing on Saturday, February 11, 2017 at 7:30 pm at the Japanese American National Museum. Click here to buy tickets.

Follow me on Twitter @ksakai1

8Questions: Comedy InvAsian with Joey Guila

comedyinvasianfeb24

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to produce a one hour special for the super talented Dwayne Perkins called Take Notes. (If you want to check it out, it’s on Netflix). It was a fun and great project to work on. That’s why when director/producer Quentin Lee and I were trying to figure out our next project, doing a stand up series featuring Asian Americans made sense. Comedy InvAsian is what came out of those conversations.

Comedy InvAsian, a six-part live stand-up series featuring some of the country’s top Asian American comedians as well as talented newcomers, each performing one-hour specials. Our first season includes Paul Kim, Atsuko Okatsuka, Kevin Yee, Joey Guila, Robin Tran and Amy Hill.

I decided to ask them all 8 questions. Next up is, Joey Guila.

Here is a quick bio and video:

Joey Guila has been featured on VH1, G4 Tech TV, Showtime and was the headliner on The Filipino Kingz Tour. In 2003 he won the regional “Kings Of Comedy Search” competition. Joey also has hosted two TV shows on Myx TV called That’s My Jam & Myx Rated which won a Telly Award.

1. On a scale from 1 to 5, how would you rate your childhood and why? (With 1 being the perfect All-American childhood and 5 being completely and utterly traumatized.)

I would rate my childhood a 2, almost perfect except my Pop was a Playa! Growing up in the 70’s was amazing, I miss eating Chicken Adobo and watching Soul Train.

2. Tell us about the moment you knew you wanted to be a comedian.

When I was 23 I was diagnosed with cancer, while going through treatment I used to watch stand-up comedy and remember how great I felt by just laughing. I told myself when I’m healthy and in remission I would love to pursue comedy and spread healing laughter.

3. How did your parents react?

My Mom was very supportive, she was happy to see me doing what I love. My Dad was like…. you sure you want to be a comedian and not a playa?

4. If you weren’t a comedian/actor, what would you have been?

Probably a chef, I believe food prepared with love is another way of connecting with people.

5. How funny are you in real life?

I enjoy bringing a lil bit of laughter with me where ever I go, to brighten up a stranger’s day is what I love. My fiance calls it flirting when I’m joking with the ladies at Starbucks, but then says its a blessing when we get a free Latte. I guess you can call me the Barista Mac Daddy.

6. This isn’t a question, but a statement. Make me laugh.

Google “Dry Hump”

7. Tell us about your worst troll or heckler and how you responded.

I was asked to donate my time to perform at a hospital, but when I got to the lobby there were four rows of senior citizens and a microphone. They thought they were there for a diabetes support group. The coordinator said, “Today we have a better treat for you, we have Joey.” All I heard was an angry old man yelling, “Who da hell is Joey”… and without thinking I said “Yo Mama.” I felt bad, I gave him a hug after the show and we shared a donut on the down low.

8. What advice would you give to young Asian American comedians?

I would ask them why they wanted to be a comedian or an actor, and if I heard the word “passion” or “happiness” in the answer I would just say continue to do what you love.

Joey will be performing on Friday, February 24, 2017 at 7:30 pm at the Japanese American National Museum. Click here to buy tickets.

Follow me on Twitter @ksakai1

8Questions: Comedy InvAsian with Amy Hill

comedyinvasianfeb26

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to produce a one hour special for the super talented Dwayne Perkins called Take Notes. (If you want to check it out, it’s on Netflix). It was a fun and great project to work on. That’s why when director/producer Quentin Lee and I were trying to figure out our next project, doing a stand up series featuring Asian Americans made sense. Comedy InvAsian is what came out of those conversations.

Comedy InvAsian, a six-part live stand-up series featuring some of the country’s top Asian American comedians as well as talented newcomers, each performing one-hour specials. Our first season includes Paul Kim, Atsuko Okatsuka, Kevin Yee, Joey Guila, Robin Tran and Amy Hill.

I decided to ask them all 8 questions. Next up is, Amy Hill.

Here is a quick bio and video:

Amy Hill’s television and film credits number over 150. She is recently recurring on “Crazy Ex Girlfriend”, “UnReal” and “The Great Indoors”.  She’s a regular on Amazon Prime’s “Just Add Magic” which is currently streaming the first season and is set to release seasons 2 and 3 early next year.

1. On a scale from 1 to 5, how would you rate your childhood and why? (With 1 being the perfect All-American childhood and 5 being completely and utterly traumatized.)

In the midst of my childhood, I thought it was HORRIBLE.  My mom was an immigrant Japanese war bride with thick accent who insisted on putting Japanese food in my lunch.  I went to an all-white elementary school with a white collar population.  My dad was blue collar Finnish American with a mid-western Finn attitude and accent who struggled to keep a job.  We were super poor and I was shunned by most kids and disliked by some teachers due to the my mixed heritage.  As I grew older and learned how the others lived, my parents and my family was closer to being All-American than any of the others. Thus, I give my childhood a “1”.

2. Tell us about the moment you knew you wanted to be a comedian/actor.

After moving to San Francisco to study theater, it was the heyday of improv and sketch comedy and I fell in love with it.

3. How did your parents react?

My parents were always supportive.  I think they were concerned that we might not succeed in life, being biracial, so whatever we did was great.

4. If you weren’t a comedian/actor, what would you have been?

A drama queen?

5. How funny are you in real life?

I think I’m funnier in real life because life is so hard!!

6. This isn’t a question, but a statement. Make me laugh.

 I don’t do stand up.

7. Tell us about your worst troll or heckler and how you responded.

I don’t do stand up.  I’m going to heckled??  Nobody told me!!!

8. What advice would you give to young Asian American comedians/actors?

Don’t do stand up, you’ll apparently be heckled!!

Amy will be performing on Sunday, February 26, 2017 at 7:30 pm at the Japanese American National Museum. Click here to buy tickets.

Follow me on Twitter @ksakai1

8Questions: Comedy InvAsian with Robin Tran

comedyinvasianfeb25

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to produce a one hour special for the super talented Dwayne Perkins called Take Notes. (If you want to check it out, it’s on Netflix). It was a fun and great project to work on. That’s why when director/producer Quentin Lee and I were trying to figure out our next project, doing a stand up series featuring Asian Americans made sense. Comedy InvAsian is what came out of those conversations.

Comedy InvAsian, a six-part live stand-up series featuring some of the country’s top Asian American comedians as well as talented newcomers, each performing one-hour specials. Our first season includes Paul Kim, Atsuko Okatsuka, Kevin Yee, Joey Guila, Robin Tran and Amy Hill.

I decided to ask them all 8 questions. Next up is Robin Tran.

Here is a quick bio and video:

Robin Tran came out as a transgender woman in 2015 and has been writing about her experiences ever since. Based out of Orange County, Robin has performed all over Southern California, and she has won first place in three separate comedy competitions.  In 2016, she released a self-funded half-hour comedy special on YouTube entitled “Santa Doesn’t Like Every Kid.”

1. On a scale from 1 to 5, how would you rate your childhood and why? (With 1 being the perfect All-American childhood and 5 being completely and utterly traumatized.)

A 4. My dad was (is?) an alcoholic. My mom suffered from undiagnosed depression (until the past few years). My sister constantly berated and abused me. My earliest memories are eight people living in a tiny two-bedroom apartment (my parents, sister, me, aunt, uncle, and two cousins) and I had to share a crib with my cousin. We lived in poverty. My dad constantly threatened to leave the family. Etc. You get the idea.

2. Tell us about the moment you knew you wanted to be a comedian.

I was watching Chris Rock’s “Bigger & Blacker” and it was the most inspiring thing I’d ever seen. The special that made me feel like I can actually *do* stand-up comedy though was Louis CK’s “Shameless” from 2006.

3. How did your parents react?

They told me that it was a good hobby but eventually I’d have to quit and find a new job. They held this mindset until that NBC News article came out about Comedy InvAsian. Now they don’t want me to work anymore and think that I’m going to be famous. (Actually, they already think I’m famous, but I don’t have the heart to break it to them that I’m so not.)

4. If you weren’t a comedian, what would you have been?

Either a men’s rights activist or dead lol.

5. How funny are you in real life?

I’m very funny in small groups of 2-4 people. Very shy in groups of 5 or more people.

6. This isn’t a question, but a statement. Make me laugh.

I used to wear a fedora in college because I really wanted to excel as a straight white guy but I ended up being none of those three things.

7. Tell us about your worst troll or heckler and how you responded.

Some guy was just muttering angrily under his breath during my set and said “BRUCE” a couple of times (referring to Caitlyn Jenner) and I said “how does it feel that half of the country wants me dead and I still have more friends than you do?”

8. What advice would you give to young Asian American comedians?

Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it. Representation is increasing. Watch shows like Fresh off the Boat to be inspired. Also, you’re unique, so always remember that. A lot of people will give you advice as to the *one way* there is to make it. “Get up this many times a week.” “Don’t do this or that or you’ll burn bridges.” All I can say is, figure out how to “make it” your own way, because everybody has a different road, and everybody has different goals/destinations. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to impress your comedian friends. Branch out outside of your local community. Use the Internet and social media to increase your following. And lastly, take a break when you need to.

Robin will be performing on Saturday, February  25, 2017 at 7:30 pm at the Japanese American National Museum. Click here to buy tickets.

Follow me on Twitter @ksakai1

8Questions: Comedy InvAsian with Paul PK Kim

comedyinvasianfeb10

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to produce a one hour special for the super talented Dwayne Perkins called Take Notes. (If you want to check it out, it’s on Netflix). It was a fun and great project to work on. That’s why when director/producer Quentin Lee and I were trying to figure out our next project, doing a stand up series featuring Asian Americans made sense. Comedy InvAsian is what came out of those conversations.

Comedy InvAsian, a six-part live stand-up series featuring some of the country’s top Asian American comedians as well as talented newcomers, each performing one-hour specials. Our first season includes Paul Kim, Atsuko Okatsuka, Kevin Yee, Joey Guila, Robin Tran and Amy Hill.

I decided to ask them all 8 questions. Next is, Paul PK Kim.

Here is a quick bio and video:

Paul “PK” Kim (PK stand for Paul Kim and Preacher’s Kid) is a regular at The World Famous Laugh Factory in Hollywood. He was the Grand Prize Winner of The Uncle Clyde’s Comedy Cup at The Pasadena Icehouse sponsored by H2F Productions.

1. On a scale from 1 to 5, how would you rate your childhood and why? (With 1 being the perfect All-American childhood and 5 being completely and utterly traumatized.)

A 4. Only Asian in all majority white elementary school. Only Asian in white little league team. Really skinny kid with Sora.  Raised in extremely conservative Christian family.

2. Tell us about the moment you knew you wanted to be a comedian.

6th grade.  Friends Cassette tape what was taboo to listen to. Eddie Murphy. Delirious.

3. How did your parents react?

They knew when they came to my Pasadena Ice House show when I was 33 and my dad past away soon after he came to the show.  They weren’t happy but they said if you’re going to do it then do it all the way.

4. If you weren’t a comedian/actor, what would you have been?

Teacher

5. How funny are you in real life?

Funny with friends

6. This isn’t a question, but a statement. Make me laugh.

You in a library with Will Farrell and Bobby Lee’s face.  That’s it.

7. Tell us about your worst troll or heckler and how you responded.

A guy said I need more drinks. I said go get it then. It didn’t end well.

8. What advice would you give to young Asian American comedians?

BE DISCIPLINED. Or you’re wasting your time. Be focused.

PK will be performing on Friday, February 10, 2017 at 7:30 pm at the Japanese American National Museum. Click here to buy tickets.

Follow me on Twitter @ksakai1

8Questions: Comedy InvAsian with Kevin Yee

comedyinvasianfeb12

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to produce a one hour special for the super talented Dwayne Perkins called Take Notes. (If you want to check it out, it’s on Netflix). It was a fun and great project to work on. That’s why when director/producer Quentin Lee and I were trying to figure out our next project, doing a stand up series featuring Asian Americans made sense. Comedy InvAsian is what came out of those conversations.

Comedy InvAsian, a six-part live stand-up series featuring some of the country’s top Asian American comedians as well as talented newcomers, each performing one-hour specials. Our first season includes Paul Kim, Atsuko Okatsuka, Kevin Yee, Joey Guila, Robin Tran and Amy Hill.

I decided to ask them all 8 questions. First up, Kevin Yee. (Who it should be noted once was in a 90’s boy band. Check out this REALLY interesting article in Cosmo).

Here is a quick bio on Kevin:
Kevin Yee and his original satirical songs have been making people laugh across America and beyond. He is a former member of Quincy Jones’s boy band Youth Asylum and toured in many Broadway productions. In addition, he has been featured in articles in The AtlanticOut, and The Guardian, and showcased at comedy festivals across the U.S.

But his bio doesn’t do justice to the unique stand-up he does. To get a glimpse, watch this video (Please note, this video is probably not be appropriate for work)

1. On a scale from 1 to 5, how would you rate your childhood and why? (With 1 being the perfect All-American childhood and 5 being completely and utterly traumatized.)

Would anyone answer 1? I’d like to meet that person. They’re probably super fucked up. I’m in the middle, a 3. I’m a product of divorce, I was super awkward, but I feel like everyone’s childhood should be a little fucked up. That’s what made me strong and gave me the ability to deal with what I deal with on a daily basis.

2. Tell us about the moment you knew you wanted to be a comedian/actor.

I’ve been a performer since I was a kid, first paying job was when I was six, so I can’t really say there was a specific moment where I knew I wanted to be a performer. Or if there was I was too young to remember. I was always an actor singer and dancer so it was a natural progression from it being a childhood hobby to becoming my bread and butter. Becoming a comedian was a little different though since it was more recent. I had been a Broadway actor for many years and been able to pay my bills and live well. I honestly thought I’d do that for the rest of my life, but I became really burnt out. I was doing major dance musicals eight times a week for years on end. It became more of a job than a passion and I knew it had turned into someone else’s dream. I also felt like I had gone as far as I could. I was always the chorus boy, or auditioning for the gay best friend, the Chinese takeout guy, but I was never given the lead role, never able to step into the spotlight. I was getting frustrated that I didn’t see a real place for me in the entertainment industry besides being the “diversity.” So becoming a comedian was my way of building that place for myself. I had been writing these weird songs since I was a teenager and I knew I had something fun in them, so a few years ago I sold my stuff and moved to L.A. to pursue comedy full-time.

3. How did your parents react?

My dad isn’t in my life but he was never fond of me being a performer when I was a kid. My mother is not a stage mother at all and seems to always trust me with whatever decisions I make.

4. If you weren’t a comedian/actor, what would you have been?

I always wanted to be a newscaster. When I was a kid I always had a fascination with the news. I think I just like the art of crafting stories. But now the news is a little much: it’s all about the outrage and ratings. I think it would give me hives working in that environment.

5. How funny are you in real life?

I think my friends would say that I am weird and that my blunt honesty makes them laugh. I’m very much a realist. But I don’t walk around trying out jokes on unsuspecting baristas….

6. This isn’t a question, but a statement. Make me laugh.

I can forward your information to my agent and you can negotiate a private concert if you want. Otherwise, I’m not on the clock. So. Sorry. Not sorry.

7. Tell us about your worst troll or heckler and how you responded.

I’ve been trolled a lot online, but I usually ignore it since confrontation isn’t my thing. The only time I’ve ever been (knowingly) heckled was in a small town in Tennessee. Because I sing songs I couldn’t hear a drunk heckler at the bar yelling homophobic slurs at me over the music (and neither could the rest of the audience who were happily dancing and singing along). When the song ended I finally realized what was happening, but before I could respond some of the other local comedians had surrounded him and were forcing him to leave. The heckler’s wife was so embarrassed and was the one who finally pushed her husband out the door. It was nice that those comics had my back. It’s different than a few years ago when I would be facing that kind of hatred alone. Now people are standing up for this gay Asian, which is beautiful to finally experience.

8. What advice would you give to young Asian American comedians/actors?

I usually tell performers a lot of the obvious things like work hard, educate yourself, don’t give up etc. I get that people get famous in an instant on social media nowadays, but success is so much better when you earn it, so work for it. Be a jack-of-all-trades. Also, listen to the universe because it usually guides you if you let it. In my experience you will come across a lot of locked doors, but you just have to keep pounding or try another door. You aren’t going to be right for everything and that sucks, but then occasionally you will be and that will feel cool. And then specifically for Asians, this is maybe a weird one, be kind to your fellow Asian performers. I get that it feels like there are not as many opportunities so it’s easy to fall into the trap of looking at another Asian performer as your competition and not as your friend. “If he gets the job then I don’t”. And it’s true. I get it. I struggle with it myself. We all need to eat. But it puts us all in a weird cycle that gets us nowhere. How can we fight for the Asian community to have visibility if we’re all working individually? In my eyes the Asian performers who are truly succeeding are the ones spending their energy strengthening the community, building opportunities, and encouraging and supporting other performers. So find those Asians and join those communities and build opportunities for each other.

Kevin Yee will be performing on Sunday, February 12, 2017 at 7:30 pm at the Japanese American National Museum. Click here to buy tickets.

Follow me on Twitter @ksakai1

8Questions: Interview with an Old 8A Friend, Author of ‘Holistic Tarot’ and ‘The Tao of Craft’

2016.08.30 8Asians Joz and Akrypti

Our very own Akrypti has been quite busy since she went on a hiatus from covering APA social politics for 8Asians. She’s taken the tarot world by storm with her first book Holistic Tarot: An Integrative Approach to Using Tarot for Personal Growth back in 2015. Since its publication, Holistic Tarot became a bestseller in its category and has gone on to win four prominent book awards.

Now Akrypti—I mean Benebell—is coming out with her second book, one that circles back to her heritage and roots. The Tao of Craft: Fu Talismans and Casting Sigils in the Eastern Esoteric Tradition covers the history and cultural practice of Fu talismans, a form of sigil spell-casting, from its shamanic roots during the Xia, Shang, and Zhou Dynasties (roughly 2100 BC to 256 BC) and through its peaks in practice to the suppression and castigation of it during the Qing. More importantly, The Tao of Craft is arguably one of the first books published in the English language to cover the practical and instructional aspects of crafting Fu talismans and East Asian metaphysics, sorcery, and witchcraft.

2016.08.30 8Asians Holistic Tarot and Tao of Craft

At 600 pages, The Tao of Craft is a tome of a book. I sat down with my old friend Akrypti—again, I mean Benebell Wen—to talk about her second publication. The book will be out in stores September 27, but you can pre-order now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Penguin Random House, or through your favorite bookstore.

The Tao of Craft

JOZ: So we’ve been good friends and have known each other through 8Asians for over a decade. Yet it was only a few years ago that I learned you were into metaphysical practices. Can you tell me more about that?

BELL: I’ve been into that kind of thing as early as I can remember and read books on these topics as soon as I gained literacy. Prior to the publication of Holistic Tarot, you’re right, I didn’t talk about these interests with others, and post-publication of the tarot book, I was thrust out of the shadows and put in a situation where I had to talk about it to promote my new book. That happened before I was actually ready for it, so it was interesting.

The Tao of Craft, I feel, is relevant to the Asian American community, which is why I think I’m okay with the Akrypti and Benebell link now. It’s relevant not just because I cover esoteric Taoism from a Chinese historic and cultural perspective, but for another funny little reason. You don’t see many Asian Americans writing prominently about esoteric Taoism. By and large publications on this topic are by white men (or native Chinese people who co-author with, you guessed it, white men). Ceremonial magic generally, whether you’re referring to Western mystery traditions or Eastern, is dominated by white men. That in part motivated me to speak up and attempt to have my voice heard in such an arena. I’m also hoping The Tao of Craft will appeal to Asian Americans.

JOZ: Why do you think The Tao of Craft is important for the Asian American community?

BELL: I can only tell you why this book was important for me. It brought me closer to my ethnic and cultural roots. I gained an appreciation for the depth and breadth of Chinese spiritual history. In so many ways, understanding all that I’ve come to understand through the research and writing of The Tao of Craft, I’m even prouder now of my heritage than I was before. For me, there’s something activist about reclaiming long-neglected spiritual traditions. The book is a resource for Asian Americans who want to reconnect with those roots.

To get a taste of the book, check out this appendix, which is a summary of the history of Taoism that I touch upon in The Tao of Craft. You can read more excerpts from the book here.

JOZ: Why do you think Asian Americans, most of whom I presume are not practitioners of Taoist magic, would be interested in this book?

BELL: The bulk of the book is research. It’s about history. We start with Neolithic shamans and archeological findings of oracle bones in northern China and how that became integrated into the talismanic practices of Taoist priests. We touch upon the political activism of Taoist ceremonial magicians during the Yellow Turban Rebellion. Many of the Eight Immortals were historically documented figures that later became mythologized. The legends we grow up with about how the Chinese civilization was founded by the Yellow Emperor involve magical battles and spell-crafting. Magic and esotericism are intertwined with military strategy.

We look at several well-known Taoist magical lineages or mystery traditions and how they influenced Chinese history. Why are Buddhist and Taoist practices often intertwined? What are the origins of the Chinese lunar calendar? To me, the Chinese metaphysical principles of Qi, yin and yang, the Wu Xing, Ba Gua, He Tu and Lo Shu are provocative. As a Chinese/Taiwanese American, The Tao of Craft pays homage to where I come from. To realize that in the nucleus of who I am is this incredible history feels empowering. If for nothing else, this book should be interesting to Asian Americans for the research aspect.

JOZ: Are you afraid that linking your past work under Akrypti with what you’re trying to do now under Benebell Wen will somehow discredit one another? Do you think Asian Americans who resonate with your race politics militancy will be put off by your dabblings in the metaphysical world and fans of your metaphysical work will be put off by your race politics?

BELL: Yes, of course. And it’s bound to happen. The only thing that comforts me, even though it doesn’t really comfort me, is everything I’ve written, whether it was under Akrypti here at 8Asians or now through my books, is authentic and sincere to who I am. Also, those who decide one discredits the other aren’t being rational; they’re being emotional.

JOZ: So are you a full-time writer now?

BELL: No, I am still working as a lawyer full-time, though I’m at work on a third book already and will continue to research and write books on the side. I’m living out that tiger mom’s dream and also my own.

The Tao of Craft

 The Tao of Craft will be released September 27, 2016. You can pre-order now via Amazon.

The publisher is currently running a contest and you can win a free copy of the book before its release date. To enter, check out the details here. Deadline for the contest is September 16.

8Questions with Actor Scott Watanabe

Scott Watanabe in Broadway Bounty Hunter at Barrington Stage Company, Photo by Scott Barrow
Scott Watanabe in Broadway Bounty Hunter at Barrington Stage Company, Photo by Scott Barrow

Currently starring in Broadway Bounty Hunter at Barrington Stage Company in the Berkshires, Scott Watanabe has had a long career as an actor, including roles in Allegiance and The Phantom of the Opera. In the tradition of 8Asians, we asked him eight questions and he offers some sage advice for those who aspire to the stage.

Tell us a little about yourself, e.g. What’s your background? How did you get into acting?

I was born in 1959 in Los Angeles, California to Japanese American parents from Hawaii. I got involved in acting in junior high school, but spent my high school education in instrumental music. I started university in Hospitality Management while working at Disneyland. Then got involved with the “Drama Club” and “Employee Madrigal Singers” at the park and community theatre in Orange County and found that I enjoyed being back in that world and discovered my singing voice. I gave up business school and went back to school earning a BA in Musical Theatre from California State University, Long Beach.

Following graduation I spent six years with the Los Angeles Music Center Opera, and split my time between the opera season and doing musical theatre and summer stock theatre. I’ve been professionally singing/acting for 30 years, ten of those years in various companies of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera.

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