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).
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 Atlantic, Out, 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