8Questions: Comedy InvAsian with Atsuko Okatsuka


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

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About Koji Steven Sakai

Writer/Producer Koji Steven Sakai is the founder of Little Nalu Pictures LLC and the CEO of CHOPSO (www.CHOPSO.com), the first Asian English streaming video service. He has written five feature films that have been produced, including the indie hit, The People I’ve Slept With. He also produced three feature films, a one hour comedy special currently on Netflix, and Comedy InvAsian, a live and filmed series featuring the nation’s top Asian American comedians. Koji’s debut novel, Romeo & Juliet Vs. Zombies, was released in paperback in 2015 and in audiobook in 2016 and his graphic novel, 442, was released in 2017. In addition, he is currently an adjunct professor in screenwriting at International Technological University in San Jose.
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