By SAYMOUKDA VONGSAY
Saymoukda Vongsay presents “Pushing the Pen” a series of interviews that highlight Asian American artists and individuals who advocate for Asian American art. This week Vongsay interviews Jenny Yang, a Los Angeles-based standup comedian, writer, and host and producer of the podcast, CreativeLifePod.com.
When Yang is not talking about being Chinese for laughs, she provides research, organizational planning and development services to labor unions and nonprofits, and home/office organizing help for the clutter-challenged.
Yang had a lot to say in a short time about her own creative life.
Vongsay: In the form of a haiku/senyru, tell us about yourself.
Yang: funny lady would / rather laugh than yell or cry / angry chinese girl
Vongsay: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced within your discipline?
Yang: If I focused on all the challenges for an Asian American female comedy writer and comedian, then I wouldn’t even get out of bed. Since you asked, here’s my rundown:
Challenges in the form of frequent obsessive thoughts:
• “Is this funny?”
• “Is that even a punchline?”
• “Did I just offend ALL the white people?”
• “Do I care that I just offended all the white people?”
• “Crap. This sketch comedy writing teacher doesn’t even get the premise of this joke! I don’t think these white people even realize it’s unintentionally offensive when white hipsters name their dogs really, really Black names like LeBron, Tyrone and Moesha!”
• “Did that white comic just look me directly in the eyes while telling his joke about banging an Asian girl and pulling a fortune out of her like she was a fortune cookie?”
• “Oh. There it is. Tenth open mic guy with a masturbation joke.”
• “Do I need #$%& jokes?”
• “Crap. I need a #%!& joke.”
• “When will the money start rolling in for angry political Chinese female comedy?”
• “Maybe I should lay off the Jesus and Pope S&M club joke.”
• “How did I manage to book two big shows at Christian universities?!”
• “Too bad my parents don’t speak English with accents. Easy laughs.”
Vongsay: What is the future of your discipline? Where is it headed?
Yang: Asian American sketch and stand-up comedy is headed to YouTube! It’s already there! (We ain’t getting opportunities elsewhere.) And our stories are going the way of self-publishing. ‘Cause well, Asians own the internet.
Vongsay: What else do you wield with your hands other than a pen?
Yang: A wireless karaoke mic. An open mic. A wooden spatula to stir-fry.
Vongsay: Where is your happy place?
Yang: At the beach in salty water and playing volleyball. Hiking up a steep trail. In conversation with good friends over good food and drink.
Vongsay: In the spirit of ‘wait 20 minutes before swimming,’ what should a writer NOT do before their pen hits the paper?
Yang: Read other people’s writing. Think thoughts of self-hatred. Give yourself a goal to write your life-defining manifesto (like I attempted to do when I wrote my guest blog for angryasianman.com).
Vongsay: Besides other writers, what influences your work?
Yang: Hearing stories of humor and struggle from friends. Watching the news. Reading AngryAsianMan.com news. Working with clients and their clutter problems in my home/office organizing business. Clutter is comedy.
Vongsay: What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
Yang: • A series of comedic monologues performed by great actor friends. It’s like the “Vagina Monologues” but with more fish sauce.
• A zine for Asian American tweens and teens to help them navigate parental expectations with decisions about what to do with their lives.
• A relaunch of my “The CreativeLife podcast with Jenny Yang” in late September.
• More standup comedy and comedy writing at my Asians with Bowl Cuts and #@&%! I’m in my 30s! tumblr sites.
Vongsay: What has been your best work yet?
Yang: I am a writer. I write about my life. My extra-terrestrial encounters with white people. My thoughts of self-loathing and confusion about my own peoples. My best work is yet to come. (crosses fingers).
Vongsay: What would the title of your autobiography be?
Yang: “Chubby…With a Bowl Cut.” Morgan Freeman would narrate.
To learn more about Jenny, visit her site www.jennyyangjokes.com
Vongsay is a recipient of the Alfred C. Carey Prize in Spoken Word Poetry from NY and a Jerome/Mu Performing Art’s New Eyes Theater Fellow. She lives and writes in St. Paul. www.refugenius.com