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Lions Roar : September 2013
Your dad writes joke books in Korean, but you don’t find his jokes funny. Why not? I think he’s a bit wordy. His jokes are in story form and they’re just long. And why doesn’t he think yours are funny? He thinks they’re too dirty and that I shouldn’t be talking about sex like that. My parents never told me where babies come from, so they’re under the impression that I don’t know yet. They would rather that I don’t talk so much about sex because they think that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Can you speak Korean? No, I can’t. My father was deported from the United States when I was four, and when he returned he was determined that my brother and I not have any kind of Korean accent whatsoever, so that we would not be perceived as foreigners. He would speak to us in Korean, but we would have to answer in English. It was so trau- matizing that although I can understand the language very well, I cannot speak it at all. My father now has his citizenship and it’s impossible for him to be deported, and I was born here, so I’m not going to get deported. But I feel like if I start speaking Korean someone is going to get deported. You often mimic your parents’ accents in your stand-up. Do they mind that? No, they like it. They think it’s really funny. How do you keep your routine fresh when you’re doing a lot of shows? Shows are really a dialogue between you and the audience. In live performance, there’s such a level of unpredictability that you have to be so on top of it and really engaged. My shows tend to change a lot every day. That means the shows are fresh because they really are fresh? Yes, I think so. You act as well now. What do you think is the key to being a good actor? I think it’s really about being able to be compassionate and slip into somebody else’s skin. To be able to understand what it is to look at their life from the inside. ♦ PHOTOBYTIFFANYTAPPAN of being an awkward teenager. I did not enjoy school. I did not enjoy my peers. I wanted to be around people who I felt were cre- ative. I kind of escaped my childhood by becoming a comedian. You seem to be really fearless in your comedy, not afraid of crossing a line or upsetting someone. Where does that bravery come from? Well, I don’t think privacy is that important. As human beings, we’re capable of experiencing all kinds of suffering. It’s more valuable to share that than maintain this guise of privacy where we have to keep secrets from each other. It really doesn’t matter anyway. Everybody has a body. Everybody has emotions. That experience is more helpful to share than it is to hide. Privacy is something that people want to use to protect themselves, when it’s not an actual protec- tive mechanism. We’ve all felt the same, so we’re never really revealing anything. You have channeled a lot of very painful experiences into your art. Do you think that there’s truth in the idea of the tortured artist? Does someone have to suffer to be able to create some- thing great? Everybody suffers, regard- less of who we are. If you can utilize your suffering in your art, that’s a great way to express it, but I don’t think anybody is exempt from suffering. It’s the human experience. There is always suffering, but there’s always joy too. So I don’t think that there’s any need for an artist to be tortured because that’s just an identity that you adopt. There really isn’t anything that anyone can do to avoid suffering. It is part of being alive. It’s a value judgment even to call something suffering. A lot of people who might not consider themselves traditional com- edy fans attend your shows. Why do you think that is? I think that people who come see me are generally people who feel unsafe in comedy clubs. Comedy can be very sexist. It can be very racist or rely on racial stereotypes. It can be very homo- phobic. It can be very hurtful, used to put people down or hurt people’s feelings, and I’ve never really bought into that. I think that’s what people like about what I do. It’s not about resorting to things like racism, sexism, or homophobia, or hurting people in order to get some kind of idea across. SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2013 23