Dis/Orient/Ed Expectations: Female Asian Comedy

The boundaries of the typically male-dominated genre of comedy are being redrawn to include women on the small and big screens as well as on the stage. Unfortunately, they are not being stretched enough. Noticeably absent from the comedic spotlight are essentially any women of color, especially Asian American women.

Here to fill that gap is Dis/orient/ed, a group of Asian American female comedians that performed on the evening of Oct. 6 in Doms Lounge.

“We’re looking for a queer Asian woman, to fill the whole spectrum,” joked stand-up comic Jenny Yang at the show’s Q&A session. She performed alongside Kyle Mizono, Atsuko Okatsuka and Latina guest star Liliana Cervantes. 

Although the group’s rapport is built around the challenges they all face as Asian American women in comedy, the four performances could not have been more diverse. Yang rapped about boba tea, and Cervantes narrated the process of selling a dildo on Craigslist. Okatsuka softly described an encounter with a racist in Trader Joe’s, while Mizono stomped, shouted and shoved her face into a cupcake.

Separate, they were hilarious. Together, they were on fire.

“They were so funny, but…” said Aidan Orly PO ’16 after the show. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s because we’re at Pomona, but they didn’t seem, like, shocking in any way.” 

The comediennes didn’t appear to be propagating any big statements about the roles of gender and race in comedy. They just seemed like good friends working together.

When asked, they did comment on what it was like to perform in a community used to Seth Rogens and Louis CKs.

“I think it’s weird to see people who look like us behind the mic,” Okatsuka said. Cervantes told a story about rewatching a taped performance and hearing the headliner say loudly, “She sucks,” while Cervantes was still on the stage. 

“I was devastated, but it makes me work harder,” Cervantes said. “Most guys in standup aren’t on our team.”

Maybe so, but all four comediennes have reached critical acclaim as performers regardless. Okatsuka was flown to Houston from Japan just to perform in a round of America’s Got Talent. Yang placed third in California’s Funniest Female contest. Cervantes placed second, and she was filling in for Aparna Nancherla, who just became a staff writer for a new show on the FX network. 

Success has not come without risks. 

“I was a Political Science major at Swarthmore College,” Yang said. “It turns out in politics, you can’t say whatever you want,” she laughed. “So, this is how far I veered.”

Beyond the obvious financial issues, being a stand-up comedian also involves the challenge of baring highly personal, often sexual, content up on the stage. Cervantes pointed out, “At least I’m going to make fun of myself before you do.” All four agreed that the vulnerability of being onstage is intense, but also therapeutic.

“Hey, I put on deodorant for you guys. This is like a date! We’re not going to hook up though. No one here is hooking up. Although, one of us is going to walk away feeling awkward … and it’s not going to be me,” Yang said.

The material might not have been shocking, but leaving the show, these four women are about as far as you can get from the Jonah Hill cabal of comedy, but that didn’t stop anyone from finding them ridiculously funny. They didn’t have to shock their audience to prove that how you look doesn’t change how hard you can make people laugh.

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