Asian comedians might leave you a bit ‘dis/orient/ed’

By Signe Predmore
Northwest Asian Weekly

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Jenny Yang

Not all communities feel welcome in the world of stand-up comedy, a mainstream American performance art in which white men tend to make up the majority.

“A lot of times, as an Asian American, if you go to a stand-up comedy show, you are the target of ridicule. So why would you show up and pay money to have someone who’s more powerful than you, with a microphone on a raised stage, bully you?” asked Jenny Yang, co-founder of Dis/orient/ed Comedy, a mostly all Asian American female comedy tour.

But you can expect a totally different atmosphere at a Dis/orient/ed Comedy show — one where the performers are relaxed, relatable, and of course, hilarious.

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Atsuko Okatsuka

The group returns to the Seattle area on Sunday, March 16, for their second show in the region, at Parlor Live in Bellevue.

These women of comedy consistently sell out shows in the cities they visit, delighting audiences — many who are new to stand-up — with their humor and providing a  feeling of community.

The group got started in 2012 through Yang’s relentless pursuit of other Asian American female comics to befriend. Yang, based in Los Angeles, discovered Seattle comic Yola Lu on the Internet, and the two got to know each other via Skype chat.

“During that first conversation, I said, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if someday there were enough of us to do a whole stand up comedy tour?’” recounted Yang.

A few weeks later, Lu contacted Yang and said she was ready to get started on the project.

They brought on comic Atsuko Okatsuka as co-producer and the three began planning.

After successful kick-off shows in Seattle and Los Angeles, Dis/orient/ed Comedy has produced about a show per month in different locations around the country.

For the performers in the lineup, doing comedy, as part of an explicitly Asian American female group, changes the way they relate to the audience.

Seattle comic Mona Concepcion said that performing in a regular mainstream comedy show can make her feel like an exotic novelty, and like she needs to provide some introduction about her background.

In contrast, she said, “There’s not that much explanation that needs to be done with this audience. They can relate to things a lot more quickly.”

This rapport makes a huge difference in an art form like comedy where, as Yang explained, “Seconds are essential.”

The group makes a point of featuring local comedians wherever they visit. Concepcion, who bills herself as the only female Chamorro comic on the planet (she hasn’t come across another yet), will headline the upcoming Seattle show.

Shannon Koyano, a half Japanese comic who Concepcion describes as having a “really great, raw edge to her,” will be the other hometown comedian in the lineup.

For this show, Yang also decided to bring up two Portland comics, Bri Pruett and Katie Nguyen, to change up the roster from Dis/orient/ed’s first Seattle performance.

Pruett is a quarter Korean, who Yang calls “a very sassy, snappy persona.” She has been featured in the Willamette Weekly as one of the Portland area’s top five comedians.

Nguyen, who has a Vietnamese background, is another comic that Yang discovered through the Internet. She was involved in a project called Spicy News, in which she delivered the day’s headlines on camera after eating an entire habañero pepper. This gag highlights one of her strengths as a performer – “she’ll work the discomfort and the awkwardness,” Yang said.

Yang and Okatsuka, the show’s co-producers, will host the Seattle performance and round out the lineup.

The women cover a variety of topics, although like most comics, they draw heavily on their personal experiences. Concepcion talks a lot about her family life — having an older white husband, being a mother to two mixed-ethnic sons, and having her mom come visit from abroad for six months at a time.

Koyano does bits about how her Japanese father tries to prove he’s American by visiting Disneyland, and about her experiences re-entering the dating scene after divorce. A common theme for several of them is the experience of navigating different cultures.

Yang promises to offer a high-quality, well-produced show, where you can “really feel the love.” She says it’s a good time for all, whether you are Asian American or not. Concepcion suggests the show as a great date activity because “you don’t have to talk to each other!”

After Seattle, Dis/orient/ed Comedy has shows in the works in Oakland and New York. But if you get hooked, you can catch them again when they return to the Northwest for a Portland show in September. (end)

Dis/orient/ed Comedy performs live at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, March 16, at the Parlor Live in Bellevue. Tickets and more information available at http://disorientedcomedy.weebly.com.

Signe Predmore can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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