She’s fresh off a successful weekend in Los Angeles as director of the first Asian American comedy festival, The Comedy Comedy Festival: A Comedy Festival – a title purposely lacking ethnic identifiers to heighten its visibility to “mainstream” audiences.
By all counts, the festival was a huge success. Forty comics descended upon 14 stages in Little Tokyo and the downtown arts district generating 1,000 ticket sales.
To top it off, Grammy nominee Margaret Cho appeared as a surprise guest on Saturday night at the Tateuchi Democracy Center. Cho’s groundbreaking ABC series All-American Girl, which ran for one season from 1994 to 1995, was the first show to feature an Asian American family. (ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, which debuted last year, is the second.)
For Yang, Cho’s participation at the festival was a dream come true. Taiwanese-born Yang moved to Los Angeles when she was five years old with her parents and two older brothers. A creative and rambunctious child, Yang assimilated into American culture much more quickly than the rest of her family. “I helped them translate and navigate the public world,” she says.
Yang had a knack for performing at a young age. In high school, she dressed as a fortune teller for a book report on Pearl S Buck’s The Good Earth and reworded a Snoop Dogg rap for extra credit in trigonometry class. Campaign speeches for student government positions created additional opportunities to hone her craft.
Still, becoming a professional performer didn’t entered Yang’s mind. “When you’re a little immigrant Asian girl in America, no one is seriously telling you that you should go into comedy as a profession.”
At Swarthmore College, she threw herself into campus activism, returning to Los Angeles immediately upon graduation to pursue a career in the labor movement. Soon thereafter, she discovered Tuesday Night Café and performed her poetry there while earning a master’s degree in urban planning at UCLA.
In 2010, an acquaintance suggested Yang try stand-up, and this time, she began to take comedy seriously. She eventually quit her job with Service Employees International Union to perform full time. In 2012, she co-founded Disoriented Comedy, an Asian American stand-up tour for women.
Social justice propels Yang’s comedy. With #MyAsianAmericanStory, she joined a chorus of comedic voices on Twitter condemning, hilariously, Jeb Bush’s characterization of Asian immigrants’ children as “anchor babies”.
“Twitter is a format made for comedians,” says Yang. “Because of access to platforms on social media, we are starting to hear more of the voices that don’t typically get heard.”
Yang also produces and stars in online videos about the kinds of racist comments she endures as an Asian American woman. In the viral If Asians Said the Stuff White People Say, Yang tells a white actor: “Your English is great. Were you adopted?” She’s also just made her debut in a BuzzFeed Scripted short, When You Realize He Has Yellow Fever, which recounts her first date with a white man who, it turns out, has a fetish for Asian culture.
Yang’s subversive mission seems to be right on track.