5 Up-and-Coming AAPI Comedians
Sometimes, the only way to process the collective baggage that can come with being Asian in America is through a good laugh. To kick off AAPI Heritage month, on May 5th and 6th, over 50 Asian American comedians from around the world will take to the stage at NYC’s Sour Mouse for the fourth annual Asian Comedy Fest. Asian American Arts Alliance is proud to be this year’s festival charity partner.
Here are five up-and-coming comedians performing at Asian Comedy Fest that we can’t wait to see:
With her own unique style of goofy, stoner, dumb-smart cadence, Khan’s comedy reflects her nuanced, unexpected observations. “My self esteem is sort of like former presidential candidate Gary Johnson running in 2016,” she said in a recent Comedy Central standup special presented by Ilana Glaser. Khan goes on to explain the infamous incident in which Johnson, on national news, was asked what he would do regarding the Syrian refugee crisis in Aleppo, to which Johnson responded, “…and what is Aleppo?”
“What I’m trying to say,” said Khan, “is that sometimes I have the confidence of a white man running third party for president and other times I’m like, ‘what’s Aleppo?’”
As a standup comedian, Khan has toured with Man Repeller and was featured on the NBC showcase at the Women in Comedy Festival. She has appeared in sketches on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Comedy Central, and Adult Swim and has written and acted in MTV’s digital series, Decoded where she helps break down topics like Asian representation in Hollywood, hijabs, and having to be a race ambassador.
These days, she is performing her one-woman show, “I Actually Don’t Feel That Good,” which explores identity, astrology, family, immigration, psychedelics, capitalism and the existential anxiety associated with being alive.
LEX the Lexicon Artist
In her own words, Alex Liu (aka: LEX the Lexicon Artist) is “a former academic overachiever-turned shamelessly nerdy rapper.” Adding to a growing canon of AAPI femme comedian rappers like Awkwafina and Slanty Eyed Mama, Liu uses music to represent the intersections of gamer, fandom, internet, and AAPI culture. In the song “I Know,” off her most recent album, Alter Ego, she raps:
“Assuming makes an ass of U and Ming
which isn’t my Chinese name but it’s the word for the thing.
Went to war with armor made of bars, returned with a chink
so you can hit me with the slurs and watch me swerve in a blink.”
Liu has performed all throughout the U.S. and Canada and has been an official performer at various anime and gaming conventions, including Music and Gaming Festival (MAGFest), FanimeCon, SXSW, Anime Expo, and ColossalCon East. Hailing from California, she is currently based in NYC.
On Adam Mamawala’s iTunes comedy chart-topping 2017 album, One of the Good Ones, the actor and comedian describes a recent audition he had for the show, Madame Secretary. “It was for the role of a suicide bomber named Atif,” he says. “I walk into a Starbucks with bombs strapped into my jacket, go up to the barista and order a double latte; classic last meal.” When the barista proceeds to pronounce the character’s name wrong, the script directs Mamawala to “stare death into her eyes.”
From highlighting the absurdity of navigating show business as a mixed race Indian American actor and comedian to jokes about the game Battleship (“it’s really hit or miss”), Mamawala approaches his standup with an easy-going earnestness.
He has appeared on Comedy Central, MTV, BET, and SiriusXM, and has written for Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update. In addition to performing standup and acting, Mamawala also co-hosts the podcast HORSE with fellow comedian Mike Schubert about the NBA, and Away Games with Kevin McCaffrey, where they talk about the Chicago Cubs.
“If you don’t think Asian representation is a problem, just consider this,” prompts Mic Nguyen in Ronny Chieng Takes America. “There has been only one Crazy Rich Asians but there have been three Air Buds! I’m just kidding; there haven’t been three Air Buds… there have been fourteen Air Buds!”
Before becoming a comedian, Brooklyn-based Mic Nguyen was a journalist grappling with the Asian American experience. These days, he explores these themes through his podcast, Asian Not Asian, which he co-hosts with fellow comedian Fumi Abe.
“It’s an exciting time because that definition is still evolving,” said Nguyen, discussing AAPI identity in a 2018 interview with Vulture. “With a whole new generation of Asian American creatives and thinkers coming up, it’s cool to be a part of it.”
Have you ever thought about all the ways Asians and ghosts have pretty similar lives? For starters, we both exist in liminal spaces, we get judged based on our appearances, and we’re largely invisible. In her mini series, Ur Asian Friend, comedian Soojeong Son along with her costar Woody Fu explore the absurdity of the AAPI experience, including a sketch in which a would-be-haunted man (Fu) ends up becoming friends and sharing soju with a ghost (Son) after realizing how much they have in common.
Based in Brooklyn, you may have seen Son as Liz Kim on Netflix’s Kaleidoscope, as Wanda on Apple TV’s Servant, or Kara on HBO Max’s Search Party. Her Amazon short Soojeong Dreams of Fiji also won the Audience Award at the Asian American International Film Festival.
She is currently a writer for the upcoming Netflix comedy series The Brothers Sun, starring Michelle Yeoh. You can also hear her co-host the podcast, Emotional Slut, where she talks about “being emotional, slutty, and Asian.” She will be performing her one woman show, “Cum” at 9pm on May 6th at this year’s Asian Comedy Fest.