There's a bit in Jenny Yang's stand-up routine in which she lifts her shirt halfway up and juts out her belly as far as possible. She talks about how her protruding stomach can be interpreted as either a real baby or a food baby.
It's the latter.
“Let's just not comment on women's bodies,” she says to a giggling crowd.
Over lunch at Baccali, her favorite Hong Kong cafe in the San Gabriel Valley, she says, “As an Asian-American woman, it's always [about] whether or not we come off as respectable to people. I don't want to care whether or not I come off as respectable.
“It's very satisfying to open my body and shove it into people's faces,” she adds, explaining her routine. “This is the thing we're usually trying to hide [from] the public.”
Born in Taiwan and raised in the South Bay, Yang, 30, now lives in Highland Park. She's the co-founder of Disoriented Comedy, the first nationally touring comedy showcase of Asian-American women. She is also the co-host of ISAtv's Angry Asian America, “a talk show where we discuss all the things in media, pop culture and politics that piss us off as Asian-Americans.”
Her Buzzfeed video “If Asians Said the Stuff White People Say” has received more than 8 million views, and features Yang and co-star Eugene Yang (no relation) asking white folks questions such as “Where are you from? No, where are you really from?” and “Do you have a normal name, too? Or just your white name?”
Yang's comedy often involves stories about growing up Asian in America. “I never knew what the Chinese word for sex was,” she says in one of her routines.
In college, she was the president of the Swarthmore Asian Organization, and after graduation she became a political activist involved in Los Angeles' labor movement. Comedy, at that point, was just a hobby.
“And then I hit a wall at work,” Yang explains. “I wasn't quite as happy as I wanted to be.” The stress was so severe that she had to go on medical leave. Politics, for her, felt restrictive.
She gave herself a year to figure things out and started to frequent more comedy clubs. “Most of the guys at comedy clubs in Los Angeles were young white guys who always loved to talk about masturbating and smoking weed and why there's so many Latinos in Los Angeles,” she says. “I was, like, these are not my people.”
That's when she started Disoriented Comedy. Since its inception in 2012, it has performed more than 40 shows nationwide, to mostly sold-out audiences. Yang's next project: a comedy festival slated for late summer. It's called the Comedy Comedy Festival: A Comedy Festival.
“Of course it's going to be Asian-American–focused,” she says. “But nowhere in the publicity will we be calling it that, because when you're on the margins, you are always claiming [your] diversity.
“We're going to have a diversity showcase that will feature white guys,” she adds. “It's happening.”