By Tyson Paul
You have to get up, get out, and get something or waste your life watching opportunities for change pass you by. Comedians go to bed after a set every night wishing for different changes in the comedy industry. Most wake up only to be destined to do the same routine all over again, but then there’s a courageous few that rise determined to make a difference and turn those wishes into monumental movements.
A highly trained pianist and accomplished theater actress/playwright, KiKi Yeung always had a passion for stand-up comedy, but surprisingly, she was too terrified to pursue her comedic ambitions. Eventually, KiKi would take the advice of her agent’s husband and take part in a highly popular female comedy workshop in Los Angeles. After completing the Pretty Funny Women workshop classes, KiKi became a regular fixture at the local comedy clubs and open mics in Southern California. While advancing through the comedy scene, Yeung began to notice an alarming problem while performing nightly. Multiple Asian comedians were not being booked on the same shows as it was an unwritten rule to not book more than one Asian on the same show, as it was assumed that all of them referred to the same material. Feeling comedically typecast, KiKi would use her creative request for change along with the pride of the Asian comedy community to form a comedy experience the Hollywood area had been needing for a very long time. Crazy Woke Asians would begin in May 2018 and instantly became one of the most sought-after comedy shows in Los Angeles. After selling out their very first event, the new brand of Asian comedy would quickly spread throughout California and Washington. The show would partner with NBC to form an all-Asian solo performance festival in Santa Monica, CA entitled “Crazy Woke Asians Audience Award” and became a regular attraction at The Comedy Store in Hollywood and The Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena, CA.
Having the chance to chat with We Own The Laughs.com’s Tyson Paul, KiKi discusses in detail some of her early experiences in entertainment, what led her to create one of the most popular comedy shows on the west coast, being a successful female producer in a male-dominated industry, and how she plans to take things to the next level. Here’s your chance to learn how KiKi used a crazy opportunity that came her way to not only inspire an entire community but inspire you too.
Hey KiKi, Let’s get started by you telling us what are some of your first memories of comedy in general?
My first memory of comedy was Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost. She was so funny and just didn’t give AF. I watched Stephen Chow in Hong Kong movies a lot. He does slapstick, physical comedy. Chow Yun Fat is hilarious! He was the king of comedy in HK! Americans see him as the action hero in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but he’s actually very skilled in comedy.
When did you realize you could make people laugh? Is there something about your upbringing that led you to this profession?
I was always goofy and loud. I was a tomboy growing up with two brothers and my Dad is very charming so I think his humor and charm rubbed off on me. I was touring my one-woman show “Second Chances” and after a show, my agent’s husband said, “you ever consider doing stand up? You should really try to stand up.” And that’s when I started thinking about doing stand-up.
Who are some comedians that inspire your style of comedy?
Dave Chapelle, Kevin Hart, Bill Bellamy, Aries Spears, Ken Jeong, Christina Pazsitsky, Tiffany Haddish, Ali Wong, Anjelah Johnson, Kathleen Madigan, and Bill Burr, so many.
You’ve written, produced, and starred in your own sketch comedies with Pork Filled Players, stage plays at the University of Washington, and an award-winning one-woman show, is having so much creative control a challenge or a joy or both?
Both. I really enjoyed the challenge of not knowing how the audience is going to react to the show or performance. I like to create! It’s like breathing air to me. I like learning new things I didn’t know I was capable of doing, like writing sketches, producing, performing a one-woman show morphing in and out of 20 characters. I get a lot of joy from being on stage knowing I gave it my all.
Name some of your favorite cities and venues you enjoy performing comedy at?
The Comedy Store in Hollywood is my favorite. The crowd is always hyped. I feel like I’m closer to the comedy gods when I walk into that building. Santa Monica Playhouse is fantastic, I love the main stage and The Other Space.
The Comedy Palace in San Diego is great. I love the owners George and Tony. Very supportive. They even let me perform my one-woman show there before I got started in stand-up.
Hollywood Improv is fun most of the time.
Las Vegas, I forgot the casino name, but the crowd was great.
Seattle! We had a sold-out CWA tour at Unexpected Productions (Pike Place Market Theater), Laughs Comedy Club, and Comedy on Broadway, some of my best memories on stage.
Crazy Woke Asians is a regular attraction at The Comedy Store and The Ice House.
I ended up performing at The Laugh Factory, inside and outside the building. I did a speech for Stop Asian Hate candlelight Virgil organized by Black Women Lead outside the Laugh Factory. I did a set inside the building the next day for Stop Asian Hate Benefit Comedy Show hosted by PK. It felt amazing I got to honor the victims of the Atlanta shooting and share my experience as an Asian American woman on stage.
Regards to doing live comedy again, I performed at The Shindig show in Silverlake recently. We were outdoor behind a church. It was an unforgettable night. I went up before ILIZA Schlesinger, Shang and Darrell Hammond!! The audience applauded after I did my joke about the Atlanta shooter having a bad day at the end of my set. I’m so grateful to producer Jimmy Shin who also co-stars in Sweet and Sour Chicks.
How do you approach crafting a new set?
I jot down ideas whenever I find something funny or during conversations with friends and family. Then I start saying it out loud to whoever will listen. Then I go to open mics or test bits out at shows.
You’re a trained classical pianist, have you ever attempted to develop a comedy set using a piano via Jamie Foxx or Zach Galifianakis?
Yes! I’ve been working on it. It’s hard. My dad would be so happy in heaven if he sees me play the piano and say funny jokes at the same time. I’m rusty, so I’ve been playing around and just trying to lay my new stuff on top of piano playing.
You’re the founder and producer of an amazing brand of comedy entitled Crazy Woke Asians. Give us a brief history of how this popular production came to be?
I was sick of white-washing in Hollywood and being the token Asian on shows and I met many amazing funny Asian comedians in LA, so I decided instead of whining about the problem, to do something about it. The first show, I had no idea if anyone would even come out, but we sold out and sold out every show after. I’m so grateful for the Asian community’s support and all the white people that show up too. On March 29th, Crazy Woke Asians Stop Asian Hate benefit comedy show live-streamed at The Comedy Chateau in North Hollywood raised over $2000 for the Gofundme AAPI Community Fund.
What is the process of choosing comedians to be on a Crazy Woke Asians comedy show?
Some of them I researched online, a lot of referrals, some I met at shows, and some from tape sent to me. I look for stage presence and if they can make me laugh. If I have a good feeling about them I’ll take a chance even if I’ve never met them. I usually book pretty advance. Some comedians follow up every month politely and I like the reminder. I keep them in mind when a spot opens up. Sometimes someone drops out last minute and I have to replace a spot ASAP.
What have been some of your most memorable moments at a Crazy Woke Asians show?
Daniel Dae Kim from Lost came to see the show at The Comedy Store. I really respect him as an actor and producer. So that was awesome seeing him in the audience and laughing. The times when we start the show with a CWA theme song with Rapper James Young, comedian George Wang/Sherry Cola, the crowd starts laughing and getting hyped. At our CWA Solo Performance Festival at Santa Monica Playhouse when NBC Executives were in the audience supporting our show. For my birthday show at The Three Clubs, I wore a key costume while rapping about Asian food with comedian Percy Rustomji. That was hilarious. Every show is pretty magical to me.
Many feel that the entertainment industry should be shut down until we see major changes in the pandemic and social injustice around the country, but others feel that the entertainment industry should be back to business as normal because it can help bring major change around the country. What do you think?
I think the entertainment industry in filming and production is still going on, except no live audience or they pay them to become part of the cast. For stand-up comedy, I feel outdoor social distanced shows where masks are enforced and social distancing seating with 20-35% capacity is doable. As long as the audience complies with COVID protocols. They can show a negative covid test within 48 hours at the door to get in.
What is it like being a comedian who is a woman in such a male-dominated profession? And also, as a female producer in comedy, where I know the balance of women to men is greatly unbalanced, is it difficult to be successful?
I grew up with 2 brothers and most of my close friends are men so I’m pretty comfortable around males. The male comedians I have encountered are super nice and supportive. I’m so grateful to know them. George Wang referred me to some paid video gigs. Jason Cheny booked me as his feature at The Comedy Palace. Tony Vinh gave me some tips on touring.
I think if you know what you are doing production-wise and be professional, innovative, and fearless in your decision-making, you can be successful as a producer whether male or female. Also, you gotta pack the room every time. Treat the comedians with respect and not make it about yourself getting stage time.
We’ve definitely been seeing a more diverse pool of female comedians from different backgrounds, ages, and personalities coming into the spotlight in recent years. Your thoughts on the recent rise of female comedians and how do you think your style of comedy fits in?
I’m excited about female comedians, especially other mom comedians. My comedy started when I had my son so I think there’s a new group of comedian moms who are making waves. Thanks to Ali Wong for showing American Asian women that you can be pregnant and hilarious.
What can others who are not in the humor business learn from your experience?
Try something new that challenges you. Take a class and find humor in life always. Don’t be afraid to bomb or fail. Embrace the silence.
What are some upcoming projects/shows we should know about?
I’m one of the managers at The Comedy Chateau. The club is gorgeous, the cocktails and food are amazing (I’m a foodie and eating at the CC feels like dining at a quality restaurant, try the lamb lollipops, beef rib, and kale salad, where can you get that at a comedy club?). We started outdoor comedy shows on April 16th to sold-out crowds with headliners Jason Collins, Harland Williams, Craig Shoemaker, and Maz Jobrani.
Crazy Woke Asians will have its first outdoor comedy show in 2021 at The Comedy Chateau on Saturday, April 24th 7-9pm! The show features Kevin Camia (tour with Ali Wong, Late Show with Stephen Colbert), Sherry Cola (Freeform’s Good Trouble), Peter Kim (CBS Diversity Showcase, ABC’s Kim Spa), Eliot Chang (Showtime, Comedy Central), hosted by April Weber (The Comedy Store) and Darrell Hammond is our special guest! Tickets on eventbrite, get yours before we are sold out!
Crazy Woke Asians Comedians Party Panel Competition Jan 16th – June 19th Livestream from Santa Monica Playhouse. The winner receives a meeting with NBC Executive, TV & Film Agent from Innovative Artists, Headline a CWA show, and more prized TBA!
Sweet and Sour Chicks a romantic comedy series I wrote, produced/directed/starred in alongside comedian Jimmy Shin “Wok of Shame” and Christine Lin (Pasadena Playhouse’s The Great Leap). Follow us on Instagram @sweetandsourchicks
2nd annual Crazy Woke Asians Solo Performance Festival will be on November 11-14th at Santa Monica Playhouse on 3 stages! We will have a red carpet opening, industry panels, comedy workshops, and a free youth comedy camp.
The Crazy Woke Asians Virtual Comedy Festival is on May 29-30th! 2 DAYS OF COMEDY! We are live-streaming from the Santa Monica Playhouse and on zoom for international comedians. Lineup at www.crazywokeasians.com
*Follow KiKi Yeung on all social media platforms @KiKiFunnyMama
*Keep up to date with future news and shows from Crazy Woke Asians by visiting www.crazywokeasians.com
*Pictures courtesy of Sweet and Sour Chicks & KiKi Yeung