Friday, February 13, 2015

INTERVIEW: Disoriented Comedy with Jenny Yang and Gena Gong

Get ready for another night of Disoriented Comedy! Last year the show sold out The Tower Theater on its first run in Fresno. I remember sitting there in the audience and thinking, I hope they get a good crowd. A few minutes later, every seat in the theater was taken. This was unlike any other show I’ve seen in Fresno. Amazing comics and an audience appreciating every unique routine, roaring with laughter. It was a solid show from start to finish.

This year the show has been re-labeled “mostly female” as they’ve added a transgender male comedian and want to open their lineup to more diversity. This year, half the lineup is queer. The show features Jenny Yang, Dhaya Lakshminarayanan, Liliana Cervantes, Atsuko Okatsuka, Kat Evasco and D’Lo. 

The event is on Saturday, February 21st at the Tower Theater. Advance tickets are $27.50 and on the day of the show the tickets will be $37.50. There’s a VIP reception with a meet and greet. Tickets for that ($47.50 and $67.50) may be available, and I stress the “may”. Don’t wait to get your tickets this year! 

I sat down with Jenny Yang, the lead comic and one of the show producers, and Gena Gong, the President of Central California Asian Pacific Women, the nonprofit behind this year’s fundraiser to talk about this year’s event. A portion of proceeds will benefit this organization.

Jenny Yang at the Fresno LGBT Community Center

Gena Gong & Jenny Yang at the Fresno LGBT Community Center

Chris Jarvis: Last year’s show here was a huge success. How’s your love for Fresno?

Jenny Yang: I have the best feelings toward Fresno. The Tower Theater seats 700 and it’s by far the biggest capacity we’ve filled. Even the people from the Tower Theater said, how did you do this? And it was such a great mix of people. I remember seeing how many Latinos were there last year and saying that if we did it again I wanted to bring someone Latino. So this year we have a Latina comedian.

CJ: Talk a little about the new lineup. 

JY: There are three of us from last year and three are new. D’Lo and Liliana are from LA. The three returning are from LA and Dhaya and Kat are from San Francisco. Kat is Philippina. She identifies as lesbian and D’Lo identifies as trans. He’s one of only a handful of trans identified standup comics. He was featured in a brief role in TRANSPARENT on Amazon.

CJ: Was it a conscious effort to make the show fifty percent queer?

JY: When we founded Disoriented Comedy the idea was to have this very specific tagline. The first ever Asian American female standup comedy tour. But the true spirit behind Disoriented comedy was to feature people who were not typically seen on a mainstream comedy stage. 

CJ: So it’s subversive to begin with.

JY: Oh yes. Of course. And this year we changed it to “mostly female” because we want to leave it open. It’s all about having the solidarity with other people that aren’t typically seen. We’ve always been queer friendly. D’Lo has hopped on as one of the co-producers. The spirit of what we do and the politics is queer friendly. Liliana, she and I actually competed in the California’s funniest female contest in 2012. She won, I came in second. 

CJ: Oh, the bitch. 

JY: Exactly, the bitch won. But whatever, she was funny. My thing is, no matter who you are, if you can bring a unique perspective and it’s smart, I want to book you.

CJ: What drew you to some of these other comics?

JY: I like to feature people who are really funny, and have unique stories. We have Liliana Cervantes, who is lesbian, and adopted. She’s Mexican and was adopted into a Mexican family, so she jokes about how she feels, in the realm of adoptees, that she might have missed the boat. And we have D’Lo, one of the very few trans identified comics out there. He’s a long time solo performer, musician and poet. He’s also a Sri Lankan immigrant in the Asian American community. I admired him so much before I was in comedy. Then, as I moved into comedy, it just so happens that the environment has changed for someone like D’Lo and he can now audition in a traditional Hollywood environment. There’s just more outlets for gayness and queerness period. 

CJ: The entire movement forward by the transgender community has us all amazed. Just what’s happened in the last two to three years. It has progressed so fast in such a short period of time, on top of the incredible leaps that marriage equality has made in the last ten years. It’s stunning. 

JY: Right. And what’s beautiful about it is that it pushes everyone to be better. I have to say, that was one of the areas that I was fairly ignorant on, prior to working with, as a creative partner, with D’Lo.

CJ: I think the transgender community thought that we in the gay community would automatically understand the gender issue, and I think we ourselves felt guilty about not understanding it. So I went out and educated myself. I think that’s key for all of us. It’s such a different thing than being gay, whereas it used to be, and still can be, lumped in with that. 

JY: Totally. It’s a different paradigm. I think it’s a beautiful thing for everyone to kind of complicate their ideas. 

CJ: Do you have a line? We lost Joan Rivers recently, who famously said there was no line for her. But do you have a line as to how far you’ll go or which topics you’ll touch on as a comedian?

JY: I think that any topic can be made to be funny, and we should have the right to do that as artists. But we’re also not an island, we live in this world.  So we can choose to say anything we want, but it’s still a choice, and there’s consequences sometimes to that. 

CJ: Do you think comics feel the line more now that everyone has a camera and is recording everything?

JY: Oh yeah. It’s amplified. Not all comics think the way I do. I came from a background in politics. My first job out of college was with a nonprofit doing policy and communications for  the Asian Pacific American community. That was brief and then I went into urban planning.

CJ: So how did comedy happen for you?

JY: I’ve always been extroverted and I’ve always loved writing, as well as speaking and performing. So I channeled that into student government. I was a big, overachieving little Asian kid reinforcing stereotypes. It wasn’t until college that I realized that all this poetry I used to write and all these speeches I used to give for student government was entertaining people. So I used that gift to connect with people as a student activist. I worked closely with the Latino groups, the queer union and the African American student group, so that’s where I got my political consciousness raised. So for me to create a platform of comedy, it was only natural that the spirit of it be aligned with who I am.

CJ: I was told you have videos on Tell me about that.

JY: I did one called “If Asians Said The Stuff White People Say”. That one went viral. And now we’re doing a new series called “Ask An Asian”. It’s actually part of the BuzzFeed series that was kicked off by Cameron Esposito, a lesbian comic, called “Ask A Lesbian”. I’m the follow up. So they put it out there, what are the questions you’ve always wanted to ask an Asian? It opened up Pandora’s Box! 

CJ: Gena, tell me about the organization behind this fundraiser and where the money goes.

Gena Gong: The group is Central California Asian Pacific Women (CCAPW). The money from this event all goes towards our scholarship program. Our scholarship fund benefits low income, usually very low income and usually first generation college students. For us it’s mostly Asian American women from Fresno and the Central Valley. Most of them are the first ones in their families to go to college or grad school. And they go all over the country. A lot of them stay in California but they also go elsewhere. 

CJ: How many scholarships do you generally give out a year?

GG: Generally we give out about 10 a year, usually about $1,000 to $2,000 each. And we have a couple of named ones that are a little more as well. One of the things we’d like to do this year is start an endowment.

CJ: Where do people get tickets?

JY: They can go to  


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