If you like Kpop, if you like comedy then boy do I have a show you MUST see! AzN Pop. Dubbed as the first American Kpop band, these ladies are fucking slaying it with their no bullshit filter and hilarious songs about being Asian-American, and (of course) their love for white boys. Cause as Asian-American females, it is our duty to perpetuate the stereotype of Asian women by only loving white boys. Duh.
These awesome chicks just released their newest music video too! Check it out!
I don’t know about you but I personally have a huge lady hard-on for Peter Dinklage.
Part of the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB), the ladies of AzN PoP are challenging people’s views of Asian-American women. That’s right folks, these kick-ass ladies are taking down the patriarchy and the racism of Hollywood one song at a time, through comedy. Cause let’s be real, who ever heard of a group of Asian women being funny? That’s just silly.
I got the chance to interview these game-changing chicks:
Angel is Quirky Rice (@angelyau)
Ann Marie is Competitive Rice (@annmarieyoo)
Iliana is Baby Rice (@ilianainocencio)
Maya is Brown Rice (@mayadesh)
Anna is Edgy Rice (@thejapjap)
When did this group form and how? Did one of you just wake up one day and say "I want to form a satirical Asian pop group?"
Ann Marie Yoo - For years I've always wanted to do something in comedy that's Asian-specific because sadly you just don't really see that kind of content. But I never could formulate a concrete idea. Then Iliana (and Anna) approached me asking me to partake in this Asian k-pop / j-pop sketch group and literally I was like "YES PLEASE THANK YOU, THANK YOU FOR ASKING ME.”
Maya - We formed about 2 years ago, and I knew Anna from Musical Improv. Anna sort of put it together with some other Asian comedians that she knew. We basically were sick of watching just white people do comedy and we wanted to do something that played to a lot of to tropes about our ethnicity but with our own voice.
Anna - I lived in Japan until 2000 and grew up on J-pop. Here in America J-pop is ironic and funny but it was a genuine part of my childhood and Japanese culture. A few years ago, once I was fully immersed in the comedy community, I wanted to do something with singing, and J-pop and realized no one was doing it. I thought it was comedy gold so I hit up all other Asians I knew in comedy, which was basically these four. I'm kidding, but the rarity of Asian comedians is not a huge exaggeration.
Iliana - We formed 2 years ago. ( Maybe 2.5? We are basically family now, so I don't know I've lost all concept of time. Lol. ) Any who, I knew of Anna and totally wanted to work with her in some capacity. I also missed doing musical things and knew Anna had a background in musical theater like I did. We met up for coffee at Bibble and Sip (hollah, Japanese bakery!), and I thought we might just brainstorm stuff, but literally SECONDS after sitting down Anna said right away, "I have an idea! J-Pop parody group!" And IT BLEW MY FRIGGIN MIND. She is so smart! And we both knew the rest of the girls because the comedy world is small and they are also very talented and Asian... and the rest is history!
Angel - All Anna! Iliana asked me to join. This was my first sketch group, I usually fly solo for comedy. It is a dream of mine to be a rockstar, but I cannot sing so this was a perfect combination for me to say yes!
What were some of your inspirations for this group?
AM - We really went off of Anna's knowledge of j-pop girl groups since she was born and raised in Japan when she was young. I also have a tiny bit of k-pop knowledge since I lived in Korea for a little bit a long time ago. I love the k-pop groups Girls' Generation and Wonder Girls.
Maya - Obvi KPOP and JPOP groups! Spice girls, Lonely Island.
Anna - In my childhood Morning Musume was a very popular J-pop group. These days it's AKB48. We drew inspiration from generations of J-pop/K-pop, but also Western groups like Spice Girls, like Maya said. That's why we're all "(Something) Rice" instead of Spice.
liana - In the beginning, my main source of inspiration was the Sp ice Girls and every other 90s boy band. Thanks to AzN PoP, I've definitely started listening to more K-Pop and J-Pop. Most recently, I've been into Black Pink and in the earliest version of our show, we used a song by E-Girls as an opener.
Angel - Constance Wu's outspokenness, Aziz Ansari's stories, fellow local Asian- American comedians who are trying so hard to be heard!
How long have you been part of UCB? Did you have to be a student first before you could perform in AzN PoP? Or is AzN PoP its own commodity?
AM - I myself started taking classes at UCB almost 10 years ago (yikes!). AzN PoP! is its own commodity/group, so there was no requirement to have been a student of UCB. But I think we all studied there any way (except for Anna, maybe).
Maya - I've taken a ton of classes at UCB, it's really competitive to perform there so this was our first foray into creating our own content for them. I am also an actor on UCBs Maude night, which are their house sketch teams. I got Maude (UCB house sketch teams) and AzN PoP at roughly the same time last November, and I've been performing there since January.
Anna - Thanks, Ann Marie! I have taken some classes but very few. I don't come from an improv background, I only took a few classes at UCB over the last 4-5 years. My comedy background stems in standup, which is not part of the school curriculum. (Improv, sketch, stand-up are all different forms of comedy!)
Iliana - I took a couple classes at UCB. I think we all did at some point. But I think we would all agree that we weren't really IN the UCB community until now--except for Angel who was on a digital team there and now Maya, who is on Maude night. You don't have to be a UCB student to perform at the theater, but I feel like it helps a bit in that it's human nature for people to want to work with people they know. But we definitely formed AzN PoP outside of the UCB community--and did not have UCB in mind. I know I just wanted to work with cool Asian-American ladies! Eventually, we ended up pitching our show to the theater because we kind of wanted to see if we could break into a predominantly white male community. We had a live "audition" called a Spank where we perform the whole show to an audience and then you find out if you get a run. A run usually lasts 6 months. July will be our 7th, so that's cool!
Angel - I have been apart of UCB around 2008. I did the fast condensed improv 101 in NYC. I then moved to LA after college and got more involved at the UCB there... then moved back to NYC and continued my UCB love. Improv, Sketch, Storytelling - took them all! AzN Pop is its own commodity but our UCB involvement does not hurt.
What are some the challenges you face being an Asian-American actor?
AM - As an actor, I always feel like I'm fighting against two major setbacks: being Asian and being female. Not to minimize others' struggles (bc others certainly do have major struggles) but female Asian-American actors are the least represented by far, and I feel like we are the most susceptible to being pigeon-holed into horribly stereotypical and offensive roles.
I feel like I particularly struggle in this industry because I think my personality doesn't match how people tend to perceive me off my looks. I'm told I have the "quintessential Asian look" (whatever that means) but I am not meek nor quiet nor tiny, and I get the sense that that makes people go "whoa what's with her? She's confusing" and then I think I'm passed over. It's frustrating.
I've also had pretty much all the offensive encounters you can imagine. Once, an acting teacher told me I need to be careful and aware of my eyes bc on camera it can look like my eyes are always closed. No joke. Another time I was auditioning for the part of a Chinatown waitress and the two older white men who were casting insisted I play it much more “realistically," as in like a masseuse/seductive sex slave. Oh of course, how silly of me.
Maya - Hmmm... I'm Indian… So my challenges might be a bit different from the other ladies… But I guess it's all pretty standard… Like accents and stereotypes… Also being a woman has its own difficulties…
Anna - Because I look mixed I don't go through the standard racist sh*t my AsAm actor friends go through. I'm glad I don't get called in as a ninja. I DID finally experience the obligatory, "That was great, now this time, can you do it with an accent?" Commercial audition!!! I made it.
Iliana - Going back to being in musical theater, the biggest thing I faced before I got into comedy was only doing productions of Miss Saigon or The King and I. I got tired of auditioning for the same shows, so I took an improv class. Comedy in some ways allows you to do your own thing, which is amazing. Since then, I do occasionally go in for TV things that require some kind of stereotypical Asian accent, but I feel like they're getting less and less prevalent. Additionally, I do get called in for a lot of quiet and/or studious best friend roles--traits that play up the Asian stereotypes--even though I am much more of an all-American, Mary Tyler Moore-ish girl next door type.
Angel - Being cast as a main character in general or being cast as a side character but with Asian stereotypes and tropes - being the nerdy one, being an odd-ball-weirdo, being the sexy one, being foreign who does not understand America. I remember writing stories when I was younger. The main character's name would always be something like Amanda Smith. I was afraid to give them an ethnic name, a Chinese name. I was afraid to give the character any reference towards where they are from. I didn't want my readers to assume anything of this person, to picture this person in their heads a certain way. I wanted my readers to focus on the story. I wanted everyone to be able to connect with the character. How can they, I thought if her name was Angel Yau? If this person was white, there is no prejudgment because there are so many different kinds of white people with so many different stories people can think for them...
I think that is what Hollywood executive thinks - what I thought when I was a kid.... Right now, as an adult - I do want to tell my story, which IS about growing up with Immigrant parents and have people connect to that... but at the same time, I want to just be a main character of a show that doesn't need to address the history.
I had so much fun watching all of you! Have you gotten any "backlash" because of AzN PoP or have you found most people have a good sense of humor?
AM - I've only heard the most positive and complimentary things! Fellow Asians seem to love being represented and hearing their voices/struggles through our show and that means the world to me! The only "backlash" I can possibly think of is when we were formulating the show in the early stages - I myself would get worried from time to time as to whether we were actually making a poignant joke or just perpetuating a stereotype. It can be a fine line!
Maya - Ha! Thankfully the response has been pretty positive… I guess my in laws who are Jewish, were underwhelmed… They said it was "an experience". But their idea of comedy is Vagner's The Ring.
Anna - 99% of the time I hear our show is "cathartic" for audience members, especially for those who are people of color, because they've never seen a self-aware parody that still addresses issues like this before. I got one minor complaint from an educated white friend who was bothered by a recurring joke we have about the Nanking Massacre (in our show, a Chinese member keeps bringing up to a Japanese member). If you have seen the show, the joke serves to highlight internal conflicts within Asian countries outside of Western interferences (the world doesn't revolve around the West) and is to slightly mock Japan's disregard for this piece of history. I'm commenting on my own culture! Otherwise, the reception is great... Everyone loves it!
Iliana - No backlash that I know of! Unless there's some private Facebook group somewhere bashing us and creating memes. Lol. Most people of color, especially Asian-American performers, have thanked us for giving voice to the issues a lot of us face. And those who aren't Asian have told me they didn't realize those are things we have to deal with. It's been really great on all fronts.
Angel - It's amazing how our songs and sketches are common thoughts in our lives that I thought wouldn't be unique as a show. But it seems that no other comedy group has addressed these issues so people do connect to it. We are always a bit afraid if our sketches are attacking white people... we did a promo show and were handing out postcards so people can come see our future shows - we had positive feedback for the most part but then I did notice younger Asian folks who dismissed our postcards. I can only assume that they feel like they don't want to be known as white people haters like us... but I'm just assuming. All in all, we want our show to appeal to everyone, we want to inspire... to learn something new or to identify with us.
What are your thoughts on Presentation Vs Representation in the entertainment?
AM - I'm torn about this issue. I certainly understand the importance of different countries being respectfully represented as such in castings (i.e. ethnically Korean actors being cast in Korean parts) because I think this stems from Asian culture having very distinct/different countries. But on the flip side, there doesn't seem to be an uproar when, say an actor who's family is historically Irish plays a character who is Russian - this was Sandra Oh's point years ago in a magazine interview of hers that I read, and I totally get that too. So it's a toughie.
Maya - YOU DEF GOTTA REP! There are so many nuances and experiences that can only be fully developed for people of that specific ethnicity… PLUS… There are so many underrepresented depictions of Non-White protagonists that it can truly give the project a disservice. I mean ideally... But not gonna lie, if I get cast as a Latina, I'm taking that part.
Anna - As a biracial person (Japanese and White) this is tough because I don't feel there's much representation for my specific ethnicity yet. When I see Asian characters I don't feel Asian enough and when I see White characters I don't feel white enough to belong to their friend group. So I often play the "any ethnicity" character by default. I can imagine representation must be extremely meaningful for Asian children and young adults, and all children of color, but given the state of this business, maybe we have to start with presentation until we can take over and demand representation. Not ideal. Entertainment is a complicated world. Anyway, this group is my way to feel more Asian...
Iliana - This is something I go back and forth on a lot. But at the end of the day, I think about how Caucasian people get to play a bunch of other races without anyone thinking twice about it, so why shouldn't we be "allowed?" My biggest belief has been that if race does not move the plot along, cast whoever you want. But unfortunately, it gets more complicated because on the flip side we have Caucasians playing roles that could have-- and sometimes should have-- been played by a person of color. Plus there's just the complete lack of diversity in entertainment--, especially for Asians and Hispanics. Diversity is so often seen as black and white. Until it's completely equal representation for all races, presentation will feel a bit off the mark for me. And if it is presentation, it should be done in the most informed manner if possible. And I think we have a long way to go until then! This is very long and I could go on forever about this...
Angel - One of my early memories I have of this was when Zyi Zhang was in Memoirs of a Geisha and people were upset that she is a Chinese actor playing Japanese. I was conflicted - I thought, does it matter if she's a great actress? But then I remember when Sandra Oh, played a Chinese woman in Double Happiness - I watch that movie when I was younger and I connected with that character so much - her strict parents, her guilt of not being the best "Chinese" person, her career choice of acting... I didn't mind that she was Korean because she captured everything so well. I think it's a step... eventually perhaps, there are enough Asian actors to play the role they are meant for but for now let's not have White people play Asian parts.
What's next for AzN PoP?
AM - We have two show dates at UCB-LA in September which we are excited about! We've also been pitching to networks for video content - this summer we're making a strong effort to shoot some of our material into video form so we can widen our visibility and make our presence better-known!
Maya - Video stuff! Eating Korean bbq! That pretty much sums it up!
Anna - We'll be pumping out music videos and more Youtube content - SUBSCRIBE and STAY TUNED!
Iliana - We'll be taking our current show to UCB LA in the fall. We also have a new music video in the works and are working on building our digital content.
Angel - More music videos! More sketch shows! TV SHOW???!?!?!??!
Thank you so much ladies! Be sure to follow them on Facebook to find out when they are performing next! https://www.facebook.com/AzNPoPComedy/
Follow Alex on Twitter/Instagram @AlexFChester and check out her newest online magazine www.HapaMag.com