Asian Comedians to Watch When The World Is Too Much

Sabine has two requirements for good comedy: making her forget that the world sucks or making her see that, yeah, the world does suck, but it’s also okay to be vulnerable and to laugh sometimes.

With issues such as climate change and social inequity seeming never-ending, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and lose hope, but this is where comedy can offer some comfort. Unfortunately, it can sometimes feel like an overwhelmingly white industry that cares only about a white audience. Asians are excluded from comedy or Asian cultures/identities are the joke. Think of Apu from The Simpsons, who is the embodiment of an Indian stereotype voiced by a white actor. Even James Corden’s “Spill Your Guts” segment, where guests have to answer a question or eat “disgusting” food that happens to be traditional Asian cuisine (so arguably only disgusting for white Western audiences). Plus, how many white guys named Jimmy or John are considered the icons of the comedy world and have had shows on major networks for a dozen or so years?

Yes, comedy is subjective. People will find different things funny. However, being racist isn’t good comedy. It’s offensive, hurtful, and supports real-world discrimination. Marginalized identities and cultures shouldn’t be the punchline, especially when the comedian is white. As such, it’s different when the comedian comes from those cultures or identities, and jokes about something as serious as racism can be cathartic.

There is an underlying vulnerability to stand-up comedy that I admire. I love watching the following comedians mainly because they show me that it’s okay to sometimes step back and laugh. For me, the two requirements for good comedy are: making me forget that the world sucks or making me see that, yeah, the world does suck, but it’s also okay to be vulnerable and to laugh sometimes. 

The good thing is that comedy is changing for the better and becoming more inclusive. The “Spill Your Guts” segment made headlines last month for its racist undertones, and an online petition organized by activist Kim Saira to change or take down the segment has been circulating and successfully achieved its goal. Plus, more and more Asian comedians are producing and creating content that’s circulating in the mainstream.

The following is a list of things that I’ve watched (and rewatched) when the world is just too much. Keep in mind that this list is not extensive and a warning that some deal with heavy issues, but more on that in the individual sections.  

Hasan Minhaj, Homecoming King (2017) and Patriot Act (2018 – 2020)Image Source

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Hasan Minhaj is an Indian-American Muslim comedian who grew up in California, and he’s probably one of my favourite comedians. Minhaj got his start in comedy as a correspondent on The Daily Show in 2014. His comedy special Homecoming King was released on Netflix in 2017. In the special, Minhaj shares anecdotes about his life growing up as the child of immigrants in America, including having to deal with subtle to more violent incidents of racism. Not only is his general energy and comedic style captivating, but he manages to strike the perfect balance of informative, heartfelt, and entertaining. He also hosted his comedy talk show, Patriot Act (Netflix), which he described as “a woke TED Talk.” Unfortunately, the show was canceled after only two years and just under 40 episodes. Although most episodes cover timely issues such as Trump’s presidency and elections in a variety of countries, some stand out episodes that I believe remain as relevant today as the day they were released are “The Two Sides of Canada,” “The Ugly Truth of Fast Fashion,” and “Why Billionaires Won’t Save Us.”

These episodes and more are available on Netflix and The Patriot Act YouTube channel

Ali Wong, Baby Cobra (2016) and Hard Knock Wife (2018)

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Ali Wong is hilariously authentic and radically honest. In each of her stand-up specials, Wong is pregnant and isn’t afraid to point it out. She doesn’t shy away from topics such as pregnancy, motherhood, marriage, and sex while using her platform to poke fun at sexist double standards. Throughout her specials, one thing is clear: Wong isn’t afraid to unapologetically be herself and to have a good time while doing it. She also stars in the romantic comedy Always Be My Maybe (2019) alongside Randall Park, which I also recommend for a light-hearted, feel-good watch. 

See Best of: Ali Wong | Netflix is A Joke on YouTube for a sneak peek of Ali Wong’s comedy specials. The full specials are available on Netflix.

Margaret Cho, I’m the One That I Want (2000) and Notorious C.H.O. (2002)Image Source

Margaret Cho is another comedian whose authenticity makes her work so captivating. I mentioned earlier that I find vulnerability and honesty a key factor to good comedy. Cho touches upon issues like addiction, eating disorders, racism, and homophobia, and she also talks candidly about her life and career as a bisexual Asian woman. 

Watch I’m the One That I Want (2000) on DailyMotion and Notorious C.H.O. (2002) on YouTube. 

Ronny Chieng, Asian Comedian Destroys America (2019)Image Source

Ronny Chieng is a Malaysian comedian and correspondent on The Daily Show. His standup special Asian Comedian Destroys America (2019) presents a satire of American culture through the eyes of an immigrant as Chieng pokes fun at Asian stereotypes and cultural expectations along the way. 

This is one of my favorite clips from the special, which is available in full on Netflix. 

Aditi Mittal, Things They Wouldn’t Let Me Say (2017)Image Source

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Aditi Mittal’s stand-up special Things They Wouldn’t Let Me Say stays true to its title. Throughout her routine, Mittal explores taboo topics such as gender roles, menstruation, sex education, and more through witty jokes and hilarious skits. 

See the trailer for Things They Wouldn’t Let Me Say (2017) on YouTube, and the full special on Netflix. Mittal also posts clips from her other stand-up routines on her YouTube channel.

Mindy Kaling, The Mindy Project (2012 – 2017) Image SourceImage Source

While Mindy Kaling hasn’t released a stand-up routine (yet), she is still one of my favorite comedy writers. The Mindy Project is a comedy series created by and starring Kaling in the titular roles as Mindy Lahiri. This show is probably one of my all time most rewatched. It’s not a perfect show—is there even such a thing?—but it’s entertaining, fun, and colourful. 

All six seasons are available on Amazon Prime, Google Play, and Apple TV. The Mindy Project YouTube channel also posts clips from the show, like this one featuring the “Best of Mindy Lahiri.

Staff Writer

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

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