We know all the Asian streotypes. We’ve heard them all! But at The Banana Times we try to inform and tell the stories of Asian people who are so much more than just a stereotype. Within recent years we’ve seen Asian actors, Asian musicians, and even Asian basketball players emerge in the mainstream with much success. What about Asian sketch comedy?
“Asiansploitation” is an all-Asian sketch comedy troupe based in Toronto, whose latest show “GOES DEEP” premieres at the George Ignatieff Theatre on June 6th and runs until June 9th. Their name derives from the “Blaxploitation” (or blacksploitation) film genre, where movies are originally made with strong black themes to empower African Americans starting in the 1970s. After a great chat with three members of the troupe (Andrea, James and Franco), I couldn’t wait to go deep with them…
Andrea James Lui, actress and one of the newer members, feels she has gained more Chinese pride and learned more about Asian culture since joining the troupe. She has felt the empowering aspects of being in an all-Asian comedy group much like the Blaxploitation movement, but she feels most empowered when she is performing stories about people in general, regardless of gender or race.
“From an actor’s perspective, there’s not a lot of Asian roles to audition for. If you just look into the proportion of roles written for men instead of women, versus the number of actresses there are compared to the number of actors, is grossly disproportional. This same disproportion exists in terms of Asian roles and Caucasian roles etc,” Andrea said.
Asiansploitation Goes Deep is the “most ambitious show we’ve ever done.”
With a simple yet profound show name in Goes Deep, your mind may wonder when trying to determine what the meaning is behind the title. “How I feel about Goes Deep is that it’s extra-personal,” stand-up comedian and filmmaker Franco Nguyen said. “But when I tell people to go see Asiansploitation’s Goes Deep, they always think of something dirty,” and I was no exception to that. Andrea on the other hand says, “it’s funny, all I think of is football!”
When it comes to on-stage storytelling, a sketch comedy show is different from a theater performance in many ways. In a way a sketch comedy show more resembles a concert than anything else considering the structure. Franco said, “when we get to two or three weeks before the show, even two days, we still have to decide the running order of sketches.” For those of you familiar with how Saturday Night Live operates, would have some idea of how tense, last-minute, and audience-dependent a sketch show is. So why choose such a niche market of artistic expression?
“There was one reviewer who called us a bunch of class clowns. When I think about it, when I was in Chinese school, I was the class clown. Then when I started talking to everyone else in the group, they’ve all had their class clown moments as well. Then I thought maybe we were just a bunch of class clowns! And we do this because you just want to make people laugh sometimes,” said actor, writer, and founding member of Asiansploitation James Chen.
Much like myself, Andrea, Franco and James are all part of a generation of young Asians who went against the tide and became passionate about arts and the creative industry. I am always curious about what people’s parents said when they decided to pursue a career in the arts. My parents eventually accepted my choice, but a lot of Asian parents may never come to this understanding.
“With my parents, if you’re self-made, I don’t think they would care what you do,” James said. “So the ideal would be to have this rich business that would take an hour of time every week that generates this money, and you spend the rest of your time just acting and no one would really care.” More poignantly, “Just take responsibility for yourself.”
Andrea’s parents on the other hand “thought for the longest time that this was a phase.” Andrea said, “they always oscillate between “you should be an accountant!” to “this is great what you’re doing!”
However, this notion of Asian parents wanting their children to go down a ‘practical’ career path as opposed to a creative or artistic route, could be just another stereotype. It all comes down to being able to provide yourself and staying alive while being on your own. This is not an Asian characteristic but a human characteristic.
“It doesn’t matter what race you are, where you come from, or who you are, everyone’s parent want them to be able to feed themselves,” said Andrea.