By Jason Cruz
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
This was the length of Amy Anderson’s first standup performance at an open mic night in 1997 on Saint Patrick’s Day in a Minneapolis comedy club. At the end of her three minutes, she had found her passion.
Anderson, a Korean American, will be headlining at the Comedy Underground in Seattle on Wednesday, Aug. 26. The 36-year-old comedian incorporates her unique perspective on being Asian and adopted into her standup material.
Her entrance into the world of comedy
Unlike other first-time comedians, Anderson has a background in singing and perfoming on the piano, which has helped her to perform standup on stage. Her adopted parents are musical and Anderson sang at church when she was younger. She earned a college degree in classical music from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J.
When she returned to Minneapolis after college, she was not sure what she wanted to do with her life. Flipping through a newspaper, she discovered an ad for improvisational comedy classes. Always the class clown, Anderson decided to give it a try. Soon after, a career in comedy was born.
“What’s so great [about standup] is that its so original. It’s the only performance art where it’s your own words and no one else does your work,” Anderson said.
After a few years in the Minneapolis scene, Anderson decided to give Los Angeles a shot. Anderson found it tough starting out, but eventually learned the ins and outs. After three years of working hard in Los Angeles, she started making a living out of performing standup. She credits many fellow comedians in helping her succeed.
One of the first people that guided her was Dat Phan. Phan, the winner of NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” and Anderson met on the comedy club circuit and became good friends. Phan advised her to network with club owners and bookers in order to get stage time at comedy clubs.
“Amy and I both helped each other out when we were starting as young comics in L.A,” Phan wrote in an e-mail. He added, “I’m glad we’re both in the entertainment biz, trying to show America a different view of Asian Americans all around us.”
Her Korean American identity
The beginning of Anderson’s life was not so comedic. Anderson was abandoned as a baby at a train station in Seoul when she was a day old. She was adopted when she was five and a half months old by a suburban Swedish couple from Minnesota — thus, the last name Anderson. Unfortunately, her abandonment was not an atypical occurrence in South Korea at the time, Anderson says.
Anderson was raised in what she describes as “the suburbs of suburbs” in a “super white-bred” part of Minnesota in the 1970s. There was no Asian community. In fact, Anderson remembers the only other Korean child in her neighborhood was another adopted child. “It was trendy,” she said, referring to Korean adoptions. “Korea was the China of the 1970s,” Anderson joked.
At times, Anderson felt that she was an outsider growing up in a white community. Anderson says humor helped her through difficult times when she was growing up.
Nevertheless, she feels grateful for the experience. “I feel it’s something that makes me unique and interesting,” she said.
Anderson went back to South Korea as part of a program for Korean adoptees in 2006. The program, sponsored by the South Korean government, paid for Anderson and other adoptees to return to the adoption agency where they were adopted. Adoptees had access to their files and efforts were made to find their birth parents. Unfortunately, Anderson’s files did not reveal much.
Motherhood and the future
Not only is Anderson making a living as a comedian, she also juggles being a single mother to a young infant. In order to continue her career on the road, she has a live-in nanny when she is on the road. “A live-in nanny is not cheap,” Anderson said. Many times, she has cried on the way to the airport or in her hotel room because of how much she misses her daughter.
Even though she was adopted, Anderson intends to share aspects of Korean culture with her daughter. The Los Angeles area has a huge Korean population. Anderson hopes to take her daughter to Korea some day.
Anderson’s success has led to appearances on Comedy Central and television commercials including a long running Southwest Airlines commercial. While the allure of getting her own television show and making more commercials is inviting (and something she would not turn down), Anderson wants to remain true to her passion. “I never want to stop doing standup comedy,” Anderson said. “I love standup and this is my art form.” ♦
Amy Anderson will be headlining the Comedy Underground in Seattle on Aug. 26. Visit www.comedyunderground.com for information and tickets. For more information onAnderson, visit her website amyanderson.net, her blog funnyyellowmom.blogspot.com, or on Twitter at twitter.com/amysfunny.
Jason Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.