Stephanie Nam is not a full-time comedian. The 27-year-old queer Korean American runs her own calligraphy business under the name Caracol Creative, the former being the Spanish word for ‘snail’––apropos for the fluent Spanish speaker, as she describes herself as an introvert. But being on stage helps Nam to go beyond her comfort zone, not only because she has to face an audience, but also because being a comedian forces her to interact with other comics. Nam will be part of ‘Model Minority: An Asian Womxn Comedy Show,’ which she produced under Caracol Productions.
Carolyn Bick, Northwest Asian Weekly: How did you get into comedy and performance?
Stephanie Nam: Last year I took an acting class, and that kind of put me into the comedy world, but I had been playing around with the idea for a while.
I guess I think the main thing is a few years ago, I started to watch more comedy on YouTube, and before that, I had never really watched comedy. I went to a couple shows, I watched some specials and things, but, I think, finding things on YouTube, there is a lot more diversity of perspective and people doing indie things or niche things, and I thought that was really cool to see––just how comedy is, I guess, easier than other performance places to have your voice heard, because it’s just you, and you write your own stuff, and you say it. So, yeah, I guess I wanted to try that.
CB: Did you have a background in any sort of performance, before that?
SN: Not really professionally. I did music for a while, and I used to perform and compete for that, but I’d never done comedy, or anything like that, no.
CB: In terms of comedy itself, aside from the fact you can write your own stuff, — it’s your own voice, like you mentioned — what about comedy really drew you to it, and did you find that you’re actually good at it?
SN: I guess I feel like a lot of comedians use it as a platform to kind of talk about issues and things, like political things, or their own identities and stuff that otherwise a lot of people don’t really listen––to have YouTube, to have a platform like that that they are drawn to in other ways.
I’m a really introverted person, and I also have social anxiety, so, for me, I don’t really talk about a lot of things, and I also have certain identities that are invisible to society. Like, I feel like I am always explaining myself as to why these things exist. For me, comedy is a way where I could do that in an independent way. It’s also a solitary way for me to go on stage, take a place, and have my voice heard.
CB: How does your heritage and sexuality play into your art?
SN: I guess just, like, it’s this thing I’m having a way to think through certain identities, and existing in that way. It’s, like, a naturally brave thing to do, like everything that I do, but, also––I guess it gives me a different perspective on certain things, or different stories to tell.
CB: Can you give me an example?
SN: I have some jokes about my experience about online dating as an asexual person––that experience, how people perceive me. Like, when I was at a job, how people see me as Asian, and the assumptions they make about me, and things like that.
CB: How does that play into your specific brand of comedy? How does that make you unique? What kind of experience and voices can you bring to the stage that other comedians can’t?
SN: I guess from the place of how I have experiences that other people wouldn’t have if they don’t have these identities, and sharing that, and also, I think, asexuality is something very invisible, and a lot of people don’t understand or they have a lot of assumptions about it. I think, also, being Asian American, there is a lot of stereotypes and assumptions that are especially strong––even I’ll see a lot of Asian, like, playing to the stereotypes, also. So, like, just sharing my own experience, and not really falling into what people’s assumptions are is important to, like, show, like a breadth of experience within those identities.
CB: So, tell me about the upcoming show. How did you and your fellow comedians come up with it, in the first place?
SN: It’s just me producing the show. I started producing shows last summer, and I produced about one every month.
I’ve had different themes of shows. So, I have a show that’s for queer and trans people of color, and I have a show showcasing women. I also co-produce an open mic that’s geared towards women.
I initially started these productions, because I want to help give more to showcase people who are underrepresented, and have found in other shows it’s a lot of the same people who are running them and who––I feel like it’s a lot of the same people, a lot of men, white men, kind of, like, the environment is very bro-y and misogynistic and a lot of things, and I wanted to create a different kind of space, and I found that if you do a show that really targets a specific people, that really showcases that, the audience is different as well.
So, at the women’s show we tell more jokes that are feminist, and people respond a lot more to that than, like, just at a dinner show. So, a lot of shows like that already exist here in Seattle. There’s not one that is really specific to Asian Americans or Asians, and I do have certain jokes about being Asian. And a lot of times, when people do the jokes, if you’re not that familiar, you won’t understand it as well, or people are like, “Why are they always talking about their race? It’s not important.”
I wanted to have a show that creates an audience and environment that you could relate to and, like, celebrate being Asian, and all the different cultures that’s involved. There’s a very diverse group of comedians within that identity.
There are some types of really Asian-specific shows or events, and a lot of times that focuses on East Asians, and a lot of people assume that, in general, when people say, ‘Asian.’ So, that was the first thing I thought of, the people who are, like, across different cultures in Asia. And I made it specifically for women and nonbinary people, because you know almost all the comedians and a lot of the Asian men, some of their jokes are very misogynistic and stereotyping, and there is a lot of that in a lot of Asian cultures. It is very patriarchal, and there are different stereotypes that they [women] should be very obedient, or very quiet, and I have kind of wrestled with that a lot.
So, like, their voices are silenced more.
CB: So, what places are they [the comedians] from?
SN: So, places like South Asia, the Philippines–– they are often seen as completely separate. You have to specify that they are South Asian.
I think especially, like, just, like, the grey area. People define the continent, but does that include Middle Eastern people, or is that separate? Obviously biracial people, adoptees. That’s what I am thinking of?
CB: What are some of the model minority myths and stereotypes you and your fellow comedians are going to tackle?
SN: I guess some of the immediate things I was thinking of is, specifically, to women, like following along, fitting in, being quiet. I think just even going on the stage, that counteracts that. When I tell people I do comedy, everyone was always really surprised, because they say, “Oh, you’re so quiet. How can you do that? What do you even have to say?” So, yeah, things like that. But not really asking people to specifically talk about things like stereotypes in their jokes. I’ve heard all these people’s jokes and I think that they are just performing around themselves, and being who they are. I don’t think a lot of them really fit into what you think of, I guess, or, like, what you see represented in movies, as, like, an Asian person. So, yeah, I think they are just being themselves and talking about their experiences, and that kind of counteracts the stereotypes. And, obviously, having a wide range of people, in general, you get stereotypes that are obviously very narrow, so people do fit into some stereotypes, but there are more who don’t, so showing that there is more than just one group.
CB: How does it make you feel, when someone asks you point-blank, “Well, what do you even have to say? How can you go on stage?” Or, “I can’t imagine you going up on stage?”
SN: I guess it makes me feel like I am doing what I am supposed to do, then. Like, I should be out there, and, you know, counteracting that.
Model Minority: An Asian Womxn Comedy Show will take place at Columbia City Theatre on Jan. 30. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the show begins at 8 p.m.
Carolyn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.