By Becky Chan
Northwest Asian Weekly
Even her name sounds like laughter.
Kiki Yeung is the force behind an all-Asian line up comedy show, Crazy Woke Asians (CWA). The energetic comedian, producer, actress, writer, and director throws 110% of herself into producing and working the show, taking it cross country.
After the Oct. 14-16 tour in Seattle—two sold-out shows at Theatre on Jackson in the Chinatown-International District (CID) and one at Unexpected Production at Pike Place Market—the show headed back to San Diego at the Laugh Factory on Oct. 21, followed by a stop in New York City’s Carolines on Broadway on Nov. 8.
Yeung, born in Hong Kong, immigrated with her family to the U.S. when she was 12.
“My parents didn’t want me to hang around Chinese. They wanted me to assimilate, to speak English,” Yeung explained why her parents settled in Bothell, instead of, say, Beacon Hill, a more diverse neighborhood. Yeung graduated from Bothell High School.
The first years in Bothell were hard on the teenaged Yeung, being in a new country and speaking a new language. The once extrovert who attended Hong Kong’s all-girl Maryknoll Convent School, known for its academic excellence, became depressed. The happy child who was third in a school district solo voice competition, dreaming of being the next ‘Faye Wong,’ a popular Hong Kong singer in the 1990s, became ill.
Yeung was diagnosed with hemolytic anemia, a type of autoimmune illness, requiring nine pints of blood transfusion. Her mom blamed it on Yeung’s ride on Disney World’s Splash Mountain.
After the blood transfusion, “My mom asked the doctor, ‘She’s not Chinese anymore. Is she Vietnamese, Japanese, Black, white?”’ Yeung said.
Sharing stories about one’s mother often brought nods and chuckles during the CWA show. Lying to the family about being a comedian was a common theme. So was tough love.
“My mom was a tiger mom,” Yeung said. “She would buy 12 bamboo sticks, in case one breaks, at the wet market in Hong Kong, to use on us.” Yeung is determined to show her 6-year-old son physical and emotional love. No beating. No shaming.
“I turned out okay, though,” Yeung added, as if still seeking approval.
Yeung studied drama at the University of Washington, where she wrote, produced, and directed plays at the Ethnic Cultural Theatre. Yes, as with many assertive and ambitious Asian women, Yeung was called a dragon lady when she tried to get other student actors to commit to a demanding rehearsal schedule. One by one, they quit.
Yeung later found that doing a one-woman show was easier, and not as frustrating.
Yeung moved to San Diego in 2011, and, in pursuit of her acting dream, spent hours idling in Los Angeles traffic for auditions that lasted minutes.
In 2013, her one-woman show, ‘Second Chances for Grace,’ premiered at the San Diego Fringe Festival. It was an autobiographical and emotional journey about a Hong Kong girl chasing her dream of being an actress in America. The award-winning show required Yeung to play 18 characters and brought out her comedic side. After seeing the show, the husband of Yeung’s agent urged her to try stand-up.
I never thought I could do comedy. It’s so scary because…you have to be you,” Yeung said. “Acting, you can be somebody else.”
After giving birth to her son, true to her Type A personality, Yeung needed a bigger challenge. The theater-trained Yeung left her comfort zone and participated in a popular female comedy workshop in LA. Once she did her first gig, Yeung never turned back. The instant feedback from the audience is “like air” that breathed life into her.
If Yeung’s father was alive and was told she’s doing stand-up, her father would tell her to “sit down.” That thought didn’t stop Yeung from pursuing comedy. It was her constantly being booked as the token-Asian in a comedy show that got to her. She learned that producers of shows didn’t like to book more than one Asian per show, fearing they all tell the same jokes. It’s the same bias that typecast Asian actors in TV and films.
“It’s a no brainer. I wanted to do something about it,” Yeung said. Instead of whining about the problem, she founded CWA and produced the all-Asian comedy show in 2018 in LA to rave reviews. The show also toured Seattle to sold-out crowds in 2019.
Her Seattle shows included Asian Americans who also identify as Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Mexican, Cambodian, and Black. They are dads, moms, sons, and daughters. Most came from LA, several with Seattle connections. They told stories from an Asian perspective but from different angles.
“It’s fun! The spiritual connection with people is very healing,” said Yeung about doing stand-up and creating a community. She wants to erase the stigma that all Asians are alike. Based on her own experience, she encourages others interested in comedy to “take a class and find humor in life always. Don’t be afraid to bomb or fall. Embrace the silence.” A lesson in life itself.
Yeung is also producing a romantic comedy series ‘Sweet Sour Chicks” about several Asian American women friends exploring their sexuality and romantic relationships. That’ll be her goal if either her CWA show or the series is or are picked up by HBO or Netflix.
The little Hong Kong girl still dreams big.
For more information, visit crazywokeasians.com.
Becky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.