By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
She’s real. She’s funny. And she’s not trying to be the next Margaret Cho.
Taiwanese American Yola Lu is a University of Washington graduate, a vegetarian, and probably one of the very few Asian Americans who aren’t pursuing their college degree to start a career. As Yola started going through her bucket list, she got to “do one open mic.”
That’s how she got into standup comedy.
“I was always interested in standup comedy but afraid to do it, so I started putting together a bucket list. I ended up taking a beginner class and that pushed me to do my first open mic,” she said.
Her first open mic was a showcase through a UW experimental college class. It was a packed house at the Comedy Underground, and she had a really good set. Not only was she proud of herself, but she had a lot of people go up to her after her show and tell her that she had the best set of the night.
In fact, even a regular emcee at the club recommended that Lu go back and pursue standup because he saw potential in her. And he wasn’t the only one that saw Lu’s potential.
Lu has been in comedy for about eight months now and performs at least twice a week.
Her jokes usually involve observations she has made in her life and addressing commonalities between her and the audience, so that they can laugh and relate.
“After you get the first laugh of the night, the whole ball rolls from there, and there’s a big rush that you get. You’re on a high for the rest of the night when you put on a really good set,” Lu said.
Lu’s biggest challenge was to figure out whether she wanted to pursue comedy because of societal and cultural pressures.
She also said that she has seen all her friends climb up the corporate ladder, but is still unsure of what she really wants to do in her life, which made her question what she was doing.
Lu said that being Asian is a big part of who she is, but she doesn’t want to tell the stereotypical Asian jokes that people expect from her. She doesn’t do impressions of her parents, and she doesn’t make fun of accents because she doesn’t want to be known as the Asian comic.
Originally, the person that pushed her to go and step out of her comfort zone was her friend from UW and fellow comic David Fung. After a few conversations, he instilled a belief in her to pursue a standup comedy career.
Some of Lu’s favorite comics are Aziz Ansari, Ali Wong, and Louis C.K. She looks up to Wong because she’s starting to gain popularity. It’s inspiring to see her get big in the industry,” Lu said.
Lu says that Wong isn’t dedicating her career to racist Asian jokes, and that’s why she looks up to her.
In addition to gigs, Lu works full-time during the day and because of her busy schedule, something’s always got to give. Right now, it’s her social life because when she’s not working, she’s coming up with new material or performing at gigs.
Lu said that the worst part of being in comedy was that people don’t take her seriously when they see her and have low expectations. They go up to her and ask her to tell them a joke before she goes on stage because they can’t imagine her being funny.
But Robert Lackey, who had been doing standup for more than a year, saw Lu at the Comedy Underground at her first open mic. He knew she was special.
“She’s also one of the most talented and passionate people I’ve met. I really see her as something of a trailblazer and a Jackie Robinson on the scene up here. The biggest thing people need to know about her is to remember her name because she’s going to be a big star. I’m predicting within five years,” Lackey said.
Lackey said that some of the jokes were so ridiculous. Fung also said that the material that she delivered was definitely unexpected.
“They wouldn’t be expecting jokes from someone who looks like that. She may come off as more traditional Asian, but her edgy material is totally off the wall,” Fung added.
Lackey helped Lu by introducing her to others in the industry and giving her books to help her writing style. He was truly impressed by how passionate she was about pursuing comedy and how talented she was. The two have gotten pretty close over time, and they even try jokes out on each other to practice.
Lackey said that Lu has had to put up with negativity and that being a 21 year-old Asian woman going into the comedy industry is tough. He said that Lu rises above the challenges and handles everything the right way, despite exploitation and harassment.
“I did kind of take Yola under my wing after that first night at the Comedy Underground, because she was green and young, I didn’t want people to mess with her voice or try to exploit her. So for the first few months, I did kind of look out for her.
But she’s totally a self-made person. I just showed her the ropes and helped her navigate the extremely confusing world of comedy and show business,” he said.
In addition, Lu’s best friend Polly Hoang, said that Lu’s strengths would be her perseverance and “crazy ability to solve problems.”
“The only reason that I want to do this is because one day, when I’m on my death bed, I don’t want to look back and regret not knowing how far I could’ve taken this,” said Lu.
Catch Lu at her next gig on Aug. 24 at the Capitol Club in Seattle. ♦
Nina Huang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.