Dis/orient/ed Comedy: Uproar From the Underrepresented

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The Asian American/Pacific Islander Resource Center hosted two comedians — D’Lo, a Tamil Sri Lankan American (left) and Jenny Yang, a Chinese American (right). Photo by Camille Miller

“When things aren’t being fulfilled in a certain space, you just have to create your own,” said Dis/orient/ed Comedy co-producer D’Lo during his appearance in the group’s stand-up show last Friday.

True to his words and the name of the showcase, the space created in the College Nine/Ten Multipurpose Room that night was different than that of an average comedy show. When the lights dimmed and the doors closed, no one among the nearly 215 students in the crowd knew exactly what to expect.

Jenny Yang and D’Lo are co-producers of Dis/orient/ed Comedy, which, according to its website, is “the first-ever, nationally touring stand-up comedy showcase that features the fresh and diverse voices of Asian American female-identified comics and the diverse friends who love [them].” The showcase provides a platform for voices that aren’t commonly heard in mainstream American comedy, and provide a more socially aware form of entertainment.

“The voices we present are usually invisible to the bigger public,” Yang said. “What’s beautiful about [Dis/orient/ed Comedy] is that the people who you don’t typically hear on stage for a stand-up comedy show, you see on our stages and it attracts an amazing crowd that is so appreciative and that loves the fact that they get to see someone speak from a perspective that they can relate to.”

Yang, a Chinese American woman, jumped into her 45-minute segment with a Mandarin freestyle and an apology to the students of UC Santa Cruz for having mistaken the school mascot for an anteater in a tweet earlier that week.

At one point, Yang lifted up her shirt and fearlessly showcased her midsection and exclaimed, “Embrace your flesh” and “We can’t suck it in all the time,” which drew roaring laughter from the crowd.

Then came D’Lo, a Tamil Sri Lankan American, who opened up about his childhood in a dominantly Sri Lankan neighborhood in Lancaster, California, where being environmentally friendly by taking bucket baths was of utmost importance.

While on stage, D’Lo shared his experience of coming out as a queer transgender man to his parents. In one of the most memorable moments of the night, D’Lo wrapped up his portion of the show by questioning the reproductive qualities of his spit and performed cunnilingus on the microphone. Needless to say, the audience went wild.

Yang and D’Lo touched on race, gender and sexuality through the storytelling of their own experiences, merging politics and humor in a way that made people laugh and think critically about what was being said.

“We want to use comedy as a tool to break down stereotypes,” D’Lo said. “It’s a tool to break new ground in understanding. I hope by sharing my story in comedic ways people can walk away with a better understanding of trans people of color.”

Yang morphed hilarious jokes about Tinder and ex-boyfriends with Asian fetishes into meaningful commentary on the sexualization of and violence against women in the US. D’Lo brought to light the issue of police brutality against people of color when talking about an instance in which he was stopped by the police for not having a bicycle light. By being engaged in meaningful real-world issues through a comedic lens, the audience explored and connected with the politics of identity.

Third-year Amanda Shum’s favorite part of the show was when Yang condemned the fetishization of Asian women and talked about her own past dating experiences. As an Asian American woman herself, Shum related to the stories being told, demonstrating that a diversity of voices on stage can have a positive impact on underrepresented groups in this country.

UCSC staff member Cameron de León shared similar sentiments in regard to D’Lo’s performance.

“It was cool seeing people who represented myself — trans people, queer people, people of color — talking about real issues because a lot of the time, comedians can be offensive or homophobic or some of the jokes they make can be at the expense of other people,” de León said.

The show came to a heartwarming close during a brief Q&A when one student in the crowd took up the microphone to thank Yang and D’Lo for coming to campus.

“As a Filipino, Asian American woman aspiring to work in comedy someday, it’s really inspiring and I’m so grateful to be here,” the student said. “I don’t know where I would find it anywhere else.”

The event was put on by the Colleges Nine and Ten Activities Office and the Asian American/Pacific Islander Resource Center (AA/PIRC). It was co-sponsored by various ethnic resource centers and campus units, including the Cantú Queer Center and the Women’s Center and student groups Blender and Queer Trans People of Color (QTPOC).

AA/PIRC Director Nancy Kim thought a Dis/orient/ed show would be a good way to entertain students while also educating them when she proposed having the comedians come to UCSC.

“I really want students who can identify with the performers to feel a sense of voice and empowerment, and also affirmation of their multiple identities and experiences,” Kim said. “For the students who don’t necessarily identify with them, they can still gain some knowledge and perspective that will help them be better allies.”