On Saturday evening, a crowd of about 200 students at Colleges Nine and Ten Multipurpose Room laughed along with Asian American comedians Irene Tu and headliner Joel Kim Booster as they joked about periods, dating and being poor.
Booster performed material drawn partially from his album, “Model Minority,” an unabashedly open and honest discussion about his inconsiderate cats, loneliness and abundant gay dating apps. Unlike its title, the album shows no interest in conforming to stereotypes about Asian men and instead indulges in raunchy and boisterous humor, quite a bit of which is drawn from Booster’s life.
Adopted from South Korea as a baby by religious white parents, Booster was homeschooled until he was 16 by his family in Chicago. He comments that his parents kept him away from public school for so long because they didn’t want him exposed to sex or evolution.
“I talk a lot in my act about the struggles of growing up with parents that are Christian and conservative, et cetera, et cetera and the negative stuff because that’s where the comedy is but I love my family and I love my parents,” Booster said. “They’re very supportive so it’s always a balancing act of never wanting to push it and paint them wholly as villians.”
While still living in Chicago, Booster got his start in comedy when he was pursuing acting and found himself frustrated by the limited scope of the roles he was getting as an Asian American actor.
“Across every medium I was only getting called in to play nerds or assistants or Chinese food delivery boys. And I was happy to pay my dues with those roles but it just never felt like they’d ever get more interesting,” Booster said in an email.
Comedy gave him an opportunity to write and perform his own material and not be beholden to someone else’s idea of what an Asian person could or should be.
“My first show in Chicago was as a part of a comedy variety show a group of friends were producing. […] By some miracle I did very well that night,” Booster said in an email.
Neither comedy nor acting were careers his parents expected him to go into.
“[My parents] were not happy when I told them I wanted to be an actor and they were even less happy when I told them I wanted to be a comedian and I finally figured out that was the way to get them to be supportive of me as an actor,” Booster said. “As soon as I told them I wanted to do comedy, they were like ‘Oh, well what about acting? Maybe you should do that, that was always really great.’”
Now that his parents’ expectations have adjusted, Booster said he and his family reached an understanding about discussing — or not discussing — his career.
“They know enough not to watch any of my material so for them it’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’”
As topics in his shows range from discussing gay porn to obnoxious straight men hogging therapeutic karaoke venues and a depth perception ruined by men lying to him about what six inches is, he and his family have decided not to talk about his career.
Three years after he started stand up, Booster decided to take the plunge and pursue it full time, moving to New York to perform three nights a week. Since then, he has travelled across the nation to comedy clubs, festivals and colleges, such as UC Santa Cruz.
Many attendees of the event in Colleges Nine and Ten Multipurpose Room were glad to see Asian American comedians on stage, as Asian Americans are often not represented in comedy and other artistic professions.
“The fact that these comedians are Asian American played a big role in what representation means to me as an Asian American woman,” said Katherine Lêȇ, Student Union Assembly (SUA) vice president of diversity and inclusion. “Being able to break the model minority myth and also break the idea of traditional career paths in terms of where Asian Americans land in their career journey really showed tonight.”
Booster and Irene Tu called on sometimes reluctant audience members and integrated them into their acts, exuberantly riffing off attendees’ answers to questions such as ‘Who is on their period?’ ‘Are there any athletes in the audience?’ and ‘How did you two fall in love?’
Despite his spirited performance, Booster said people are often surprised when they meet him offstage.
“I’m a much more reserved, quiet person offstage than I appear to be onstage,” Booster said. “And I think that’s the biggest thing for people to understand that almost every comedian, even if they’re talking about very personal stuff it’s always a little bit of a character. There’s always going to be a little bit of a divide between who I actually am and what I’m talking about, who I’m portraying myself to be.”
The event was a collaborative effort put on by the Asian American/Pacific Islander Resource Center, SUA, Colleges Nine and Ten Activities office, Cantú Queer Center and Asian Pacific Islander Queer Trans Students (APIQTs).
“Model Minority” is available on iTunes. Booster also has a half-hour stand up special on Comedy Central.