Comedy TMI Blog

Comedy

The 6’3” guy who danced with me Friday called me yesterday. He’s a voiceover artist and a stand-up comedian so… he has a ridiculously sexy voice, and we had each other laughing a thousand times a minute.

It was a lot of fun, and it got me thinking, that in my private life since the election, I’ve started to laugh more, joke around with friends more. Commiserating with friends on the phone, we laugh at ourselves as we bewail what’s happening around us.

Publicly though, I can’t bring myself to write funny. In these posts, I’ll see opportunities for jokes and when I try to insert them it feels awful. I admire people who can use comedy now, but I can’t, not yet, not publicly, it just seems so obscene, like I’m normalizing what’s happening right now. There’s outrage humor and disdainful humor that works at times like these, but I don’t feel like channeling that humor right now. It’s ridiculously freeing to let myself write without having to be funny. For years, I wouldn’t post stuff on Facebook b/c I didn’t want to appear unfunny. Now I’m posting the schmaltzy un-clever emotional stuff and it’s delightful because I feel like I’m saying a big Fuck You to the demon in my brain who told me I had to be funny all the time. (It’s like that Bambi line with a comedy twist, “If you don’t have anything funny to say, don’t say anything at all“ – Bullshit, say whatever you want to.)

I’m enormously lucky because when I’m sad, I have people to cheer me up who are award-winning comedians. I can literally call a multi-Emmy-winning comedy writer right now and just be like, “Cheer me up.” Hollywood is a place where every class clown from every small town comes to try their hand at comedy. You’re getting the best of the best. And when they’re around each other they get even better and more skilled. I’m such a bitch at clubs and pick-up bars, if a guy hits on me with a joke, I’m sighing wistfully for my comedy writer friends. These pick up artists just aren’t in the same league, and they don’t know how woefully inadequate they are (like I said, bitch).

I don’t have the heart to “do” comedy right now, it’s just too soon. Still, comedy is such a huge part of my life that I thought maybe I could jot down some thoughts I have about it.

I Was Never the Class Clown

At my 10 year high school reunion I didn’t tell any of the class clowns about what I do. I thought I would spare their feelings. Most of them are doctors or engineers now, and if they were literary they became lawyers. I was a huge Tracy-Flick style nerd in high school, pretty humorless, and for me to be the one to write comedy professionally is just weird. I’ve written for Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig, Ken Jeong. It’s kind of like never playing football in high school and telling the star quarterback that you’re in the NFL now. So I hid my light under a bushel with the class clowns. I say I was trying to spare their feelings, but the truth is, I was trying to spare mine. I was grappling that summer with the whole “Who Am I?” question. That is, “Who am I to write comedy?” “Who am I to earn money for writing jokes?” It felt obscene and illusory. And with those questions whorling around in my own brain, I didn’t think I could take it if I heard a high school classmate ask it to me directly, “Who are you to write comedy?”

Learning to Be Funny

When I was 21 within a few short months I, 1) decided to be a writer, 2) decided to be a screenwriter, 3) decided to be a comedy screenwriter. I felt like such a latebloomer, because it seemed like all the professionally funny people were class clowns who figured out at age 5 that Funny was their superpower, and here I was 2 decades late being like, “Hey I’m gonna be funny now, too!”

I bought a book called How to Be Funny Even Though You’re Not. (Seriously.) I hung out with the first comedy writer friend I made in town and like a weirdo studied him the whole time like an anthropologist – his habits, the way he looked at the world, the way he talked. He was a joke machine. And I realized I had all the same equipment he had (er, mentally, not physically). He had a machine in his brain that was constantly scanning the world, looking for irony and potential for comedy. As a college novelist, I had that same machine, I was also constantly scanning the world looking for irony. So we were both mining our experiences in our lives for irony, but where he used it for jokes, I used it for poignancy. That feeling in a novel where your’e like “ahhhhh.” He used it for comedies where you’re like “haaaa!” So I changed that setting in my brain from “poignancy” to “comedy” and I started to see humor everywhere.

I’m Hilarious

When I have a job where I’m being paid to be funny and I can’t seem to write anything funny, I have this mantra I say out loud: “I’m hilarious!” It works 99% of the time. The thing is, being hilarious is like being classy, if you really are classy you don’t go around saying, “I’m classy!” So here I am, needing to be funny, saying to myself, “I’m hilarious!” thus admitting I am not funny, and then finding the whole situation funny, and then feeling pretty… funny, yes, even hilarious. It takes me on a meta spin in my head that loosens me up and gets me writing again.

I’m Funnier When I’m in Love

I used to be scared that if I fell in love and had super healthy relationships I would cease to be funny. You can’t totally fault me for this logic. At the time, it seemed like the only humor available to me was the whole single jaded girl-in-the-city with really horrible dating stories. So I was going around wanting a great relationship but subconsciously probably self-sabotaging because I was afraid that if I got happy I wouldn’t have anything to complain about and then I wouldn’t be funny or interesting anymore.

I was released from these fears this fall. I had a whirlwind romance with a man involving barroom darts and lots of chivalry. That week we courted, I would not shut up about him. Any meeting I was in, I’d talk on and on and on about him… And people laughed. I was ridiculously in love. People were laughing at me, with me, all of the above. And it suddenly hit me – I’m funnier when I’m in love. I don’t have to be jaded single girl to be funny, I’m funnier when I’m ridiculous-in-love ME.

I’m Funnier When I Have My Contacts Off

One night my eyes were so dry I took off my contacts while at house party. It was a pretty intimate affair, so I didn’t think it would be a big deal. Without contacts, I can walk around fine, I just miss the subtleties of human expression. That night I got bigger laughs than I ever had at a party. And I wasn’t even trying to be funny. I’d be telling a story and the booming laughter would cut me off, catching me by surprise. What was going on? I realized that when I have my contacts in, I’m constantly looking at people’s faces, trying to gauge how much they’re digging what I’m saying, and adjusting, but now that their faces were a blur, I would blithely galumph along in my stories and they would hit. I know this means that if I care less about what people think all the time, I would be a better artist. Still working on this.

You’re Funny Too, Especially If You’re a Lady

Female comedians face a lot of the same discrimination & stereotypes as female politicians. If you’re a woman and you don’t think you’re funny, reconsider. I’d laugh at you. If you’re a woman and don’t think you’re political, reconsider. I’d vote for you. If you’re a woman and you don’t think you’re funny, reconsider. Click To TweetOur presence on the playing field freaks people out, because by our inherent nature, we change the game. The definition of funny is changed. The definition of power is changed.

I didn’t feel like I belonged because the origin story was always one of the class clown who never fit in and used humor as a defense mechanism. This origin story is very very male. And there are so many women who are funny but don’t have this male origin story. There are great biographies written by Sarah Silverman, Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Amy Schumer, but these are points on the graph that haven’t coalesced into a mythos yet, an archetypal female fool. But we can create a new mythos, a new origin story, I believe in us.

This would be a good time to end with a joke, but see above 😉

Day 8.

Connecting Emotionally TMI Blog

Connecting Emotionally

I’ve been an overachieving, grade-grubbing, voraciously-reading student all my life, age 5 onward. My parents were super cheap and frugal about everything – we’d cut off mold from bread and eat the rest of the loaf, that type of thing. But the one thing that there was no budget cap on was books. If I wanted to read something, they’d buy it for me, and this was on top of twice-a-week trips to the public library, and once-a-week trips to the school library. Before there were iPhones I’d read cereal boxes at breakfast because my mind was so hungry for words.

At school I listened to my teachers (walking talking books!), and perhaps I listened to them to a fault – I didn’t question them enough, I wanted to please them. But I developed critical thinking anyway, so no worries.

One thing I never understood was rating teachers, like a sitcom. “That teacher didn’t ‘connect’ with me” or “that professor is so boring.” These statements felt oddly scandalous, sacrilegious, rebellious. I was there to learn, they didn’t need to entertain me, to seduce me to learn.

Studying Hillary Clinton’s resume, I felt she was ready to lead this country. And I also related to her, emotionally, though that was besides the point. I didn’t understand why people complained that she didn’t connect to them. She was there, you could have connected to her. Opened your heart, or literally picked up the phone or dashed an email off to her campaign.

It’s weird that I have this robotic “I’ll eat the medicine without the sugar” past, and yet now I am a writer in the entertainment industry and my entire job is to connect emotionally. I am torn between, it’s her job and it is NOT her job to connect emotionally. It is my job and it’s not my job to connect emotionally. You’re doing all the right things, you’re giving it your all, and then you’re told you’re not connecting emotionally. At what point is that your fault, and at what point is it the fault of the nation for not being better?

Her “inability” to connect emotionally seems like something people just say because they want to put the blame on someone, it doesn’t seem like the real reason. And the “inability“ speaks more to the unfair environment around her than her actual lack of humanity, kindness, emotion, and courage in putting herself out there.

I worry about connecting emotionally, especially these days. How do I connect with people in Red States who voted for Trump? What could I do better, how do I arrange my words, what do I reveal about myself in order to get through. Yet, when it comes to these posts, I suspend that worry and just write. If I worried about connecting emotionally every time I created something – especially if I worried about connecting emotionally with an audience that already has it against me – it would stifle my creativity and I wouldn’t put anything out there at all.

I’m trying to ask myself instead, “Is this the fullest expression of myself?” instead of, “Will this connect emotionally with my audience?” I tell my mentees (many who are recovering people-pleasers like myself) that when reviewing their work to ask themselves, “Do I like it?” instead of “Will so-and-so like it?” Tell yourself it’s your job (and your superpower) to connect emotionally. Click To Tweet

Writers, filmmakers, songwriters, comic book writers, storytellers – my FRIENDS – we can reach people. We can make people feel. We’re good at it. It’s our job and it’s not our job. On days when you need motivation to share your work, tell yourself it’s your job (and your superpower) to connect emotionally, so we don’t let racism and sexism win. On days when you feel overwhelmed, tell yourself it’s not your job to connect emotionally, and just write.

It’s Day 7, one week since Election Day – doesn’t it feel like a lifetime?

My brother Matthew has autism TMI Blog

My brother Matthew has autism

My brother Matthew at the aquarium today, with a photo of me below. Matt is 27 (2 years younger than I am), loves animals, Disney, the ocean, Christmas, umbrellas, and road trips. He has autism. Siblings of autistic people like myself are 20-30% more likely to have autistic traits and 22x more likely than the general population to have autism.

I have freaky spatial skills that come to me in bursts, if I remember you from a party I likely remember where you were standing in the room, what direction you were facing, etc. On an epic first date I had years ago, we walked around LACMA and the park I can still tell you exactly the route we took and what was said every step of the way. I’m not a kinetic learner but sometimes I can shake off all my “thinking,” look at a contraption, and immediately see the fix. Most of you know me as a screenwriter, a liberal arts hippie, but in a former life I was pre-med, I won awards for mathematics, and I was recruited for the computer science team and the Navy.

Sometimes, I feel guilty that the traits Matthew has make him disabled and seen as less able to serve society, but the same traits in me at a lesser dose make me a superstar (my key and only demo being Asian American parents, this is, of course, before I came out as a writer lol).

I understand my brother, I understand a bit how he sees the world, a lurid clash of emotions and the rare firm shapes, and how those firm shapes are clung to in the chaos. When we were little I was the only one who understood him, kind of like twins with a secret language. I could translate what he wanted and needed to parents and caregivers. When he took classes at Rio Hondo Community College, I took my Ivy League ass to class with him and sat next to him, in part to translate, in part to tell anyone who dared make fun of him to fuck off.

Matt and I took a Route 66 road trip together in Oct 2013, just the 2 of us (I just asked him for the date because he remembers everything). Matt doesn’t drive. I remember wishing sometimes that he was the type of brother who could take over the wheel sometime, but that didn’t put a damper on our trip.

Matt doesn’t feel safe around a lot of people, including some male family members and longtime family friends. He’ll be hesitant, tiptoeing around an explosive personality out of fear of triggering an outburst. I can feel his tension. I understand it, I know it.

One day I was driving him in my hometown, and I look over at him affectionately and he was humming to himself and I realized, “He feels safe.” And I was so proud of myself. I’ve been taught to be fierce, to be masculine, to be strong, and I can be all these things but I’m more proud that a mentally disabled vulnerable person feels safe around me. That is not my weakness, that is my strength.

I was dancing with a 6’3″ man on Friday, who could have crushed me, who could have intimidated me, and instead he made me feel so comfortable we danced. He was confident, handsome, well-spoken, funny, welcoming. The truly strong don’t have to prove themselves strong. The truly strong don’t have to create fear to satisfy their ego. The truly strong can use their strength to create safety.The truly strong can use their strength to create safety. Click To Tweet

My brother Matthew feels safe around me because he knows that I am powerful, that I would protect him, that I love him, and that I would never lash out at him, not even “if I was having a bad day.” I would never insult him even if it was “just locker room talk.” I wouldn’t throw him and his dignity under a train to get votes. To be able to sit next to him in a car, and have him sit there beside me unafraid – that is a privilege and an honor, and one I never want to lose.

If you ever find yourself counting your strengths and feeling weak don’t forget to ask yourself who feels safe around you, and add that to your list. If someone feels safe around you, they are acknowledging your strength and your decency. Don’t disregard your power to protect and create safety, it is a gift.

I have a mouth on me TMI Blog

I have a mouth on me

I have a mouth on me. I find it helps to realize all the ways I’ve been silenced to find the bravery to speak up. Women (or any repressed minority), do some research and find disgusting statistics on how much airtime we get – on screen, at a work meeting, at a cocktail party. And realize you speaking up is more than a selfish act, it is a courageous one that opens the door for other women’s voices. You speaking up is a courageous act that opens the door for other women's voices. Click To TweetAnd remember one of the silencers is a fear that you have to be perfect to speak up, or a fear that you have to be “twice as good as the other guy” to stick your neck out and throw your hat in the ring. It’s a sneaky way our voices are policed – it becomes self-policing if you are not vigilant about rooting it out, and not letting it touch you. I’m not totally kidding when I say I have a mouth on me. It’s in part my saucy rebellion quip, in part a revelatory discovery: I have a mouth.

I Give My Voice TMI Blog

I Give My Voice

I am going to the Million Women March on DC on January 21, 2017. Please consider joining me there to create a powerful statement. The march is inclusive – EVERYONE who supports women’s rights is welcome. LA folks, reach out to me if you want to join my caravan.

I gave the Hillary campaign my money and my time. When I think of what I could have done better, I realize I could have given more of my voice. This is why I’m writing and sharing more – on Instagram, Facebook, etc. Thank you to everyone who has encouraged me in this new paradigm. Day 4.

TMI Blog

I am an American, born of immigrants

I am an American. I was born in New Jersey. My paternal grandfather immigrated to the US from Korea. (My dad was 9 years old when they moved to Tennessee, meet him and listen for that Southern accent.) My grandpa was a Yale Ph.D. and a brilliant mathematician. He was, in my words, a national treasure, one Korea would have loved to keep, and he chose to give his brain to the United States of America. Immigrants are givers, not takers.

The stereotype of Asian-Americans valuing intelligence is true for my family. If we give you our intelligence, our hard work, our loyalty, we are giving you our greatest treasures. My paternal grandmother was an OB-GYN. My dad and aunt are cardiologists. My uncle who passed away young was considered the most brilliant mind of them all, an actual genius, and he worked tirelessly his entire adult life for the US government. Immigrants are givers not takers. Immigrants are givers not takers. Click To Tweet

It’s Veterans Day and so many immigrants and children of immigrants have served in our military and given their lives for our country. For a president-elect to insinuate that we do not belong, that immigrants are the crux of our troubles as a nation – this preys on ignorant fears in a way that is wrong, both factually wrong and morally wrong.

From the BBC: Trump pledged to start the process of “removing the more than two million criminal, illegal immigrants.” The BBC continues to report that “[this] might be difficult, mainly because there are only an estimated 178,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records currently at large in the US.” Trump told his followers that there were 2,000,000+ when there are fewer than 200,000. Clearly a number he just made up to incite fear.

It’s Day 3 and I’m still sifting through the mushroom cloud of xenophobia, racism, sexism, and anti-intellectualism in the aftermath of November 8th.

TMI Blog

Deal Us In

Deal Us In. We’re playing again.

This morning (Day 2) I don’t quite feel as cheerful as I am in this picture but I feel the same tremendous love. I talked to both of these strong women last night – both LA friends but one is shadowing a director of the season finale of The Exorcist in Chicago, and another is launching her Smithsonian-organized exhibition in NYC. (Yeah, I have amazing friends.) We talked about grief, community, and using our powers for good.

We've been pushed back for so long, but the tide of us is only getting stronger. Click To TweetMy heart swells when I think of all the women around me and in this country. We’ve been pushed back for so long, but the tide of us is only getting stronger. We are compassionate, but we are powerful. We are loving, and we will be heard. The glass ceiling will be broken, as Hillary says “sooner than we might think.” Thank you Hillary, and thank you all the women in my life.

TMI Blog

A Setback, F*ck Perfectionism

In Hillary’s concession speech, I felt like she was speaking DIRECTLY to me with this:”I’ve had successes and setbacks and sometimes painful ones. Many of you are at the beginning of your professional, public, and political careers – you will have successes and setbacks too. This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

I see myself at the beginning of my public life. I’ve been “readying myself for launch” all year— fighting my internal fears, fussing over details of my image and how people will react to me. I don’t feel 100% ready but f-ck it. I’m tired of the misogyny, I know that waiting to be perfect before we emerge is a way women are held back in society. So here I am. Perfectly imperfect. A woman. Who dares to be seen (without being 1000% ready). Who dares to speak (without being 1000% ready). Who demands to be treated respectfully (I’m ready for this). Waiting to be perfect before we emerge is a way women are held back in society Click To Tweet

If Hillary can deal with 30+ years of the public hatred and controversy (while tirelessly HELPING people) and just call this a “setback,” I can deal with the momentary discomfort of posting a picture of myself on Instagram. Let’s not be embarrassed to be political anymore. If you’re a woman or a person of color, your very existence is political. You being alive and visible and verbal is political. Don’t let anyone shame you for that, and let’s SHOW ourselves.

I’ve been sitting on a ton of beautiful photos taken by @rachaelleestroud—I chose one at random to be the first of this new dawn—but the meaning I’ll add on now is this: Wearing white to honor the suffragettes. Wearing a bathrobe because let’s take extra-good care of ourselves today, think of it as a spa day before battle. And see the wind in my hair? We’re moving forward.