Q&A: Comedian Charlyne Yi Talks About Getting Booed, Shaving Her Head, and Her 'Pretentious' Poetry
|Charlyne Yi, pre-head-shaving antics|
After a couple years off from regularly performing on stage, Yi is back with a new solo show, A Little Time With Charlyne Yi, which she's taking to the prestigious Edinburgh Festival next month. Tonight and next Wednesday, July 21, she'll be her testing it out at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. (Advance reservations for both performances are booked, but there will be a stand-by line at the door.) In the run-up to the show, the Los Angeles resident took time out to tell us about her upcoming poetry book, her recent decision to shave her head onstage, and why she thinks she has no idea how to do comedy.
So you're coming to New York to try out your new show, A Little Time with Charlyne Yi, before taking it to the Edinburgh Festival. When was the last time you performed here?
Maybe, uh--wow, holy crap!--maybe it was the first time I ever flew. I was 18 or 19 and it was the first time I ever left California besides going to Mexico because my abuelita lives in Mexico. New York was awesome.
Are New York crowds different from L.A. crowds?
Supposedly New York is better. L.A. is kind of stiff and New York is more warm. I don't know if I believe that. I think every audience is different. Chicago hated me. They like hated me so much.
Oh no! Why?
I opened for this guy, who does just straight stand-up, and what I do is a lot different from him. I do magic and songs and silly stuff, where it's almost like a child performing. [Laughs.] So, before the show, he was like, "Watch out for the drunk crowds. The drunk crowds are really mean and the sober crowds are great." But then, the drunk crowds liked me, but the sober crowds hated me. They were, like, booing me! And it was so shocking. I'd dealt with stuff like that in the past, like, when I was first starting out because I sucked really bad. But it was so shocking. I have no idea how to react to stuff like that.
What do you do when the crowd doesn't seem to be warming up to you? Is there anything you can do to save the show?
I have no idea. I've realized that some people who are heckling in the audience, they don't know that they're hurting the show because, if they're drunk, they think that maybe they're contributing. I remember one time I was so mad at this guy who was heckling the whole time, and after the show he was like, "Hey man, good job! That was fun!" And I was like, Wow! He didn't know that he was making me angry. He actually really loved the show.
What can we expect from this new show?
It's a bit of a variety show with music. I just did it in L.A. at UCB. Some of my friends were like, "Whoa, that was pretty emotional at times." And they didn't know if they were allowed to laugh. I like making people embarrassed to laugh because they're unsure about what's going on.
Will there be a chance for audience participation?
I usually do that, but I heard that in Edinburgh people will not come near a show because of that, supposedly. I used to do whole shows where it all relied on an audience member. But, in this show, there is a bit where I'll talk to them and go off stage and interact with them. But it's not anything heavy where the show would rely on them or where I would go on a date with them on stage.
Do you write a lot of material beforehand and do you revise a lot?
I do write some material, but I leave a lot of wiggle room to experiment and improvise because sometimes I don't like the idea of it sounding so scripted. And I usually don't really say the same thing twice. Especially if I'm going to do this in Edinburgh for a month. I think it would drive me insane to say the same exact words over and over.
You said in an interview: "Sometimes I don't know I'm being funny. Like, I don't understand comedy." Explain this.
Before I did my test show last Friday, I was talking to my roommate [comedian Dave Horwitz] because I wrote some new material. And I was like, "Dave, I don't know if this new material is going to go over well. I don't know if this material is sad or funny, or funny because it's sad." And he was like, "That's what I love about you, you don't know what you're doing." And I'm like, "What does that mean?" And he was like, "No, it's good you don't understand it and that you're happy either way. You're just happy you made people feel something." And I'm like, "It's true, I do like making people feel things." And, I don't know, I really have no idea how to figure out if something is funny.