How to write humor as young Asian Americans for the majority American audience

Assuming you’re a young Asian American who isn’t into Tommy Hilfiger or Family Guy, I give you my tips on how to “keep it real”.

I haven’t done any humor writing/satirizing in a while, not since my college days. Satire is hard to do. You don’t just imitate what you see on TV or in movies. A lot of humor writing is personal. You need to have experienced a lot of what you’re writing about (or at the least, be keen enough to pick up on it from others). Your main goal is to reveal a universal truth. Your main goal is to make that stranger relate to you by showing them how strange this world is that we live in. Dick and fart jokes can work for some, but for me personally, it won’t win me any respect (at least, from those that matter).

So as an Asian American minority, if you’re feeling unusually outcast from society and want that validation, a good way is to demand that acknowledgement from the majority. As human beings, it’s up to you to communicate to the next ape what’s going on, otherwise the next ape could conk you on the head and steal your bananas. And what kind of world would we be living in with apes running wild and not acting civil? You are not the next ape, you’re a human being, so don’t let that other ape call you that. An ape in a suit can’t call you an ape as though it’s condescending. You can always throw your shit at that shiny suit and the least he can do is call you an ape who throws your own shit. Look at where it lands and wash your hands later. By the time the suited ape realizes how much your shit smells like his, he’ll be offering to wipe your butt just for samples for scratch-and-sniff stickers (he’s a narcissist). That’s how the world works. Same for dogs, except they stick their noses right up in there (use the Al Pacino voice).

So, rule #1: establish your tone. Whether you want to make a lasting impact or are just in it for quick attention, make it clear to your audience. If it’s just for fame and fortune, odds are you’ll be doing a lot of topical humor. Topical humor are “safe” topics from the mass media that you could bait on. They have been time-tested to be least offensive to the majority (that’s who you’ll be selling out to). This includes celebrity gossip, movie reviews, politics, etc. Stuff that Tina Fey would report on while in a tight skirt, silk stockings, while biting the tip of the frame of a pair of thick-black-rim glasses. However, if you plan to do topical humor, expect never to mention anything about your own race issues, as that’ll quickly seem like you’re desperately playing the race card. No one wants to acknowledge that you made it as a comedian purely on your humor skills, let alone hinting at the possibility that you’re the token minority comedian in an all-white comedy troupe or that you needed to ante up with that race card. If you do so, make it subtle.

Rule #2: you must draw from your OWN life experience. The best comedians can draw the best material from their most mundane existence. If you have the ability to see the quirks in your own life and make it relative to your audience, then you’ll have endless material. Remember, it’s a personal practice. Why do the crowds gather to hear you speak if they don’t want to relate to you? Indeed, you may be talking about other people (and maybe even yourself), but through your views and perspective, your audience will relate to you. This is essential if you don’t want to do topical humor. If you want to make civil progress as an Asian American, be somewhat of an activist, perceived as being less than or not to the majority, then people have to know what you feel. Otherwise, it’s pointless, isn’t it? For the most part, no one wants to know about you, but put it in a way they can’t resist and they’ll be all ears.

Rule #3: know the rules and especially when to break them. People, in general, aren’t the brightest bunch. If Jesus got his ass beat and hanged just for uttering some pomp (people want to be part of a crowd, so at the time, that meant being subservient to royalty, so who was he to say he’s nobody’s bitch? Screw that, I don’t know that bitch!), imagine what could happen if you got the majority angry. You don’t want to not live to see your societal change. You ain’t Jesus. His followers were stricken enough with guilt and fear of the possibility of his resurrection that they made him into their god. So if you have humor that might anger an easily-riled mob, think twice before you jest. Otherwise, you could come off as an ideological extremist, but if you can prove a point in a humorous and relatable way, then it could be something unique. How many people out there ever thought a country founded by angry white men against other power-hungry white men would eventually be represented by a black man? Black comedians use that topic as a source of comedy, but when Obama eventually became a reality, that’s when the humor becomes unique. The common theme in black humor of “black man’s plight” now has significant political acknowledgement (even after all the Civil Rights Activism) and yet ironic because the black comedian can’t say that a black president can never be anymore. The joke “worked” and it changed society (at the least, in face value, which is still quite powerful and uplifting for many, me included). But you aren’t a racial justice crusader. You want to be yourself and throw out a hint of racial awareness. If you genuinely think you’re an equal to the majority, you wouldn’t have to find ways to communicate to them, would you? If not a racial justice crusader, as a humorist, you have a chance to be a freedom-of-speech advocate. The best spin is because you live in a country that allows you to criticize it. It makes it a better country because if you can get that peace of mind that you are truly equal, then there’s one less person that doesn’t hate living in “the land of opportunity”. You will find a lot of ass-backwardsness in the real world when you examine it the right way, and you can study it via different channels of humor. This leads to…

Rule #4: do not consume mass media or your own product blindly. Odds are, you won’t even be aware of it. A puppet never knows he’s a puppet. If you want to write good humor, hopefully, you’re in control of your material. If you’re giving a puppet show, you don’t go on stage solely and make yourself a fool without an objective (we’ll come to that later). You don’t surrender your strings. Eddie Murphy was a bad-ass in “Delirious” when he explained that he could, I’m paraphrasing, “hold his dick on stage and get paid for it” but ultimately sold-out to the machine. When that happened, you’ll notice that his humor turned to crap, too. Don’t think that his financial success equates to validating an entire ethnic group. That’s a mistake a lot of people make when they’re already consumers of the media. When a brown person became president, my life didn’t necessarily get better (or worse). I still have to work, find peace, search for my own happiness. That’s life. But to think that because the brown person you see being represented as a success means you’re going to succeed, you’d be delusional. If anything, he’s just encouragement. Everything else is up to you. So referring back to #2, if you can be unique in your own material, and people really like what you have to say, then you’ll have a better chance than the next wannabe. Heck, there are a lot of wannabes out there, some even making money, but if you really want to make an impact, you need to have that universal appeal, and that “success” (a euphemism for money, or whatever you want it to be) will definitely come later. Because to consume what keeps you down, what you perceive to keep you down, just doesn’t make any sense does it? If you don’t like how the mass media depicts Asians, then why continue to consume it? Either make it clear to the machine that you don’t like it, or it’s up to you to create your own depiction. In the Matrix, steak tastes good. But in real life, you can eat a real steak and it will taste really good.

Rule #5: you’re ultimate goal is to make your audience feel better in this world. You don’t necessarily need to get them to laugh. Not all cultures need to physically laugh at something funny. To find something humorous is an emotion triggered internally. Also, a good humorist isn’t a bully. You’re not picking on people who can’t take it. You’re also not picking on obvious targets. Again, back to the idea of relativity. If the audience can understand why you say what you say about someone or of yourself, then that’s a possible shared experience. You’re not a vigilante. You’re not the law. You don’t have the right to smack-down. You just want to say, “I’m me, let me tell you a story in a way we can both share a relatable experience.” And the world didn’t blow up in the process, then it was all good.

So go out there, make someone’s day, and be yourself. Your time is now.

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