Saturday, April 01, 2006

INSTANT YANG v. 17: LAUGH RIOTS; THE RETURN OF ALL-AMERICAN GIRL; ARRANGED MARRIAGE

139 dead and 823 injured. That's the global toll so far as a result of the publication of a dozen cartoons depicting (and in some cases, disparaging) the prophet Muhammad in Denmark's oldest and largest newspaper, Jyllands-Posten. All of a sudden, that old saw--laugh, and the whole world laughs with you--has never seemed less true.

The cartoons are pretty readily available online (many of the more rabid right-wing rabble-rousers--paging Michelle Malkin!--are posting them in a childish nose-thumbing campaign aimed at radical Islamists. (Have these guys forgotten that they're the ones who were up in arms a few months ago about the 'War on Christmas'???)

I don't want to say that rioting and arson are ever acceptable reactions to parodic provocation. As Riyadh-based "Arab chick" Farah writes on her very funny (and feminist!) blog, "Death-threats do not exactly do Islam's 'image' any real good. My good people of the Muslim world, do we have to keep reminding the rest of the planet that we live in the year 2006 B.C?...I agree with the lot who said an incident like this one should have been used to prove just how tolerant Islam is. Which translates into: please do not have a cow."

Then again, even progressive, pro-free-speech Muslim voices like Farah note that the right-leaning Jyllands-Posten has a long history of publishing inflammatory, anti-immigrant commentary, and that it's hard to defend the cliche and pointless alignment of a revered holy figure with hateful stereotypes as a productive means of exercising the rights of a democratic press.

Anyway, all this led me to explore in this week's column the nature of humor and culture--why gaps in The Funny exist between cultures, and why one man's joke is another man's jihad:

LAUGHING MATTERS
There's a universal slang among stand-up comics for when a joke has the audience rolling in the aisles: "Man, that joke killed." It's a phrase that recently got smacked with the irony stick...

The coolest thing about doing this column is getting the chance to talk to some of the brightest Asian American talents in standup comedy. Anyone who still thinks Asians don't have a sense of humor should think again--these guys had me ROTFLMAO, as my 12-year-old cousins might say. Here's a lineup of the comics I spoke with:

--ROSIE TRAN: One of L.A.'s hottest young comics, she describes her decision to get into standup as being something similar to Elle Woods in LEGALLY BLONDE: "It seems like she just woke up one day and decided to go to Harvard Law School!" But Tran's no dilettante: At the tender age of 22, she's been on the circuit for five years already. Watch this girl. Carefully. Never know what she's going to do next. Website: rosietran.com

--KEVIN SHEA: His laid-back delivery tees up some devastatingly funny shit. Shea on being a Korean adoptee: "My parents adopted a whole bunch of us. They got us in twos. It was like they were collecting Star Wars figurines. Which kind of sucks for my brother, because they kept him in the box. They had to...he came with the helmet and the backpack--he was limited edition....I could never talk back to my dad, because he always said, 'Watch your mouth boy, I still have the receipt.'" His site kevinshea.tv is under construction (where's the little digging dude, dude?), but you can check out some of his PREMIUM BLEND gig here.

--TINA KIM: She's got to be one of the hardest working comedians in the biz: Not only does she roll her own one-woman shows, four-walls-style, she promotes them herself...and sells out the house. A comic juggernaut. Seattleites can catch her March 10 and 11 at 9 pm at Christoff's Gallery (6004 12th Ave. South, 206.767-0280). You can buy tickets at her website: tinakim.com.

--STEVE BYRNE: Sharp, polished, funny as hell, and on the cusp of something huge. Steve's got his first COMEDY CENTRAL PRESENTS special happening this Friday (March 3 at 9 pm); not only that, but MTV's doc series TRUE LIFE followed him around making preparations for the show (and getting drunk off his ass afterwards)--check your local listings for details. Steve and Kevin are half of the Original Kims of Comedy, along with MAD TV's Bobby Lee and physician/funnyman Dr. Ken. Check out their concert DVD, out April 25, 2006! Website: stevebyrnelive.com

--REX NAVARRETE: What can brown do for you? I'm totally down with Rex's unapologetically Pinoy take on standup, and think he's one of the smartest and most consistently hilarious dudes on the circuit. He doesn't do "Maritess vs. the Superfriends" anymore (my personal fave) but you can (and should) still catch it in the Flash cartoon version. His new DVD, BADASS MADAPAKA, is just out now...and if you're lucky enough to be in New York, he's headlining at the Laugh Lounge on March 7 and 9, 8:30 pm (151 Essex St, 212-614-2500). Website: rexnavarrete.com

I also caught up with Jami Gong, proprietor of the pioneering TAKE-OUT COMEDY showcase (takeoutcomedy.com)--now serving Singapore and Hong Kong, four tours yearly!--and Piyush Dinker Pandya, filmmaker (AMERICAN DESI) and the impresario behind the GURUS OF COMEDY Tour. Jami says he's organizing the first-ever Hong Kong International Comedy Fest for later this year, more on that as it develops, and Piyush is just about to announce the 15 tourdates for this year's Gurus tour--including Caroline's Comedy Club here in New York. Watch his site filmiyana.com for details...

Last but not least, Steve Byrne also hooked me up with his side-splitting bud AHMED AHMED, who's Egyptian American, Muslim, and a featured player in Vince Vaugn's WILD WEST COMEDY SHOW, as well as his own AXIS OF EVIL Comedy Tour with Iranian American comic Maz Jobrani and half-Palestinian Aron Kader. Ahmed points out that all they need is a North Korean to complete the set, so head's up, guys, opportunity's knocking...

In other comedy-related news, I just wanted to note that ALL-AMERICAN GIRL, Margaret Cho's pioneering yet critically savaged sitcom series, has finally hit DVD. I'm one of the critics who knocked it--something that, shall we say, strained relations between me and Margaret for a long time after the show was canceled, although she was cool enough to reach out and connect when she went through her rehab and reinvention period. I think she's funnier than ever (and she's also become a hardcore, must-read progressive blogger--margaretcho.com).

I was hoping to hit her up for a profile when her much-anticipated new series reached the air, but sadly, it looks like it's currently in development hell. The interesting thing is that it would have had Margaret playing her mom--hopefully, without filters or censors, because I'm not havin' any Margaret Cho show that can't say the word ASS MASTER.

For nostalgia lovers, an Amazon link to AAG: The DVD.

Also, I got an email from comics Foo Nguyen and Mary Sohn (members of Chicago's all-powerful Asian American laugh machine Stir Friday Night) reminding Chicago-based peeps that their new sketch comedy duet ARRANGED MARRIAGE is walking down the aisle this Saturday, March 4 at Second City's cabaret space, Donny's Skybox, at 10:30 pm and running every Saturday through March 25. Catch it if you can--sounds like it one-ups TONY ‘N' TINA'S WEDDING in the connubial comedy category.

Finally--I'm thinking of adding a blogroll here, so if you have an Asian American or Asian-related blog you'd like me to take a look at and consider adding, shoot me an email at asianpopculture@gmail.com.

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