Comedian Joel Kim Booster defies Asian stereotypes and brings his standup to Atlanta's Red Clay Comedy Festival
Comedian Joel Kim Booster delights in defying Asian stereotypes in his standup, on-screen and in his writing. Booster played the role of Nicholas, the hilarious assistant to Maya Rudolph’s character Molly Nova in this series “Loot.” You might have seen his recent Netflix standup special “Psychosexual,” or heard jokes he wrote for shows like “Big Mouth” and “Billy on the Street.” Joel Kim Booster will perform at the Red Clay Comedy Festival in Atlanta on Nov. 13 at Variety Playhouse, and he joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom ahead of the big show.
Interview highlights follow below.
On creatively pushing past gatekeepers in a still-majority-white comedy industry:
“It’s really difficult, and I’m in an interesting position right now in my career where I have the opportunity to really take a lot of the power back, and really have an opportunity to shape this next era for myself,” Booster reflected. “The more well known I become in the industry and the more success that I have, the more assumptions are hoisted on me about what kind of person I am, about who I am. And so that becomes very difficult, and the calculus of who I present on stage becomes much more difficult.”
“When I was in the era of being a ‘hot idiot,’ it was fun to cast myself as a narcissist who wasn’t very bright. But unfortunately, at a certain point, that became less creatively interesting for me, because initially when I started that persona, it was really anathema to what I think a lot of people considered Asian-Americans to be. You know, we were quiet, we were humble, we were not sexually viable, and we were smart; and I think I really wanted to resist that,” he said. “The attitude towards Asian-Americans has really shifted in the last decade… It didn’t feel necessary anymore, and so I’m still trying to figure out what this next phase looks like for myself.”
On co-starring with Maya Rudolph in the Apple TV+ series “Loot:”
“Working with Maya has been incredible. I mean, Maya is an icon to me. I grew up watching her on Saturday Night Live,” said Booster. “To get to work alongside her was really surreal and wonderful. And, you know, I was crossing my fingers. I was like, ‘If she is awful, then it will completely destroy my childhood in any sense.’ Luckily that wasn’t the case. Maya is incredible, and incredibly supportive, and an incredible parent. I think it’s an anomaly sometimes, in this industry when you work, to have someone… at her level, who still wants to drive her kids to soccer practice. And yeah, that’s just the kind of person that she is. She’s so down-to-earth.”
On “Fire Island,” a new comedy film written by and starring Joel Kim Booster:
“Fire Island is a modern-day retelling of ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ set on the iconic Fire Island, which is just off the coast of Long Island in New York City… A couple miles worth of Fire Island has historically been a gay enclave, a real safe haven for queer people of all stripes, and since the 1930s, really,” Booster explains. “In this movie, myself and a group of my closest friends go for our annual vacation, and there, I desperately try to get my best friend laid.” He went on, “From there, it sort of follows similar beats to ‘Pride and Prejudice’ in the same way that ‘Clueless’ sort of followed similar beats to ‘Emma.’ And, you know, it’s a comedy, but it deals with a lot of issues of race and class and sexuality, and the ways in which specifically gay men discriminate within our own community.”
“[Margaret Cho’s] part was originally written to be an older gay man, and we had it cast, and the actor we had cast unfortunately had to drop out for a different project,” said Booster. “Margaret’s people reached out and said she saw the press release about the movie; she would love to be involved… We were like, ‘Oh, well, actually, I think she could play this part,’ and it didn’t even really require a ton of rewrites to make it an older gay man to Margaret Cho, but she really infused a lot of herself into that part, as well. There’s a scene at a dinner table where she’s telling a story from her own time as a young person on Fire Island, and that story is actually a real Margaret Cho story, because she had a real connection to the island as herself, and I think it made it so much more special to have her there.”
Joel Kim Booster will perform at the Variety Playhouse on Nov. 13, as part of the Red Clay Comedy Festival. Tickets and more information are available at https://www.axs.com/events/440511/joel-kim-booster-tickets