How one Asian-American woman’s comedy dreams came to be

Jenny Yang, a stand up comedian, delivers a motivational speech to a group of students on April 2, 2018 in the Satellite Student Union for Amerasia week. (Alyssa Honore/ The Collegian)

Jenny Yang’s upbringing as an Asian woman living in the U.S. became the theme on Monday of her lecture at Fresno State’s Satellite Student Union.

Yang’s appearance kicked off Amerasia Week, a series of events organized by the Fresno State Amerasia Organization. Amerasian is a term used for those who identify as both Asian and American.

“Our mission is to acquaint the student body and the greater Fresno community on [Asian and Pacific Islander] culture and our experience,” said Vanna Nauk, president of the Amerasia Organization.

Growing up, Yang, the performer, said she excelled in academics because her parents expected her to do so. She began to believe that this would be integral to her success in life overall.

“I thought – ‘OK. If I do well in school, I’ll be completely fine,’” Yang said.

She didn’t consider embarking on a career in comedy until she finished college. She said she didn’t view it as a viable career choice growing up.

In her comedy, Yang asked the audience two questions. In the first, she asked audience members to consider their typical response when someone asks what career they would like to pursue after finishing college. Second, she asked what they would pursue after finishing college if they felt no worries regarding money, skill sets, the expectations of others or time.

Yang noted that a lot of people give different answers to the questions. However, she feels that it’s possible to merge one’s life path with one’s desires.

She told the audience, “If there’s something that you feel is out of reach – it’s not.”

“She brings a very unique Asian-American, female perspective to comedy that you don’t typically see,” said Asian-American studies professor Gena Lew Gong. “I think it’s good to put voices like hers out so more people – like students – can hear from other voices.”

Yang said that when people find out she’s a stand-up comedian, they often ask how her parents feel about her career choice. She said she feels that people don’t ask this out of concern with her parents, rather people wonder how their own parents would react to certain career paths.

When she initially told her parents that she wanted to pursue stand-up comedy, they didn’t view it as a legitimate career. But later, she said, they became more supportive.

“It’s not [an] either/or proposition of going for what you want versus what other people want for you,” she said.

Yang said she appreciates that stand-up comedy provides her with a platform to express her ideas, especially those that are heavily discussed in society.

“I like being able to talk to people about how I grew up and comment on the gun control issues,” she said. “I like to be able to do that, but also do it in a way where I can connect with an audience.”

Yang said that when she speaks to college students, she relates to them because she sees herself in the audience.

“The people who show up to my events are me. They’re the people that I was,” she said. “I remember how it felt to feel like the world was in front of me – but that also was scary because there’s so many challenges and paths to take.”

For a full schedule of “Amerasia Week” events, visit the Amerasia Organization Facebook page, @AmerasiaOrganization.

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