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Chen Chen created a playlist • 13 days ago
Growing up, the only Asian American comedian I knew was Margaret Cho. Now there’s Ali Wong, Hari Kondabolu, Mindy Kaling. Of course, these folks have been working in comedy for a while, so I don’t want to create some false or reductive generational distinction. I’m writing here mostly from my own experiences and impressions. Though perhaps it would be fair to say that many Asian Americans in comedy have only recently reached a more mainstream level of success. Anyway, the only Asian American comedy model I had for many years was Margaret Cho. So, it seemed to me like a very odd path for an Asian American to take, as much as I loved Cho’s work (still do). I didn’t think I was funny; I didn’t have many examples of Asian Americans being funny. I never considered comedy as a path for me.
Jump to the present and now I’ve got poetry readers telling me that they find my work funny, that they see humor as one of the primary tools I use. I might still be far too introverted to be a comedian—performing as a stand-up comic seems particularly terrifying—but I wonder, what if I’d had more examples and models when I was younger? What if associating Asian Americans with being funny wasn’t such a rare occurrence, back then? Not that the comedy field today is where it needs to be in terms of Asian American representation. And there’s still plenty of time for me to explore comedy—perhaps more as a writer of jokes and sketches than a performer of them.
My aim with this playlist is to introduce more folks to some seriously funny Asian Americans. I want to further amplify the work of Asian American poets who blend comedy with lyrical bolts of insight; who construct comedy through a line break, the shape of a stanza; who understand the comedic as part of a wide, wide range of emotional engagement. These are voices in poetry that use comedy as the best comedians do: to point out the absurd, to question power and norms, to delight us, to disarm us and render us vulnerable to ourselves.
I'm in the middle of reading "The Power", a sci-fi novel by Naomi Alderman. It's so good, and it inspired me to make this playlist exploring the poetics of electricity. The novel is changing how I read these poems and vice versa.
"4:30 Movie" is the newest collection from poet Donna Masini. Released May 29th by W. W. Norton, we're thrilled to offer you this preview.
In poems that are by turns intimate and wild, provocative and tender, award-winning poet Donna Masini explores personal loss, global violence, and the consolations of art. She brings her wit, grief, fury, and propulsive energy to bear on the preoccupations of our daily lives and our attempts to bargain with endings of every kind. Equal parts lament and praise, 4:30 Movie is fueled by despair and humor, governed by the ways in which movies enter our imaginations and frame our experiences. The movie theater becomes a presiding metaphor: part waiting room, part childhood, part underground depths where the self is a bit player, riding the subway with “its engine of extras.” Masini’s exquisite word play shows the mind wrestling ferociously to forestall grief, as if finding the right words might somehow allow us to extend our beautiful foreshortened run.