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Asian American Community Fellowship Reflection: William Paik


Asian American Community Fellowship Reflection

By William Paik
Summer 2019

The first open mic I went to was in the summer of my freshman year. I went to the laugh factory off of the Belmont stop and sat in to watch the open mic. It was a shocking experience. The only familiarity I had with stand-up was from ten minute chunks of specials on YouTube, so I was unprepared to see what an actual open mic would be like. There was little to no audience, and hardly anyone was laughing. The room was also too big and too dark, and none of the performers seemed to be enjoying themselves. 

The next open mic I went to was about a year later. I was home for a few weeks during the summer, and I had heard there was a good open mic in Faneuil hall in Boston. I took the train for an hour and a half to get to the hideout, a little dive bar in the area. I waited for about an hour until it was my turn, and I had a good set that night. I went back the next two weeks, and each time was progressively worse. The first night everyone seemed very open and welcoming, but the second and third night people stayed in their cliques, chatting among themselves while everyone went up. After the third week I had to leave for school.     

This summer I had the pleasure of being an intern at Stir-Friday Night, the longest running Asian American comedy troupe in the Midwest. My responsibilities were twofold: I had to do some tasks for the organization, and the other half of the time I would be doing open mics in Chicago. On the stir-Friday night side of things I completed a database of contact information for college Asian American organizations, I sat in on their meetings and shows, and they were generous enough to give me some performance opportunities on their Monday night shows. 

The other half of the time, I went to open mics in Chicago. For the first few months it was pretty awful because when you start out no one knows who you are, but as I continued doing open mics I started meeting people, and I started forming my own connections within the scene. At the beginning of the summer I would do maybe three or four open mics a week. By the end of the summer—on some days—I did three a day. 

Throughout my fall and winter quarter this year, my goal was to continue doing stand-up in the city while being a full time student. This was difficult because open mics are a time consuming endeavor. I would take the train for about forty min to an hour, and—depending on what spot I got on the list—I would wait through about an hour of other people’s sets. Open mics are also where comics go to work on their material. They’re not really performances, so you get the worst version of comedy possible. Despite this I dedicated the time, and gave myself four day weekends by stacking my classes on Monday Tuesday and Wednesday.

I have to thank the community development fellowship, and the Asian American Studies program for what I have achieved so far. My time with Stir-Friday night and the flexibility I had to pursue my own interests have served as a solid foundation for further accomplishments. In October of my this year I participated in the Crazy Funny Asians Comedy Spectacular in Los Angelas, and In January I participated in the first Asian Comedy Festival in New York. I was able to make these trips with the generous help from the Asian American Studies program, and Northwestern’s Undergraduate Research office.  

 Stand-up is about cultural production. It is about arguing in an interesting way. Often times—particularly in the entertainment industry—Asian Americans tend to rally around a kind of representational politics. The narrative is that you feel exclusion from American culture, from movies and television shows, so you advocate for more Asian American representation. That is not to say that this is all Asian Americans, or even most, but within entertainment Asian American politics is still trying to get over the representational struggle.   

I don’t want to do stand-up for its own sake. For me, making people laugh is not enough. Often times I see people do stand up for the sole purpose of making people laugh and that works for them, but no to for me. My goal is to engage an Asian Americans through stand-up. I want there to be some kind of focused weight behind it. I want to talk about race and history. I want to bring the training I have had with the program onto the stage. 

I am currently developing new material. Open mics in Chicago usually give you four to five minutes, and show usually gives you eight to twelve minutes. Currently I can do a comfortable twelve minutes, and I am working towards having a good twenty minutes. The goal is eventually to have an hour, which I can take to different businesses around Chicago and festivals.  

I am also currently working to build more infrastructure for myself. I started an open mic at Evanston Pub to get more experience producing and hosting. It also makes it easier to build a community and get to know people. The next step is to start putting on a show. Eventually I want to be able to have more creative mechanisms at my disposal. That involves having a show, having camera equipment, having a kind of small club/studio. I want to have the means to publish something and circulate it widely online.      

I want to thank the Asian American Studies program for their generosity. I’ve met some of the most caring and wise people through this program. I also want to thank the donors who contributed to the Community Summer Fellowship, without which none of this would have been possible for me.