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Hack Off: Don't expect kooky Korean mother jokes; Amy Anderson was raised by Scandinavians in Minneapolis.

East Meets Jest

Korean-American adoptee Amy Anderson can't speak Korean, but she can make people laugh

By Todd Inoue

AMY ANDERSON is not like other Asian Americans. She was born in Korea. At the age of 5 months, she was adopted by an American family and raised in Minneapolis. She's lived her entire life gathering funny stares after handing over a credit card with the name "Anderson" or showing up for an audition looking fully, well, Korean-American.

"It's also a blessing," she says about the identity issue. "After people see me, it's what makes people remember me. 'She's that Asian comedian who was adopted and from Minnesota.' It's more of a blessing than not."

Furthermore, she drives well, dog meat never passed her lips and she never worked at a nail salon. But judging from the tired jokes she hears in comedy clubs, it's become trendy to make fun of Asians. The worst incident she recalls took place in a small venue in Santa Monica. A twentysomething white guy did an impression of a Chinese guy buying a hamburger.

"He pulled a dollar from his pocket and yelled, 'HAMBURGER' in a total ching-chongy voice," Anderson says. "That was his whole joke! I was stunned. What is he doing? Why would he think it's funny?"

She doesn't want people to think she's thin-skinned, she says, but racial comedy can be much funnier if it emerges from a base of truth and intelligence.

'You can make fun of everything as long as you have the right approach," she explains. "If it's touchy, you need to be intelligent."

Intelligent humor is what Amy Anderson wants to deliver. As a child, Anderson listened to records by Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy and the Smothers Brothers. She left Minneapolis for New Jersey, earning a B.A. in classical music at Westminster Choir College. In 1996, while scanning the classifieds for a job, she responded to an ad for a comedy class and got hooked.

"I knew it was what I wanted to do," she says. "It seemed so ludicrous. It's not something you believe. I didn't think I could consider it. But I thought, 'This could be my life. I could do this for a living.' "

Two years ago, she moved to L.A., and today she regularly works the comedy club circuit. She started an Asian American comedy night ("Chopschtick") and networked with other Asian American comics--some good, some developing.

"All the Asian comedians go through a period called 'Asian Hack.' You start out working in front of a mostly white audience, and most Asian comedians pander to that. The jokes are self-deprecating plays on stereotypes. If you're good and intelligent and dedicated, you outgrow those jokes and move on."

Like filmmakers Deann Borshay Liem and Nathan Adolfson, Anderson is part of a recent movement of Korean-American adoptees, now old enough to express themselves and break down their unique experience. In Anderson's case, she searches for the humor in culture clashes. There was the time, for instance, when her adoptive grandfather died, and her model friend tried to console her by saying, "Well, it's a good thing it wasn't your real grandfather." Anderson punched her in the silicone-injected fun bags and responded, "Good thing those weren't your real tits."

This Friday, Amy Anderson appears at the Montgomery Theater for CATS' Asian American Comedy Night. This past summer, Anderson got her biggest break to date, taping an episode of the Comedy Central show Premium Blend that airs in December. When she introduced herself--"Hi, I'm Amy Anderson"--the crowd giggled. It was a perfect beat for a snappy comeback, but she didn't have one.

"People make an assumption, 'Are you married?' Nope, it's really my name. I guess I don't have a comeback joke for it, because I've been dealing with it my whole life."

Asian American Comedy Night, featuring Amy Anderson, Kevin Camia and Oliver Saria, happens on Friday (Oct. 10) at the Montgomery Theater, Market and San Carlos streets, San Jose. Tickets are $18-$20 (408.298.2287).

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From the October 9-15, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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