The 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors Are Busy
Defining Asian American Comedy

By Bernice Yeung

With clever wordplay, slapstick and situational comedy, the 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors jab funny bones with their sassy and subversive comedy skits about Asian Americana. Inspired by Saturday Night Live, Monty Python and In Living Color, the nine-member San Francisco troupe pokes fun at such topics as the Chinese women's swim team ("Dr. Bruce's Hard-Body Clinic") and the fervent nationalism present in different Asian cultures ("World Cup 2000").

Look up "Asian American comedy" in the dictionary--it isn't there. The Warriors have taken on the brazen responsibility of defining the genre by warping stereotypes and cultural subtleties into bizarre, irreverent and hilarious skits. Their latest show, Psycho Karaoke, kicks off the Contemporary Asian Theater Scene (CATS) 1997­98 season this weekend.

But the Warriors are also open to suggestion; a cyber-interactive section of their Web site asks, "What exactly is Asian American comedy?" There is no textbook answer. "Each person in the group has their own perspective about it, but for myself, I'm Asian, and so what I find funny is automatically linked to Asian American comedy," says warrior Pete Wong, who, clad in red and waving rhythmic gymnastics ribbons, plays the fire in a skit about the L.A. riots.

One of the Warriors' most popular bits, "John Woo Family Dinner," exaggerates the balletic violence of the famous Hong Kong film director. When the Woos are reunited, the brothers have their guns drawn against their sister's boyfriend but quickly hide them whenever mother brings in the next entree. When a fight finally ensues, John Woo nonchalantly pulls out his camera to capture the slapstick spectacle on film.

But not all the skits are so easy to digest. The troupe's political nature naturally leads them to address touchy subjects such as immigration, Asian gang activity and racism. "What one person finds offensive, another person finds hilarious," Wong explains. "We're always playing that fine line."

By making some people laugh and by shocking others, the Warriors initiate discussions about taboo topics. "The Angel Island Game," a skit about how Asian immigrants were denied entrance into the U.S. by the San Francisco Bay immigration center, usually receives a mixed reaction. "A couple of people were offended because they went through the experience or had a relative go through that experience," Wong says. "But there were some audience members who said that it sparked their interest because they didn't even know about it."

But just because the group has an ethnic sociopolitical identity doesn't mean that the Warriors can't appeal to a wide audience. "A lot of our stuff does cross over," Wong explains. "We have skits where we're not making a [political] comment; it's just a funny skit. There's stuff that's not so much based on being Asian American. It could be an everyday situation, like how it's really hard to find parking in San Francisco. Just the fact that the two people up on stage are Asian American makes it Asian American comedy."

[ Web exclusive to the July 24-30, 1997 issue of | MetroActive Central ]