UCLA and USC have at least one thing in common: both Asian American Studies Centers are able to hold regular, yearly events among a large, apathetic, Asian Pacific American student body. Surprise surprise. Our beloved neighbors at SUC can hold event that don't SUCk (let's not get into athletics).
The comedy troupe, 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors, performed on March 1 at the 16th Annual Asian Pacific American Heritage Festival in USC's Bovard Auditorium. It promised to be an interesting event, especiall when 'SC students started to bag on our beloved institution (I held off two of them, don't worry). The evening started with (get this) Mr. and Mrs. Asian Pacific American introducing the event. The Mr. and Mrs. APA Contest winners, Michelle Ishida and Marcus Chan, were selected for their degree of academic excellence, community involvement, public speaking skills and knowledge of Asian Pacific American culture and heritage.
After a show by a rap artist and 'SC alum Rakamoto, an actress imitating Annabelle Chong -- the 'SC student who holds the world's record for fucking the most men -- introduced the 18MMW's show. Their first skit, "Bruce Can Cook", was a re-vision of the show "Yan Can Cook" except that the host was Bruce Lee instead of (Blah-blah) Yan. Bruce showed how to cook Jeet Kum Pao with his special guest, martial arts bad boy, Bolo Yeung. Next came "Mr. Diarrhea," a spoof on Asian Americans and their lactose intolerance. In "Dueling Drums", two rotund men exposed their bellies while their assistants slapped some beats (weird). The next skit was a "Reunion" between well-known Asian American artists such as Amy Tan, Maxine Hong Kingston, Philip Kan Gotanda as Gus Lee (author of China Boy), Ben Fong-Torres and Frank Chin. Maxine Hong Kingston was invoking the spirit of Mu-Lan on stage and Amy Tan kept having memories of her mother as in Joy Luck Club. In "M.A.B." one man representing Make America Better (anti-immigrants) and one representing Make America Brown (pro-interracial breeding) dueled it out. "Superstar Desu" played on the instant superstar status of American singers in Tokyo with singers repeating the chorus line, "Ouch! Ouch! Couch potato!"
A much-needed intermission was given, enough time for me to stop laughing. But just as soon as I had recovered, "Dr. Bruce and Associates Healty Hard Body Clinic" came on and almost made me suffocate. In the skit, the Chinese National Swim Team members came out to promote Dr. Lynette Bruce's service -- body augmentation and plastic surgery -- something to make them more feminine. In "Asian American Frankenstein," three female doctors were trying to make the "perfect" Asian American man because they were sick of the ones who drank Remy and had no money. "The Famous Relatives Show" showcased (loser) relatives of famous people. That night Yo Ma Ma (Yo Yo Ma's younger brother) performed his gangsta rap. In the skit, "Dizzyland," a couple decides whether or not to go to the new multicultural theme parket complete with an Oriental village, Plantation Land (with an Underground Railroad ride), and Injun Country. Accomodations are provided by "Japanse American Camp for Loyal Americans." "Blaine Asakawa's Self-Defense Class" was designed for Japanese nationals traveling in the U.S. (and just happened to be wearing Elvis costumes).
The responses ranged from "It was really funny" to "I was laughing so hard I couldn't breathe anymore" (in other words, everyone had something good to say about it). Even though a few of the jokes were kinda 'touchy' and could have been misunderstood, it was definately a different kind of experience. Dan Cuevas, a UCLA student there that night, explains, "You know, I think that's the main thing -- seeing the humor but also being critical." Actress Tamilyn Tomita (who was hiding in the corner trying to be invisible) had a similar opinion. "It's not purely Asian American comedy. They step out and make a broader statement. And the difference is that they can make fun of themselves. It's not 'pity, pity, pity me' for being Asian American, but 'laugh with me, laugh at me, if you'd like to, because I invite you to.' We're of all the same experience and we can laugh and enjoy ourselves."
Members of the 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors met at the Asian American Theater Company in San Francisco and have been working together for almost two years. As with most struggling artists, they all have day jobs and perform on the side. The troup writes all their skits, their influences include Saturday Night Live and Monty Python's Flying Circus among others. Michael Premsrirat, one of the 18 MMW's, put it simply, "Our mission is to create new portrayals of Asian Americans for Asian American audiences and on Asian American audiences. And eventually, we'd like to be able to be seen as innovators in comedy and not just as an Asian American freak show, which is how we're kinda seen now."
In case you missed it, USC's 1996 Asian Pacific American Heritage Festival's theme this year was "CommUnity". It aimed to increase awareness of Asian American issues and create greater pride within the APA community.
[ From the Monday, April 29, 1996 issue of Pacific Ties ]