Asian American Women comedians are leading a revolution to fight for their belonging in America.
Jiaoying Summers, a Tiktok Comedy Queen, shares how female Asian comedians are creating space for themselves in American culture.
BY EVALYN LEE
The rise of Asian women comedians disrupts the dominant tradition of white male comedy in America, but challenges and stereotypes remain.
Giants in the comedy field, such as Christopher Hitchens, Adam Corolla, and Jerry Lewis, have expressed the belief that women are not funny. In an interview by Martin Short at the 2000 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, Jerry Lewis said, “A woman doing comedy doesn’t offend me but sets me back a bit. I, as a viewer, have trouble with it. I think of her as a producing machine that brings babies in the world.” Meanwhile, Psychology Today, a peer-reviewed journal, cites evolutionary psychology to explain their conclusion that men are funnier than women.
Jiaoying Summers, a comedian with 1.2 million followers on TikTok, spoke about the challenge of entering comedy as an Asian woman immigrant. She said, “It’s a boys club, and they are going to do whatever it takes to keep you out of the gate, as long as they can — until one day it is absolutely undeniable when you become a star.”
Summers noted a glaring issue with the lack of diversity in the comedy industry. SNL has only had four Asian cast members of Asian descent and zero women of east Asian descent. I often watch SNL for inspiration as an editor of the satire section of my high school paper. I remember digging through my school paper’s archives, stalking many of the preceding editors. In the 165 years that the paper has existed, I cannot find a previous female Asian editor of the satire section.
So why does representation matter? SNL can still make me laugh regardless of a female Asian cast member. And not having a previous editor of Asian descent does not impede my ability to make fun of poorly dressed lacrosse boys weekly. Asian female representation matters because the entertainment industry sometimes pushes racist misrepresentations of Asian Americans, disseminating harmful stereotypes.
Pema Sherpa, a board member of Asian Women Empowerment, an affinity group at Phillips Academy Andover, noted the importance of representation by pointing to Ali Wong. She said, “It’s her [Ali Wong] just being herself, which I think shows that representation is important because it lets people know that Asian women are more than stereotypes that are put onto us.”
Historically, the “Dragon Lady,” a derogatory racial caricature, has been used to represent east Asian women as hypersexual and submissive. The Dragon Lady caricature was inspired by Anna May Wong, a Chinese American actress from the early 1900’s. Many producers assigned her to supporting roles as an exotic dragon lady, despite her fame. Anna May Wong has been perceived as “foreign” even though she was born and raised in California.
The treatment of Anna May Wong is the reality for many Asian American women to this day. Even beyond Hollywood, fetishization and exoticization continue to persist and affect many Asian women and girls.
Pema Sherpa described the presence of yellow fever, a term for Asian fetish, on her high school campus. Sherpa said, “I think it’s really interesting how through all this history and to this day, Asian women are exoticized, and there are suddenly fantasies about having the perfect Asian girlfriend who is quiet and fulfills all your sexual needs. And I feel that is just so harmful because there are so many friends my age who are Asian — and who have told me that they have been fetishized by white guys who … are … looking for an Asian girlfriend [just] to check that box off their list.”
Challenging this harmful perception, many Asian women comedians do not shy away from talking about their sexual desires on stage. Jiaoying Summers gives credit to Ali Wong and Margaret Cho for bringing a revolution against this dehumanizing caricature.
“They want Asian women to be portrayed as an obedient robot, and I am really proud that the revolution that Margaret Cho and Ali Wong has brought shows that Asian women are just humans,” Summers said.
To empower younger Asian women, Summers speaks her truth over American culture’s delusions. In one of Summers’ viral Tiktoks with 3.4 million views, she said, “We are not exotic. I am not exotic. I am made in China. I am everywhere. Your underwear is made in China.”
This past summer, Summers also used her stand-up comedy to raise money to benefit nonprofits that aid the AAPI community. By giving back to her community, Summers shows that her comedy has a cause beyond making people laugh.
“Me getting noticed and respected by the comedy community, also globally, is going to empower a lot of Asian girls to speak their mind,” Summers said. “I feel like women of color are suppressed, especially Asian American women. We’ve been facing racism since [we were] little girls [going] to school.”
Asian women comedians enrich American comedy because they don’t just tell jokes. They craft a social commentary that confronts American culture on sex, femininity and race.
Watch out because the rise of Asian women in comedy is no joke.