Since the election, Americans’ comedic tastes have appreciably shifted. Late night television hosts have discovered that embracing formerly “impolite” topics has attracted audiences, not driven them away.
For stand up comic, actress, and filmmaker Atsuko Okatsuka, her life story has intersected with aspects of law and politics many would consider uncomfortable to talk about. After arriving in the United States in 1999, Okatsuka was undocumented for seven years.
As a founding member of the Disoriented Comedy tour, with Jenny Yang and Yola Lu, Okatsuka has successfully harnessed the power of comedy to share her personal immigration story with communities across the country. What began as a showcase of Asian women comedians became a troupe of all backgrounds. The complexities of immigration, race, and gender were inescapable, and a wellspring of absurdity and humor.
This unflinching style will be on full display November 9th when the Disoriented Comedy team presents “Brutally Honest,” a show to benefit Define American at the Lyric Hyperion Theatre and Cafe in Silverlake. Tickets are on sale at DisorientedComedy.com. The show features Okatsuka and Yang, as well as Define American board member Cristela Alonzo, and fellow comedians D’Lo, Baron Vaughn, Solomon Georgio, and Johan Miranda.
Being “Brutally Honest,” according to Okatsuka, means giving comedians the free reign to do material that, by its nature, would make some crowds uncomfortable.
“We have a President who is an unapologetic liar, so we have to be unapologetically honest with our work,” Okatsuka said. She clarifies that a lot of the material on stage will challenge those with power, who are comfortable with their status in life, to think differently. “The men in the crowd may not want to hear it, even if they think they’re on our side already.”
This kind of freedom is rare, and has been championed by The Lyric Hyperion Theatre, which hosts Disoriented Comedy’s monthly storytelling series. With the support of owner Mark Sherman, the unique venue has become a safe space, where people who abuse open mikes, who seek to harass other performers, are quickly given the boot.
While this environment feels liberating for these rising young comedians, it feels like a restriction to comedians of an older era. Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, and Patton Oswalt have all publicly decried the growth of “PC Culture,” bemoaning how audiences have reacted to material that has elements of sexism, racism, transphobia.
To Okatsuka, this rejection of the old guard is a sign of progress. “PC Culture did not kill comedy. Bad jokes did. So if you’re telling jokes that are going over people’s heads or hurting people, it’s not PC culture that stops the laughs. You did. You did not keep up with the times.”
This outsider, loose-cannon quality is what Okatsuka hopes will bring people in. It’s also defined her experience as an immigrant, as an American. Some of the stories that she brings to life on stage are from this period, when both adults and children didn’t treat her as an equal. This is the sweet spot for Okatsuka, when she finds that even her white in-laws can relate to this part of the immigrant experience.
These are the kinds of bridges all the comedians involved in the November 9th Disoriented Comedy show seek to build. And Okatsuka hopes that the show attracts “action takers,” people who want to hear a new perspective, and follow them.