10 Comics to Watch
She looks like a shy, bespectacled schoolkid, but Yi’s surreal comedic vision is unlike anything anything else. In fact, she’s already being compared to Andy Kaufman and Pee-wee Herman — unique performers with whom the 20-year-old daughter of a Spanish-Filipino mother and a half-Korean, half-Irish-German-French-Native American dad is only vaguely familiar.
Her reel contains a prototypical Yi club bit: Without speaking a word, she plucks an audience member to play the role of David Letterman — she’s his guest. Reading from a set of cue cards, “Mr. Letterman” then explains his long-held infatuation with Yi. In fact, it turns out that he’s always wanted to see her play a rousing rendition of “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” … on a drum … which she does, of course, with the delighted audience singing along.
Several years ago, Yi left UC Riverside to pursue standup full time. Before breaking into the L.A. scene, she played AA meetings and a Hells Angels bar in her hometown of Fontana, Calif.
For the bikers, she tooted her clarinet. “When I finished it was dead quiet,” Yi says. “I said, ‘If you guys liked that one, you’re really going to like this,’ and I played a screeching, terrible clarinet thing. They started laughing. I brought them in, they sang along … and they didn’t beat me up.”
Buzz: Her “Doo Doo Show” packed the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Los Angeles last year, and she’s currently developing the bit for NBC U with Steve Coogan and co-writer Zach Paez.
She’s had guest-starring gigs on ABC’s “Help Me Help You” and NBC’s “30 Rock,” and she’s set to appear in Judd Apatow’s upcoming Universal comedy “Knocked Up,” starring Seth Rogen.
Yi — who performs regularly at the Improv, El Cid and the UCB Theater — will also do a gig at Aspen this year.
References: “Charlyne Yi kills so hard in the brief moments she is onscreen in ‘Knocked Up’ that afterwards people think she is one of the stars of the film,” Apatow says.
Coogan, who is exec producing “The Doo Doo Show,” adds, “Her comedy is uncynical — it’s feel-good without being brainless.” And as if that isn’t enough praise, her mother notes, “When I feel down, all I have to do is talk to Charlyne and I’m happy.”
Fallback plan: “My plan was to be a rock and roll star,” Yi says. “My friends and I had several bands. Whenever we’d go to a party to play, we’d be like, ‘We’re, uh,’ and we’d name an object — ‘We are the Boy Who’s Looking at Me Right Now With a Beer Bottle.’ ”