×

Karen Chee on Writing for the Golden Globes and Crying at Sandra Oh’s ‘Unabashedly Korean’ Moment

Growing up, Karen Chee looked up to Sandra Oh as “often the only Asian person” she could see on screen. Fast forward to 2019, and the 23-year-old Korean-American comedian got to write jokes for co-hosts Oh and Andy Samberg at the Golden Globe Awards.

Chee, who has written for the New Yorker and the upcoming Reductress pilot on Comedy Central went through the typical channels to score the gig, but also tweeted at Oh to make her appeal public (while wearing a t-shirt bearing Oh’s “It’s an honor just to be Asian” line from the Emmys).

The tweet got support from fellow comics including Ronny Chieng of “The Daily Show,” as well as “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” writer Ariel Dumas, who chimed in and vouched for her talent. Chee tells Variety this moment is not lost on her in terms of what it means for increased public demand for diverse representation in the media.

“She was so often the only Asian person that I saw, and the only smart Asian woman character that I saw on TV,” Chee says. “Then I posted that and a lot of people were rooting for me, it felt very encouraging and validating that, even if I don’t get this job, it’s sort of a change happening and a lot of people wanted that change to happen of more Asian people on screen and more Asian people writing.”

Chee says there were about 17 Globes writers from various shows, ranging from Bowen Yang of “Saturday Night Live” to “Late Night with Seth Meyers'” Amber Ruffin. Although the awards ceremony was light on politics, she says there wasn’t much deliberate conversation about avoiding Trump in the writers’ room; Oh had already been interviewed saying she didn’t want to talk politics, and the writers simply adhered to that, Chee says.

Instead, Chee says there were more opportunities to tie Oh’s Korean heritage to Asian-specific jokes that wouldn’t have worked for another host, such as calling out “Aloha” for whitewashing an Asian character, or mentioning that Pepcid AC would help with “Asian flush.”

“An avenue of jokes opened because Sandra was an Asian-Canadian person,” Chee says. “Things like the ‘Aloha,’ ‘Ghost in the Shell’ joke, and the Pepcid AC joke, and the Asian moms joke would be so weird and off-color if a white person said them.”

And when Oh won for best actress in a drama for “Killing Eve,” Chee says the entire writers’ room “erupted into screams” and jumped up in excitement. For Chee, this history-making moment (Oh is the first Asian woman to win multiple Globes) meant a lot on a personal level. When Oh got on stage to accept her award and thanked her parents in Korean and bowed to them in the crowd, Chee says, “I was sitting in the corner and I was crying.”

“To be in a room full of white people — it’s majority still white people — and be that actively and intentionally Korean, and to be unabashedly Korean, I felt so seen and I felt so validated and proud of my own identity,” Chee says.

And at the after party following the awards, Chee had an intimate moment with Oh where they bonded over their Korean identities.

“I mentioned that I have never see someone that actively, intentionally Korean on screen before and I feel like I was lit on fire. I ruined all my eye makeup and it was worth it,” she says. “After I told her, she hugged me again and I felt like, ‘Oh my god, the woman is so kind and warm.’ Only meet your heroes if it’s Sandra Oh.”

One of the most talked about moments of the night was Oh’s heartfelt recognition of increased representation, where she said, ” I wanted to be here to look out into this audience and witness this moment of change … I see you. And I see you, all these faces of change, and now, so will everyone else.”

Oh had planned to make these remarks since the first day, Chee says, and told the writers, “I really wanted to discuss this and I want a moment of sincerity.”

And for Chee, as a female writer of color, she said she “100%” resonated with Oh’s words that no matter what happens next year, the accomplishments in diversity from 2018 can’t be taken away.

“When she said, ‘I see you,’ I got shivers through my whole body,” she says. “Her on stage saying that ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and ‘Black Panther’ and ‘If Beale Street Could Talk,’ you could not take that away, you could not spin that any way other than what it was.”

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • "The Positive Negative Reaction" -- Bernadette

    'The Big Bang Theory' to Stream Exclusively on HBO Max

    Bazinga! HBO Max has prevailed in the auction for streaming rights to “The Big Bang Theory,” one of the last major comedy franchises that has yet to be licensed for the binge-watching era. WarnerMedia’s nascent streaming platform will have exclusive rights to 12 seasons of the show from Warner Bros. Television and co-creators/executive producers Chuck [...]

  • Netflix-logo-N-icon

    Netflix Orders Supernatural Thriller Series 'Equinox' Based on Danish Podcast

    Netflix has ordered “Equinox,” a six-part Danish supernatural thriller series based on a well-known podcast, “Equinox 1985.” The show, which will be created by Tea Lindeburg (“Kødkataloget”), is set to start shooting later this year. It will be executive produced by Piv Bernth (“The Killing”) at Apple Tree Productions, which is backed by ITV Studios. [...]

  • David Goodman

    WGA West's David Goodman on Agency Strategy: 'We'll Start Meeting as Soon as Possible'

    David Goodman, who was resoundingly re-elected president of the Writers Guild of America West on Monday, said the guild plans to meet with several talent agencies soon in an effort to ease the impasse over packaging fees and affiliated production. “Many agencies had indicated that they wanted to wait to see the results of the [...]

  • THE TITAN GAMES -- "The Titan

    'Titan Games' Renewed for Season 2 at NBC

    NBC has renewed the Dwayne Johnson-hosted competition series “The Titan Games” for a second season. The series features men and women battling opponents in head-to-head physical challenges designed by Johnson. Winners advance to Mt. Olympus, a test of speed, strength, agility and endurance. “When we launched ‘The Titan Games,’ we set out to create an [...]

  • David Goodman

    David Goodman Re-Elected President of Writers Guild of America West

    David Goodman has been convincingly re-elected to a two-year term as president of the Writers Guild of America West, beating Phyllis Nagy in a bitter contest that became a referendum on the guild’s ongoing battle with talent agents. Goodman received 4,395 votes to Nagy’s 1,282 in an election that yielded record turnout among the WGA [...]

  • first wives club BET

    TV Review: 'The First Wives Club' on BET Plus

    Launching a series based on a beloved property is harder than it seems. On the one hand, you get the immediate boost of name recognition to lure in preexisting fans. On the other, straying too far from the plot and/or spirit of the original risks sparking their righteous wrath. It’s a tricky balance to strike, [...]

  • Thomas Golubic GMS Conference

    Guild of Music Supervisors President: 'The Economics of the Job Don't Work Anymore'

    The Guild of Music Supervisors (GMS) hosted its 5th annual “State of Music in Media” conference on Saturday, Sept. 15, at the Los Angeles Film School. Featuring a wide array of panel discussions on all manner of issues related to music in film, television and advertising, the confab drew top composers, music supervisors, licensing and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content