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Comedy Tue Mar 15 2011
Chicago native Esther Ku is making her mark in the world of stand-up; with appearances on NBC's "Last Comic Standing," television commercials and even as a finalist in Howard Stern's "Hottest/Funniest Chick" contest, this up-and-coming comedienne is entertaining audiences all over the country with her bold style. Here, the former Rogers Park resident discusses women in stand-up, "dirty" comedy and her penchant for performing in front of black audiences.
I read that your comedy career was born after you were fired from a job for laughing too much--was there a "no laughing on the job" policy there?
[Laughs.] I was working for a Chicago-based pen company and they let me go for laughing too much. When the recession was just starting, pens were the first thing to go because everything is on computers, people were using styluses or whatever, and I was there selling pens. I guess it was like, "Okay, the laughing Asian girl has got to go."
Well if ever there were an example of when getting fired works out...
It did. I'm happy now--well, that day I cried--but it all worked out in the end.
You're a Chicago native who now lives in Brooklyn--any major differences in the comedy scene there?
In New York, there are more stand-up comedy clubs than there are in Chicago and New Yorkers stay out later! I like to make people laugh until like, 2am; in Chicago, I can only go until midnight.
Sex is a regular subject in your routines; even today, for some, it's considered "unladylike" or a "turnoff" for women to even discuss it in a certain manner--what are your thoughts on that?
I don't think it's a turnoff-I think it should be a turn-on.
Well, I've heard other female comics say they can't talk about sex like "the boys" can; when they do, it turns some people off.
And I say we should talk about it so we can bring equality to the table.
With your subject matter, do you ever feel pressure to tone things down a bit?
People have definitely sat me down and said, "You're really funny, but I think you should take out some of your sex jokes."
How do you respond to that?
I can't listen to them. People always tell me, "You'll make more money if you're clean."
Do you agree with that?
Well, the money will come eventually, I hope. Plus, there are more television programs where you can swear and be dirty, so it's not like I have to completely tone it down.
How do you view women in comedy today? Do you think the playing field is even?
I think when a female comedian makes it in this business, she makes it huge--bigger than any male comedian could. Sarah Silverman and Kathy Griffin--these women--they're huge! At the beginning, it's tougher on women, but I think once things get past a certain point, we shine brighter than the men do.
You also boldly discuss race--even poking fun at stereotypes targeted at Asian-Americans. Do you think comedy is a good way to shine light on issues of race?
Yes-even in my own family! My parents are immigrants and we'd always tease them but it was always all in good fun--and they're the "not-so-serious" Asians, too! My mom--the way she pronounces her "z's"--she's not that offended--she laughs along with us! Now my Asian friends' parents are super serious and I can see why they might be mad at something I said, but I just come from a family where joking constantly is permissible.
So you were able to hone your skills right there with your own family, then.
Yes. It was fun.
You've been nicknamed the "Asian Sarah Silverman"--how do you feel about that comparison?
I think people do that because she has a very childlike demeanor about her and people always say I also kind of embody that same innocence when I tell my dirty jokes. I think [with this demeanor] we both have dealt with similar things, like when we tell c*** jokes, people think, "Wow--I didn't think she was capable of even holding a c***, let alone talking about it!"
You're performing at Jokes and Notes this weekend, which has, as you know, a predominately African-American audience--any nervousness there?
[Laughs] Oh, no! I do lots of black audience shows in Brooklyn and the Bronx. I like and prefer black audiences.
You prefer black audiences?
Yes! Because with them, my laugh doesn't stick out as much! Black people laugh harder than white people! I mean, would you rather go to a black church where everyone's shouting "Hallelujah!" or a white church where everybody's just kind of sitting there on their knees, praying?
I get it--you're saying black people really "give it up" and bring it from the gut, eh?
Yes! And I love it! They're more alive, you know?
What's coming up next for you? Any television? Movies?
I just finished shooting a movie in New York called The Cookout, 2, so that's coming up.
Well thank you for speaking with us and welcome home.
Catch Esther Ku at Jokes and Notes Comedy Club, 4641 S. King Dr., Friday and Saturday, March 18 and 19; show times are 8:30pm and 10:30pm both nights. Tickets are $15-$20 and can be purchased at the box office. For more information, call 773-373-3390.