Zero to One

Copying others takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But when you do something new, you go from 0 to 1. 

- Peter Thiel

A bit over a month ago, a friend had invited me to a comedy show featuring some short sets from stand up comedians. I have a growing interest in possibly performing stand up, so although I don’t go to them normally, I decided to check it out.

During the set an older comedian went up, and knowing not too much about him, his set was a bit off (though later I would hear his humor was a bit avant garde in general, so maybe that was just a normal set), where jokes weren’t really jokes, just statements stated loudly at people. It ended up being a 10 minute rant about how his career was shit and he was washed up. It ended up being somewhat uncomfortable towards the end as the host had to somewhat awkwardly eventually lead him off stage as he was going clearly way too long and there were other acts to get to. I began to rethink my nascent stand up career.

This past weekend, I learned that that comedian had committed suicide and hung himself and I felt terrible for a variety of reasons. Some of them were reasonable and others not, but my headspace was dominated by the notion that I could see myself on that stage like him in 10-15 years, contemplating about the meaninglessness of a life searching for acceptance.

In 8th grade, I remember my Earth Science teacher claiming that pumping oxygen in the air gives you more energy and alertness, but possibly at the cost of your life span: there was the reverse claim that depriving yourself of oxygen could extend your lifespan, but at the cost of making you more lethargic while you lived. My teacher likened humans to light bulbs, with an inverse relationship between our brightness and our longevity.

When I was younger, I always likened myself to characters with the utmost resolve, ready to lay down their lives, even to the point of death, for a cause that I believed in, as long as the cause was pure and true and just. In my adolescence, reading about people who had laid down their lives for greater causes than themselves, I thought that there was a nonzero chance that I was going to be murdered for whatever cause I believed in before the age of 40. What was the point of living to 120 when you weren’t burning as bright as you could?

Well, unfortunately (or fortunately?), I think probability probably points to me sticking around by 2023.

Ironically, my brazenness probably stemmed from feeling immortal…up until this year. All those signs pointing to 30 being the big demarcation of adulthood are all wrong, 35 is the year where shit gets real, especially if you feel like you’re still nowhere close to being an adult. Physically, I started getting sick a bit after eating some foods, have been having more trouble getting good sleep, losing focus and concentration. After a session of tweezing out double digit grey hairs in front of my bathroom mirror awkwardly trying to use two mirrors to create the illusion of spacial awareness for better accuracy of said tweezing, I took a long look at two of myselves and realized, “Fuck, I’m old.”

I probably say some variant of “Fuck, I’m old.” every year since I turned 22 in annoying, neurotic, self-absorbed, woe-is-me fashion but despite my best efforts of denial and acting like a man-child for the better part of this millennia, time has come for my psyche. I just had enough money, Asian youth and immaturity to ignore it until now.

Every day I look in the mirror and wonder if what I see is actually an adult, a fully fledged man. But I don’t see it. But I don’t see a kid, either, or even an “adolescent”. I’m in some sort of living purgatory, where I feel trapped, like my DNA didn’t quite upload the correct code for this stage of my life, either mentally or physically.

What got me through a lot of depressing times in my life was the notion that “life was going to get better”. Happiness, I was made to believe, was something that could be achieved, as long as you got your shit together and kept your head down. A master of delayed gratification, I really bought into the “oh this is just for now, and when you grow older and get a good job, all these other things will fall into place and adult life will be so much better for all that hard work in your early life.”

Last year, feeling left behind in life, my paradigm shifted to: “It is very likely that you have already lived the best moments of your life". I felt like Murphy in Interstellar: in that very moment when she is told by Professor Brand that the data necessary for the solution to save humanity on Earth was impossible to gather. I had been working towards a happiness that will never materialize.

Because I can pass for 20s still (or so I believe) I sometimes hypothesize, what if I could just tell myself I was younger and have that mindset? Would I have a different perspective on life? Would I “think” younger, have more optimism, feel the optimism that I did 10 years ago?

For me, that answer is a resounding no. They (this hypothetical they that is the expert on aging) don’t tell you that even though you may not age physically or mentally, everything about your life ages anyway, your resume, your finances, your relationships, your social network and peers, your very world and your very view of the world itself. There is no de-aging of your consciousness and experiences.

A few days after that comedy show last month, my sister had come to visit me, to “stop me from killing myself.” To the uninitiated, my sister and I (and really my whole family) have this sort of dark humor where we regularly talk about each others deaths and how sorry we’re going to be when the other family member is gone. And while I have never had suicidal thoughts in my life, I have come closest to having them in the past year.

She also has a point: 2018 was pretty rough for me. Aside from the career bullshit that’s become a recurring theme in my life, it was amplified by losing literally millions of dollars (so I know what that feels like at least), chemical imbalances by probably doing way too much MDMA (oh yeah, I guess that’s for another entry) and just the general feeling that life was passing me by while I was standing still, and the feeling that society and many of the people closest with me were moving on with their lives.

What got me in introspective hyperdrive though was while she was visiting, my dad had a near fatal emergency open heart surgery. Just the previous month, I had a conversation with him, what the happiest time of his life was, his reasons for coming to America and for staying. In the past month, I’ve been thinking about a lot of things, about what’s important in this life, about if I were my dad and I had died last month, if I would have been satisfied with the way I left things and about how I lived the second half of my life, about what I need to do myself for the next 30 years of my life, of trying to make sense of why I was still where I am today, trolling around Hollywood attempting to make a dream that may never materialize telling my parents I couldn’t visit when my dad was in the hospital because of some notion that something miraculous was going to happen during pilot season.

What’s worse than feeling like the walls are closing in and this general sense of dread and doubt and uncertainty is the idea that it is entirely your own fault. It’s tempting to blame my problems on external forces but the reality is that I still have privileges and the capacity to build towards my own happiness. But I have a tendency to never embrace the moment, having one foot in the past and one foot in the future, trying to do a Jean Claude van Damme like split as the two diverge from each other.

This past weekend, I read everything I could about that comedian that had committed suicide, as if I was trying to reverse engeineer the blueprint to conquer my own demons. In the past year, I’ve probably listened to “Fade into Darkness” by Avicii an unhealthy amount of times after listening to a variety EDC tributes. I have become obsessed not with suicide, but with people who gave so much of themselves and who committed suicide. Did they see something that the rest of us could not see? Do I want to discover what that is?

When I examine my own unhappiness, a big source is the feeling that I am constantly in flux, on a spectrum of achievement, an unresolved chord. There’s a hump that I can’t quite get over, as I struggle to become whole, struggling from getting zero to one. Neither feeling like a child or adult, neither feeling accomplished or a failure, neither feeling accepted or shunned, It is the very indecisiveness of my self-perception that frustrates me, that I cannot decide how exactly to course correct, the paralysis of having too many bad choices to choose from.

Maybe I didn’t try hard enough, I didn’t give quite the 100% that I thought I was. Or maybe I didn’t believe in my cause as strongly as I did. Or maybe I lost that passion that I had 10 years ago when I started out on this never ending quest, when I was filled with ignorant optimism.

In the past couple years, I have learned more about race and the industry than I have in the first 30 something years of my life. But instead of steeling me towards progress, the knowledge of what it will take for this generation of Asian Americans to gain visibility and recognition of their humanity in this country feels insurmountable, because we as a racial group have been anesthetized in this country by the carrot instead of the stick, content to be erased for prosperity in return. For a long time I felt bitter because I thought the cavalry had not come for me, but now I realize that there may have never been a cavalry to begin with.

Tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning— So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

- F. Scott Fizgerald

Searching...for more Asian American Content

asians, burgers and the suburbs. this was me.

asians, burgers and the suburbs. this was me.

I first saw Searching at the LA Asian American Film Festival in May, with zero expectations, no clue what the movie was about, except that it starred John Cho. That was enough to get me intrigued, as I have always been a fan of Cho’s since Harold and Kumar. While I draw inspiration from many things from my life, it was this silly stoner comedy where I first felt represented. It was a movie truly ahead of its time, highlighting the ways in which Asians were discriminated against through microaggressions, before microaggressions was even a term. I felt it was the first time my story was being told, and inspired me to pursue a career in entertainment.

If you haven’t watched Searching yet, and either:

- want to support Asian American voices in film
- are interested in cutting edge filmmaking and story telling techniques
- like thriller/suspense (not horror) detective stories

Stop reading this. Watch the movie now. Then come back. I’ll wait…


OK, I can’t wait. I’ll try not to spoil too much. But if you have watched it, you can probably guess how much of an impact it made on me. Searching is just a great film. Full stop. No qualifiers needed, not “oh it’s good for an Asian American film”, or it’s “just a fun little thriller flick”. The pacing, the performances, the editing, the weaving of several plot points and easter eggs and the meticulous care with every single scene was nothing short of awesome and inspiring. 

The movie is a thriller, but also a commentary on social media and how greatly it can impact our lives in ways we don’t even imagine. This is a universal concept for all Americans, who are growing increasingly wary and cautious of a further digitized world, but we see the story unfold through the viewpoint of an Asian American, specifically David Kim (played by Cho). But while Crazy Rich Asians evoked a visceral response from me from just being able to watch people like me in a fantasy type setting, Searching delves in the opposite side of the pool, where its gritty scenario could happen to anyone American family, Asian or not. From the opening tip, the first thing you notice is that it’s an Asian American family, but it has the effect of un-otherizing Asians by just feeling like it could be any American family. But there’s no code-switching either, this isn’t an Asian American family that “acts white/black/not Asian”, but who are acting American in their own unique way.

That’s not to say that the movie isn’t unique in exploring the Asian American identity, it just doesn’t put it front and center. There are plenty of little flourishes and nuances that you notice from it being an Asian American household, but they serve to enhance and enrich the storyline, not to be the focus of it. And that’s really how I believe many Asian Americans want to tell their stories, but we’re not really given permission to. When a great storyline or concept comes along, even as Asian American creatives, we’re told to make the characters white to make the stories “more universal”. While there are some stories we want to tell that do lean into talking about Asian culture (like: CRA), sometimes we do want to be able to tell stories that could be an American story, but showing that we too are part of America.

john cho all about that millennial social media life

john cho all about that millennial social media life

I usually don’t approach people because I’m an anxiety-ridden introvert, but I made a point to reach out to Aneesh Chaganty afterwards to congratulate him on what he was able to create. Even though it had been a long and exhausting night, he still went out of his way to chat with me about the film, I could barely get the words out that I wanted to say as a gleeful fanboy of what I had just watched. During his Q&A with the audience, he revealed that he specifically wanted the story to be an Asian American family, because that’s what he grew up with and was familiar with in San Jose, CA, where the movie also takes place. But he admitted it was tough to get producers on board with that (I’m almost 100% positive he got the why don’t you put white people in it comment), so he wrote the movie specifically for John Cho, who thankfully agreed to work on the project with him. The movie was made on a shoestring budget, and 2 years in the editing bay. The story of how the project even came together is a mini-miracle in and of itself, and it showed the sheer determination that Chaganty had to not only tell the story that he wanted to tell, but tell it how he wanted to as well.

There were few times in my life I was greatly inspired after watching a movie, maybe a dozen at best. Searching was one of them for me, to see what Asian American filmmaking excellence that could be revolutionary not just for Asian Americans, but for film itself. If you enjoyed CRA and want to see more Asian American stories, I can’t endorse watching this film enough. More than ever, we need to have audiences and come out and vote with their dollars, the more projects like Searching that come out and do well, the more our films and stories will represent the America that we experience in our daily lives.

Chasing the Dragon

"It's all about the fundamentals." - Uncle Drew

Life is a series of games where as any Microeconomics 101 course will teach you, any possible edge is always trending to 0. In business we see this as fledgling startups take the place of older established businesses that fail to adapt and change.

In sports, it can appear naturally as players age and become to old to be as dominant as before. Or sometimes, cruel dramatic shifts in the game can cause certain players (Stay Me7o) to become the NBA equivalent of someone in a dying industry headed for structural unemployment.

In the arena of gaming, we're finding that computers can solve or at the very least approximate the solutions to every game, ranging from chess in the 90s, to Go as recently as a few years ago. It's no surprise that poker is next, limit Hold em is essentially solved, with heads up no limit not far behind. Despite what you may think you know about poker, it is essentially a game that is deeply rooted in mathematics, and any turing complete system will be able to figure it out eventually, given the right amount of computational power and algorithms designed to solve it.

It's part of the reason that poker's popularity has been on the rapid decline in the past decade or so. What once became the illusion where "anyone" could succeed is quickly becoming an arena where only the ones motivated to put an enormous amount of effort in can continue to do so. Many poker players during the height of the poker boom saw the writing on the wall and have mostly transitioned into other arenas that are not only more intellectually stimulating, but more lucrative.

Admittedly, in 2006, not only was I lucky in that I had a great run of cards to get to the final table, but I was also lucky in that the effort at that time to be better than most of the field was minimal than the effort one has to spend now by a significant margin. I was good for back then, but nowhere near as good as I need to be to be even break even in today's environment. It's kind of similar how in today's NBA, no one can realistically drink beers and smoke cigarettes during half time as they did in the 90s and still be in the peak physical shape they need to be in, today's players need to always be on and be taking care of their bodies, LeBron spending around $1mm alone in body maintenance every year to continue to be competitive.

Yet here I am, prepared to take my talents back to Las Vegas, NV for the 11th time (I skipped a couple years), probably barely making the top 10% of participants in terms of absolute skill level. I've been playing some here and there online, trying to understand what people are doing from a practical level, but in no way have delved into the intricate nuances of theory and tournament considerations that I would need to be a legitimate top tier player. My true ROI after consideration for taxes and my status as a nonprofessional make it somewhat of a breakeven proposition to even play

My interest level has waned as well, but the fire is still there. There's some truth to my yearly posts after busting saying I'm going to quit, but I think there's a resistance to calling it a career in poker, at least for the main event, because admitting it is kind of admitting that I've turned the page on what's ultimately become one of the defining moments of my youth (something I'm having trouble turning the page on in general, but that's for another post). Part of it is because I'm still the kind of guy with a chip on his shoulder and insanely competitive. But I think  another part of it is because I haven't yet found what I'm effectively supposed to move on to. If I had a family, a career, something to give me some sort of purpose, maybe I'd concede and feel comfortable hanging up the towel. But I'm in a constant flux of meaningless in life, so here I am.

Most of my recent thoughts on legacy and meaning have been centered on the basketball player known as LeBron Raymone James Sr. Not saying that my life or legacy has been anywhere close to what his has been, but where I draw parallels is the idea that he's not quite ready to hang up the towel and quit just yet either. He's had a career that will go down as one of the top careers in NBA history, and now faces an impossible task with an uncertain future with almost guaranteed heartbreak in the next few years as the odds are stacked against him. And yet what else can he do but press on and continue to try? What other options does he have?

As I look at my sad unaccomplished life of unrealized potential, I cling onto some misplaced hope that making it deep in a tournament that doesn't even remotely indicate how skilled someone is (there's still a huge luck component involved in any given tournament) will bring some semblance of meaning to my life. It reminds me of myself after my run in 2006, playing afterwards to prove that I wasn't a fluke, and putting effort into my game as a way of showing to the poker community that I was legit, even though part of me believed that I was not.

And so caught between both acknowledging that the whole endeavor is meaningless from an intellectual standpoint, yet wanting to revisit the moment of glory from an emotional one I now have decided to set a new goal post in terms of my main event career: I will play every year where I don't have a prior commitment as long as LeBron keeps playing NBA basketball. I'm about a year older than the King, but I think he'll probably play until his mid to late 30s, which makes it a good stopping point.  Watching LeBron this year has been nothing short of inspiring, knowing full well the impossible task of beating the Warriors ahead of him, and plowing through making two of those games relatively close with nothing but sheer force of will. After Game 1's debacle, I thought the Cavs were destined to be blown out the next three, but he managed to find the strength to make at least one of those games close. Despite what idiot pundits will say, he didn't give up on that series. And so, as long as he has that passion to strive for greatness, so will I.

Every year after that will be a year by year decision, where I will mostly be playing for pure entertainment, rather than the competitive drive that makes me chase after false hopes and dreams.

The Walk Home

2 blocks east.

13 blocks north.

union square. whole foods. best buy. that statue in the middle i don't know who it's of. someone made a store just for me, food emporium, food emporium. barnes and noble. sometime's i'd dip around and walk a loop around gramercy park.

if it was REALLY late, maybe i'd stop by that mcdonald's for a bite. or grab a slice at bravo pizza.

we lived in a fairy tale, in this small sphere of this island of this city of this state of this country of this planet. this sphere that had a cycle of change before it was gone.

and every time i'd walk, i'd feel every step so vividly, visualize every store front, smell every rain soaked pavement, listen to every lone taxi whistling through Park Avenue. it was because i'd ask myself the same question in different phrasing, different wording, different imagining.

Do you feel what I feel?

14 blocks north.

2 blocks east.

the coordinates had changed. but i was still going home.

hurriedly, to hide.  zooming past ippudo. past that dying strand bookstore. paragon sports. andy warhol statue. that small AMC.

i hurried so i wouldn't remember. i wouldn't take the time to absorb. but i did all the same, as the overcast drippy cold weather made the sprinting somewhat tolerable. my unfortunately cinematic life kept playing the scene as it was happening simultaneously, like a loop within a loop, burning the moment forever in my memory.

but it was okay.

i didn't believe in love.  anyway.

About That Thing I'm Doing (part 5): An Unintentional Activist

Since the launch of Just Doug, I have made a few observations, some of them about Asian Americans, some of them about my own views about my identity as an Asian American, and the rest coming to terms about Asian American activism.

Let me start by saying I have been realizing that I was a self-hating Asian for much of my life growing up, but in a somewhat roundabout way, hating the fact that the "model minority" trope limited what I could do in life, that I couldn't do anything with my life outside the confines of being a doctor/lawyer/engineer/banker/(insert traditional profession here).  However, even I was brainwashed to believe that this model minority trope was EARNED by Asian Americans for being lame since they got here, and I had to do my part in improving the image of Asian Americans by being a creative.

Dougie MacA, Colonizer or Savior?

Dougie MacA, Colonizer or Savior?

I am now coming to terms with my own deeply internalized white supremacy.  I eschewed Korean culture because I myself have thought it backward at times, rolling my eyes at FOBs who told me to show them undeserved respect out of age hierarchy or if I saw a lame nerdy looking Asian guy (which was me for much of my life), I'd silently mutter to myself what a disservice he was doing by merely existing, making the rest of us "assimilated Asians" look bad.  I bought into the fact that "white people could do no wrong" and it really was us as Asian Americans who needed to embrace the culture of the individual in Western society, and that a lot of our values that stemmed from our survivalist instincts back in Asia were now "backward".  I even used to be proud of the fact that my name, Douglas, comes from the US Army War General, Douglas MacArthur, General of the Armies of the Pacific during WWII, and the General of the Korean War.  Now I see it as somewhat of an extension of the Stockholm syndrome we as colonized Korean Americans on SOME level have internalized the "white savior" narrative.

I'm also trying to unlearn some of the other types of racism that I've embraced that stems from the model minority and that has to do with living with relative privilege under the white adjacency umbrella that I've enjoyed for so long.  As a high school student with stellar records rejected from the majority of the colleges I applied to, I played right into the white supremacy narrative of blaming affirmative action towards other ethnicities, while seeing no issue with legacy admissions that granted so many white applicants of automatic privilege.  Because of Asian American's white adjacency, I believed that if you just assimilated enough, worked hard enough, that we would be accepted and seen as American, but really that meant being seen as "white".

When I first got into entertainment, I was unaware of a lot of the systemic biases within the industry that have prevented Asian Americans from making real progress.  I believed that the bulk of the problem was Asian Americans themselves, and though I still think we as a group have a LOT of work to do before we can claim our own narratives, there were many other forces at play that I just slowly became accustomed with.

It didn't help that some of the Asian American working actors that I reached out to didn't understand this themselves and almost gave me advice that was well-intentioned, but ultimately misguided, that basically the solution was to ignore Asian American issues and to "be about the craft" and to succeed in traditional Hollywood first (read: get in with the whites), as if the way to change Hollywood was to adapt this Trojan horse-like strategy, assimilate and then reverse engineer the narrative to tell your story and bring others up once you've made it.

When I started working on Just Doug, my initial strategy was to look at what other minorities did.  I started looking at the efforts of Spike Lee and even Tyler Perry, filmmakers that understood that their communities were starved for entertainment that merely represented them in the way that they saw themselves, not in the way white America saw them.  Actors like Will Smith also showed (with a VERY carefully cultivated image since the Fresh Prince), that black men can be sensitive and charming, going against hypermasculine stereotypes of black men that have always been disseminated from Hollywood.

I will be the first to cringe when I see the two ways in which Asian American male produced content have sought to improve their images of masculinity, which is in a way derivative of the general American social zeitgeist on a 10-20 year delay.  They either embrace the "woe is me, I'm a nice, good guy and nice guys finish last" trope or they try to flip it and hypermasculinize themselves predictably by having "getting with mad bitches" (and sadly, revering getting with white women as a "conquest") be their ultimate goal.  Both are forms of toxic masculinity that I do believe we need to educate ourselves from and rise above against, and worse, neither tackles the root of the cause: that we are all on some level conditioned to be white supremacists, Asian men and women, and that we have been played against one another.  

In my show, I tried to reflect a reality that I was familiar with, an Asian American male who's simply trying to parse through his own identity and that he, like other millennials, doesn't have all the answers and is just trying to figure it all out.  I didn't want to fall into either of the aforementioned traps of making him this infallible hero or to making him a sad agency-less character, but to illustrate his humanity, something that I think gets lost in much of American media, that Asian Americans are just simply human beings.

I personally am more attracted to Asian women (and more specifically, 2nd generation or beyond Asian American women) because for me, it's just easier to relate to someone who has a lot of the shared experiences growing up.  But I won't lie that if I got attention from a white woman (which as an Asian man, I don't on average, this is just reality) that caught my interest, that I wouldn't explore that.  Too often, Asian men are quick to point fingers at Asian women who date white men as "race traitors", when hypocritically if they were afforded the opportunity to get with a white woman, they wouldn't hesitate to take the opportunity.  I cannot be more clear about the fact that I do not think Asian women's dating choices are the problem.

However, I still sympathize with the plight of Asian American men, there's a real problem we face of emasculation in America that literally started with Asian American men being castrated.  Let me make another thing clear, I will NEVER get behind anyone Asian American (especially one who claims to speak for intersectional Asian American issues) either dismissing Asian male masculinity as a non-issue or worse, disseminating the idea that Asian male emasculation is a net positive.  There are whole swathes of Asian American men who are bullied from a young age because they are seen as "easy targets", that we are told from an early age that we are unworthy of love, that some resort to suicide from their feelings of worthlessness.  This is not trivial.

Unfortunately as a minority group, we're still in the process of figuring out that our gender infighting is actually a divide and conquer strategy devised by white supremacy not dissimilar from the model minority stereotype.  Asian American race theory has not come up with the language to fully explain the situation that we're in, because our situation frankly can't be compared to other PoC.  Our white adjacency makes us complacent, and that causes us to improperly apply lessons learned from other PoC to our own communities and expect greater acceptance and a united identity to follow.  We demand changes and privileges that other PoC have achieved in American society, when we ourselves haven't done the work, haven't educated ourselves and haven't really delved into our own hypocrisy when it comes to racial identity.

If I had not gone into entertainment, I would likely not give two shits about many Asian American issues.  Like many Asian Americans, I'd be complacent in my white adjacent life because at the end of the day, the cost/benefit ratio for an average Asian American to go into activism for AsAm issues is terrible.  From many Asian Americans perspectives, a lot of is "why rock the boat when we have it relatively good compared to others" and that makes it hard to rally Asian Americans towards these issues, especially when these issues are much more nuanced and insidious.  Activism is often thankless and emotionally draining, and with my own issues and lack of self-care at times, I often feel unequipped to even participate in it.

But we're on the verge of a cultural revolution when it comes to Asian Americans, and I do feel that there is a lot of work to be done to make sure that Asian Americans can take control of the narrative.  I also feel that making this show has opened my eyes to a lot of these complex issues, and that it'd be a disservice to myself and to Asian Americans to just ignore them now and do something we as Asian Americans often do, "leave the work for someone else who cares more about it to do."

When I first read the Paper Tigers article before I moved to LA, I dismissed the writer as a self-hating white wannabe.  I still do.  But I think I'm realizing more than ever, I hated him because I saw myself in his writing as well.  I have been self-hating for most of my life, and I think I am now kind of coming to terms with that.  It's probably apparent from reading my ranting blog, but I live in a constant state of unhappiness, and almost believe on some level that I am unworthy of happiness, and while this is only partly attributed to being an Asian American male, the fact that it is attributed at all is tragic.

And honestly, when it comes to the entertainment industry, sometimes I do wish I was white or white passing, because it does inevitably lead to more opportunity.  Despite the minuscule progress that we've made, I still hear comments from white actors in acting classes bemoaning the fact that they're not diverse and pointing to that as the reason why they're not getting into rooms.  It's infuriating, but I bite my tongue all the same, just hoping that things will ultimately get better.

Just a couple of Americans.

Just a couple of Americans.

I've always hated "activism" because much of it is self serving and ultimately just a bunch of words that we throw at problems and expect solutions to follow.  But I think most of my dismissal of activism was my cynicism towards it, that it can't really spark any real change.  I'm not going to lie, there have been many times in the past few months where I was in despair, that I felt that even the Herculean act of making my TV show out of my sheer force of will was falling on deaf ears, and that our cause for greater Asian American representation was ultimately doomed.  But a few weeks ago, I came across a video message made by a fan of my show (who was also an aspiring actor), who was on the verge of tears in telling him how much the show meant to him, the same type of reaction I had when I first saw Harold and Kumar in 2004.  I realized that activism in my art is necessary, because if no one else is making the type of content that I'm making to try and fight for our greater representation, then who will?  

Asian American artists must still be "about the craft" but they must "do the work" in terms of figuring out their identity before they can be an effective figure for change in this industry.  We as Asian American creators are only in the beginning stages of creating an Asian American identity, we have the dual responsibility of excellence in our storytelling, but also figuring out what stories to tell and why they're uniquely Asian American stories.  As an Asian American artist, I don't want to be an activist, but I can't afford not to be.

My Crazy Cryptocurrency Spiel

The SEC won't let me be or let BTC so let me see, they tried to shut it down with LTC but it feels so empty without B.

The SEC won't let me be or let BTC so let me see, they tried to shut it down with LTC but it feels so empty without B.

This will not be a post about the markets or investing in crypto or buy this or that coin (though I may write a shorter blog post about investing in crypto in general and some general thoughts and tips).  This is more of my intellectual thesis that I've thought about for the past year when I've literally been immersed in cryptocurrency for the past year.  (When I say literal, I mean to the point where I flew to Korea for the first time by myself buying a flight 11 hours before departure in order to attempt to arbitrage the stuff).  This may even sound like the ravings of a cult member to some.  So be forewarned, you're about to go down a rabbit hole of crazy by reading further.

Throughout history, we have depended on centralized authority to protect and govern the people, but ever since the Revolutionary War, American government has provided another model where the people's overall best interests would be served by the government.  The idea of free markets and democracy seemed to be the final civic achievement of mankind.

I grew up with a pretty positive view of capitalism, my formative years taking place right around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  As Basil Exposition informs Austin Powers, capitalism won.  It is not hard to love the idea that all men are created equal, and their rewards were commensurate with the amount of work they put in.  As imperfect as our country's efforts have been to achieve this goal, we have progressed closer and closer to it in the past 241 years or so.  Perhaps this is why I chose to study economics in college, and have always loved studying American history.

However, since I was laid off almost exactly 10 years ago from a management consultant job during the financial crisis, I have had a bleak and jaded view of the economy and particularly the financial industry.  Capitalism without regulation can birth a whole host of problems that have to do with misaligned incentives and profiting off ventures that actually have negative utility towards the public at large.  The housing crisis and the last decade since has shown that America and even most countries that consider themselves democracies have turned back progress and have turned into oligarchies, only instead of ruled by politicians, we are ruled by corporations.

Technology has both accelerated and hidden this fact from us.  Since the birth of the personal computer and the internet, the American economy has accelerated in productivity at a parabolic rate.  The way we produce goods and services is mindblowingly more efficient than they were 20-30 years ago, and so our overall GDP usually is constantly growing.  However, the acceleration of technology also has created a problem that is unavoidable: whole swaths of the population are becoming structurally unemployed every year.  Education and special skills are becoming paramount in a world where machines can now perform many of the simpler tasks that humans can and much more efficiently.  We are ever accelerating towards a future that is Turing complete, where no one will have any real economic use to society, possibly within the next 100 years.

He might like technology more if they made him a Robocop suit.

He might like technology more if they made him a Robocop suit.

Stephen Hawking doesn't seem to be a fan of the future, predicting everything from a nuclear holocaust to AI computer overlords destroying mankind, to a planet destruction from overpopulation.  But one prediction (not that I don't think all of them have merit) stuck out to me, that as machines become more advanced, it won't be a positive for our overall economy, but in fact increase the economic inequality between the haves and the have nots.  And it makes sense, if the people who own the machines and the systems of economies are the ones only benefiting from them now, while the people who have no "use" to society fail to find jobs, why SHOULD things look better 10-20 years from now without a solution in place?

I know this sounds hypocritical from someone who's made their fortune and living in his adult life off something that most accurately is a microcosm of cutthroat capitalism, but perhaps it's because I have so much experience with money and how people respond to it that I can make this sort of assessment.  Indeed, my experience also with technology and computers as a former computer science student also inform my overall world view.  And it's also why when I looked into Bitcoin a couple years ago, I believed it was a revolutionary new invention that could (pause for dramatic effect) possibly save mankind.

Satoshi Nakamoto created developed Bitcoin in 2008, releasing a whitepaper that was today's equivalent of Martin Luther's note that split the Cathloic Church.  The key in Bitcoin's invention is not "digital money" or "Paypal 2.0" or that it's a more technologically advanced way of sending value.  It's (currently) slower than most traditional payment processing systems.  The key is in the idea of trust.  For the first time in human history, we have found a way to create a system that two parties can come together and agree to trust without the need for a third party.

No matter what creed or religion or belief system you have about morality, as a normal human, you can probably conclude that people act primarily on self interest.  However, we've seen through the development of human society, we are infinitely more productive when we work together.  But because we live in a society where trust is never guaranteed, some of the more opportunistic people will cheat the system to maximize their own utility at the expense of others.  The world is an infinite array of prisoners dilemmas, unfolding in a variety of ways in our everyday lives.

We've come to build structures in place, governments, organizations, to keep things in check.  Think of how much money we spend purely on government, lawyers, banks, police, military just to make sure people don't fuck each other over.  We spend money on systems that keep those VERY systems in check.  And these structures have never been perfect in their quest in providing maximum utility to its users.  What if we could replace this system with something that is more fair and equitable?

Enter cryptocurrency.  Without going into too much technical detail (this video does a much better job than I ever could), Bitcoin is essentially a ledger that is a record of every transaction ever spent on its system.  The internet is what makes it possible, an always online interconnected group of machines that can record and disseminate data that is immutable and impossible for any one entity to control.

This record is revolutionary.  For the first time in history, two parties can refer to a record of proof that requires no (human) intermediary for justice.  In Bitcoin's realm, Satoshi aimed first at the injustices of the financial system.  Finance has become a larger portion of our GDP, from 10% right after WW2 and clocking in at almost 21% recently.  In what was arguably a time when our economy was operating at peak efficiency versus now, why do we need to pay bankers/insurers/underwriters more than twice what we were as a society to "grease the wheels of the economy"?

Finance has become a very opaque and complicated industry where the players of the game are motivated to keep it as opaque and complicated as possible.  And the average person in the United States is a financial idiot.  And I don't mean idiot as in people are dumb, but more a remark on their ignorance in essentially playing a game of poker against the financial elite without even knowing the rules of the game.  And these systems of finance have become so entrenched and powerful, that they've also become "too big to fail".  In other words, over the years the financial industry has not only taken more and more of the lion's share of the profits, but have made themselves indispensable, where their fall means total chaos.

Part of this problem has to do with the money supply controlled by a central authority.  For political purposes, aggressive monetary policy is seen as a positive.  Inflation is good they say, because it encourages spending which is good for the economy.  More money also means more investment, which leads to better capital goods and higher efficiency in the economy.  More spending in government helps generate more jobs and also yadayadayada multiplier effect, GDP, etc.  But the truth is more money in the economy benefits people who, you guessed it, people who use money to profit.  The more money that's printed, the more value the majority of people lose from their savings and the more percentage of the money supply that's controlled by banks which leads to making more of the percentage of money made by banks and so on and so forth.  In the past 60 years, the money supply has increased around 50-100 times (varies depending on if you use M0, M1, M2).  Who does that benefit the most?  By using GDP growth as the sole metric of our economy's health our government has misaligned its long term goals for our future to the benefit of the financial industry at the expense of the society.

Bitcoin is a potential solution to this.  It's a system where the supply cannot be modified by any one party, and that no central authority has control over.  With this basis, the ambition is to create additional layers on top of it that can essentially take over many of the functions that the financial sector has taken on, which is essentially eliminating counterparty risk, a service we pay an inordinate sum of money to do for us.

The power is having a checking account without having to pay ridiculous fees.  24 hour access to your wealth.  Decentralized exchanges that cut out brokerage fees.  Cheaper access to capital without paying investment bankers or loan officers.  Cutting out the middleman.

And if Bitcoin can solve these problems, what else can blockchain technology accomplish?  What if we could use it to solve problems in law, government, where people need mediation?  What if we could use it to build structures that allow people to work together more effectively and efficiently, without fear of someone acting out in their own self interest?  How much more could human society build and make possible?

If this sounds revolutionary, it's because it is.  But I much prefer a revolution than one of Hawking's bleak predictions.  This revolution will unlikely be without a fight, and I hope that this fight will never become violent.  But there will be opposition from the people that benefit the most from the way things are, the people who run shit, politicians, bankers, etc.  The powers that be are not stupid, they see Bitcoin as a threat, and they know that it represents a challenge to their power.  

Any person who benefits from a system will do anything he can to protect it, to the detriment of the overall society.  Which brings me back to the fact that many in the future will be displaced out of their jobs, they are probably the ones most acutely aware of this reality.  It's the whole reason Trump performed well, he identified a problem that so many people resonated with, economic displacement.  America, has been so comfortable since WW2 being the economic superpower that much of its workforce has skated on by being comfortable in the structures that had benefitted them for generations.  Since the dawn of the internet, the displacement has accelerated to untenable rates, and will continue to do so.  However, aside from Trump's obvious pandering to the racism that most of the displaced have (i.e. it's the non-whites that are taking "our" jobs), the policies that Trump proposes is like putting a bandaid on a broken leg, bringing back industries that have no long term viability.

The positive thing Trump has done has exposed America for the house of cards it really is.  If anything the true ponzi scheme is the government and the corporations that control it; the structures in place are anticompetitive that are causing America to fall behind.  A revolution is coming, where income inequality mushrooms to the point where a Paul Ryan's "$1.50 a week" will become our generations' "let them eat cake".  Without something organically leveling the playing fields, I can see many dystopian scenarios playing out.

So how will cryptocurrencies change the systems?  The basis is in creating systems and layers of trust that make our economies not only more efficient, but more fair, diverting resources more effectively to places that are deficient.  To me, it can quite possibly turn our world into a sort of economic "immune system" where incentives would be perfectly aligned in created outcomes with highest utilitarian value.

Are we there yet?  Not even fucking close, of course.  This is why most people, traditional economists and the like don't understand about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.  They point to its lack of use currently or its theoretical nature as proof of its ridiculous valuations.  And they're not 100% wrong, the mania has become insane in the past few months, I personally did not believe we "earned" the near trillion dollar market cap we almost hit last month.  Investing in crypto is by nature VERY speculative, but if you believe that it indeed is the future, it can unlock untold amounts of value for our society as a whole.

But I'm not only heavily invested in cryptocurrency in the belief that the financial rewards will be great, I believe in the positive future it can provide our world.  Already we see in countries with hyperinflation like Venezeula or Zimbwabwe where citizens are using cryptocurrencies in times when their own currencies are worth next to nothing.  In developed nations, there is a slight cost to society for inflation, but this is mostly hidden due to rising efficiency in our economy's overall production capabilities and financial engineering.  When your currency is inflated at insane percentages per year, it's easy to spot the need for something like Bitcoin, but the inflation rate while rising in our country seems "normal" (until you start examining tuition costs and other types of goods with inelastic demand) and the way things were, a much more insidious tax.

While it may be a while until a computer passes a true Turing test, all technical tasks even as complex as surgery will be replaced by machines in the next century.  How will our society manage, if we extrapolate the way current systems and incentives are guiding our future?  It's my hope that machine learning and blockchain technology can work in concert in providing for a future where it's possible to automate production for the needs of every human on the planet.

I wouldn't mind driving a lambo though.

The real reason I'm in crypto.

The real reason I'm in crypto.

What If I Am a Disaster Artist?

For every inspirational story you hear about that artist who never gave up and made a success out of their lives, you rarely hear about the likely 100 times worth of failures that went back to their normal lives after realizing that they didn't have what it took to make it.  Even great artists like Mozart, Vincent Van Gogh, or F. Scott Fitzgerald died either in relative obscurity or in destitute fashion.  But by sheer force of will, personal wealth and insanity, Tommy Wiseau managed to make his dreams come true, a dream that nobody else wanted for the reasons that Wiseau envisioned.

Sometimes, artists don't succeed because they are ahead of their time, like the aforementioned Van Gogh, their art isn't appreciated prehumously (perihumously?).  While I'm sure Wiseau's work doesn't fit in that category, he didn't have to die for it to be popular, and it will likely stand the test of time ironically, because of his genuine attempt at achieving greatness and belief in his ability to do so.


But upon watching Disaster Artist, a comedy based on the true story of the making of a drama that was unintentionally comedic, I felt as if I was watching a comedy that was unintentionally dramatic.  While James Franco's performance is hilarious to watch as he recreates the insanity of Wiseau's personality, and by watching and knowing what the Room is, it's hard to separate what was in the movie from what may have happened in real life; we were watching real life comedy that was mostly writing itself.

WARNING: Some spoilers ahead.  But most of Wiseau's story is publicly out there anyway, so ...yeah.

I have always been drawn to people who have tried to achieve the impossible, people who have extended the human experience in some way farther than it had been before their generation, whether it be through technology, art, music or ideas.  Even my media consumption gravitates towards figures like Dr. Ford in Westworld, people who believed in a vision far beyond the reaches of the general public.  Some may even see my appreciation of LeBron James as mere bandwagoning of the best player in the league, but it is more so that I appreciate his strive for greatness defying and exceeding expectations and his ability to also see outside himself and realize that there is life outside basketball as well.

My mother thinks I am a megalomaniac.  My father thinks I am a nihilist.  The truth is, I am probably somewhere in between, where I have a strong sense of confidence that my vision and artistry mean something, but combined with all the optimism of a Linkin Park song.  My self-awareness probably serves to refine and clarify my voice, but also probably squelches it in times of self-doubt.

Wiseau suffers from no such fear. He is the pinnacle of "fake it til you make it". The Disaster Aritst premise almost starts out exactly like last year's Academy Award Winning Nominated movie, La La Land (another movie I have issue with in terms of being an industry focused film, but that's for another post), with one exception, Wiseau is portrayed as a strange, no-talent desperate wannabe with no chance at success in the industry, and almost rightfully so, given his total lack of self-awareness and even knowledge about the industry (he names a character in his movie after Matt Damon, "Mark" because he didn't know Damon's actual name).

Where is the room in this poster?

Where is the room in this poster?

However, unlike most artists who have the same sort of illusions of grandeur and get bitch slapped in the face by the cold hard hand of the gatekeepers of Hollywood, Wiseau has deep pockets, deep enough to spend millions on a movie from God knows where and market it to bust through the gates and bring his art to the consciousness of the masses.  Much like Donald Trump, Wiseau is living proof that sometimes all you need is sheer determination and a lot of money to make your dreams come true.

And this is to say that truly, Wiseau put his essence and blood and sweat and tears into the script he managed to write, which one can only say has the basic structure of what a movie is supposed to be, but that breaks every convention almost for the sake of breaking them.  It's a movie that takes "exception to the rule" in every possible way, and not in a coherent fashion.

But what struck me in the movie is his genuine (or at least Franco's portrayal of) unwavering belief in himself and how being rejected by an industry where he so strongly believed he belonged in was something he just could not accept, so much so he was willing to put everything on the line, put an insane amount of money into and convince a cast and crew to come along the ride for his crazy vision for months.

The movie has somewhat a Shakespearean Romance ending, happy yet with somewhat tragic elements.  Wiseau's movie is celebrated at its premiere, as audiences start to laugh at how bad it is.  The movie itself actually becomes a cult hit and makes back (miraculously) the money spent on it as people still have viewings of the movie to this day as "The Room" viewing events.  Wiseau gains fame and recognition, albeit not for the reasons that he intended, being lauded as the director of the "Best Worst Movie Ever Made".  People watch it with the same interest as people who witness an accident on the freeway slow down their cars to take in the destruction that just occurred.  In a sense, there is art in the "disaster" that he created.

In the movie as well as in real life, Wiseau plays it off as if it was his intent all along, or maybe he genuinely believes that since his work is recognized, it proves his genius all along, a sort of Machiavellian mindset towards his art.  And were I him I might do the same, hell, ignorance is bliss.

As a kid, I was an unpopular nerdy quiet kid that was picked on for just being awkward and geeky.  Somewhere during my pre-teen adolescence, I used humor to gain popularity with my peers, weaponizing my intellect to stay a step ahead of less creative bullies.  My mom saw this change in attitude in me early on and I remember her sitting me down to warn me to not be obsessed with having people like me because as a class clown, they could turn around and laugh at me, not with me.

This is something that I think has stuck with me and that I have always been cognizant of most of my life.  I have sometimes used a variety of tools as defense mechanisms (I'm a nerdy insecure kid at my core after all) to disarm and pretend that I'm an idiot to most people to gain an insight into how their mind works.  I did this to make sure if they laughed at me, it was because I wanted them to, I wanted to shape exactly what they thought of me and control the narrative in that fashion.

So it was with sadness when I watched the Golden Globes last night when I saw James Franco get up and accept an award and the glory for a movie he based off Wiseau's journey and life, and then hand checking Wiseau when he attempted to finally say something.  Wiseau had probably kept something with him for 14 years to say to the audience, and I'm sure it would have been 100 times more interesting than the rather generic thank you speech Franco gave.

Franco gave a great performance in the film, but if he truly believed in the art that HE created instead of merely the accolades for making it, he would have given Wiseau the chance to have his voice heard, to have his voice known.  In his 15 seconds of fame, he's just embarrassed in front of millions of people, and directly in front of the people he's tried to get to acknowledge him.

Given that Wiseau is a bit aloof, perhaps he didn't know that he had been slighted.  But it's clear that his friend and author of the book, Greg Sestero, saw the way he was dismissed.  You can see it on his face, that's the same look my mom probably gave me when she saw me becoming a "clown", worried that society was just seeing me as a big fat joke.  It was a look of concern that his friend was probably just being exploited and paraded for money, awards and a cheap laugh.

"So I show them.  I don't wait for Hollywood, I make my own movie."

This line in the movie, and the one Franco quotes in his speech, and perhaps it's a real live quote is the one that gives me chills.  It was precisely with this sentiment that I made my own TV pilot, with the same determination to have my voice heard, and the same insanity of spending a ridiculous (albeit not quite $6 million) on a project that no one really ever attempted before: trying to will a TV show into existence without a reputable executive producer, showrunner or talent attached to it, because for Asian Americans, no such structure or institutions are in place to foster this kind of project.

This past year, enduring constant "it's good, but I can't sell this as a TV show without x y and z attachments" from various sources has been hard on my psyche.  It's the whole chicken and egg problem I'm trying to solve, and thought naively that if I created a good product that the rest would fall into place.  It fills me with doubt, that maybe I am just another Tommy Wiseau, with unchecked narcissism that believed that I could actually pull something crazy like this off, that I didn't have to wait for Hollywood after all. 

It's even more trying still when I feel that parts of the Asian American community, one that is so fragmented and without a clear vision in entertainment, seems less than enthused about my project, a project that I feel is clearly aligned with much of the storylines of the past year about the invisibility of Asian Americans in media.  Much of what I sense from some of the Asian Americans who have clout is a "wait and see" approach with the project, waiting until someone really influential comes on board to call it a "thing", which ironically is just how the industry treats most projects, all it takes is one influential person to say it's a thing and everyone FOMOs into covering it.  We as a people spend more time complaining about how we are invisible to America (I have read more than my fair share about Logan Paul articles and "hot takes" on his idiocy this week) than actually doing something about it, because it's easy to get views and likes over a known famous quantity and attack it than it is to support something that doesn't have that Hollywood stamp of approval.  More Catch-22s. 

But maybe that's my own megalomania talking, maybe what I believe is groundbreaking and cool and heartfelt is just like Wiseau believing that his movie is acclaimed by all of Hollywood.  Maybe I'm just insane, since apparently crazy people can't tell that they're crazy.  Maybe my show just wasn't inspiring, relevant, relatable, funny enough to really strike a chord.  Or maybe Asian Americans are just meant to stay invisible.

If there's one thing I'm taking a page out of Wiseau's book, it's to not give up.  14 years later and he still promotes the movie like it's his Sistine Chapel, and it's gained him international fame and a degree.  But I can't help feeling like he did on that pedastal, the laughingstock of the town.

About that Thing I'm Doing (part 4): Writing is Fucking Hard

Writing is fucking hard.

No, the act of putting words together in a somewhat intelligible manner and having it make some sort of point isn't difficult.  It's finding the desire to do so, over and over again, word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page, when it seems like no one is listening or reading.  It's the belief that your own thoughts have some intrinsic value that need to be put down onto page, that someone else may gain some sort of insight that they may not have come across in their own experiences, that the very words you write aren't derivative of someone else's better and more lucid imagination.

Nowadays, people write.  People write all the fucking time.  Social media has engineered a way for people to share their thoughts to the masses, no matter how trivial or profound they may be, instantly to mass audiences.  And it's annoying.  People write whatever the fuck they want without any thought at all, and pat themselves on the back for what they think are clever insights which they then put on an instagram post that has nothing to do with the picture they posted.  They're like novice photographers in the digital age who rely on the technology of modern cameras to take great photos for them, spraying and praying until they get a decent looking shot, instead of taking the care to set up the shot with technical know how and experience.

And I envy those people.  There are countless times I have been too precious with my thoughts, not believing in their worthiness to even write down, even for myself.  So much of my time has been spent waiting for the right thing to write, and to then fully focus on that one idea, that I neglect 99% of the millions of ideas swirling in my head at any given time.  This is probably why I'm a mediocre improviser, an improviser is supposed to use any sort of inspiration and go with it, while my tendency is to wait until I think of something good and go with it.  Warren Buffett and I wouldn't cut it in a Harold team.

Even writing this blog post, it's been nearly a year since I last wrote about Just Dougie.  I could say I've been busy, but really it's fear of just this whole project not really mattering at all, fear that what I'm writing is just going to go into the ether and no one really gives a fuck.  My megalomaniacal self identifies with the prophet Moses, wondering if I would lead my people to the promised land of representation, but not quite taste the fruit of the land of milk and honey.  Is it worth being a trailblazer if you won't get to walk on the trail you've blazed?

I started writing at the end of 2014 for my show.  I wrote vignettes of moments of my life based on my life as a millennial becoming an adult in New York.  They were Louie-like stories, stories with no high stakes drama behind them, but deeply character building and changing nonetheless.  Unfortunately, they read almost like a memoir, and after reading these drafts over and over again, I had to be honest with myself, no one was going to watch the emo ramblings of a random Asian dude.

At the same time, my life has the occasional markers of crazy circumstance, where dramatic life changing events seem to find me.  I felt strongly that there had to be a way to marry the uniqueness of my life with the relatability of my character.  I took it upon myself to seek out a writer to aid me, a recommendation from another screenwriter and a sitcom writer, Brian Shin.

"I need a 10 second drive to the next audition."

"I need a 10 second drive to the next audition."

One thing Brian and I spent a bit of time figuring out is what we wanted to accomplish first and foremost, since I had production firmly in mind for whatever we made.  Making a TV show was never at the forefront of my mind, I was thinking smaller scale as in a webseries, and wanting Brian's expertise more in unifying all my little stories together.  Brian wanted to start from scratch, wanting to tease out what was most interesting about my life as an Asian American actor, but also mining what was universal about it.  Finally in our brainstorming sessions, we came across a short film made by Vin Diesel called Multi-Facial.

Multi-Facial is a short film made by Vin Diesel early in his career.  It's a semi-autobiographical piece that focuses on his struggle as an actor who has difficulty getting cast because of his ethnic ambiguity.  Before he made the short, Diesel was an actor from New York who out West with the LA dream but then moved back to NYC after frustrations with the industry.  After making his short, it was eventually seen by Steven Spielberg who subsequently cast him in his first big role in Saving Private Ryan.

The short is powerful, it presents Diesel's best qualities as an actor (cleverly positioning him doing several auditions for different characters) and we can viscerally experience his anguish over his struggles.  After watching it and discussing, this is the feeling and sentiment we wanted to capture, this became our blueprint, as my purpose was the same as Diesel's to be able to showcase my talents as an actor and while I didn't expect to capture Spielberg's eye with this (fingers crossed), I wanted something that would move the needle for my stagnant and nonexistent career.

We wrote without a budget or production in mind, our process was to just write the best story we could and figure out how to pare it down later.  Perhaps this is where things started to unravel a bit and get slightly out of hand, our project morphed from a short web series into a short film and finally, we thought hey, we can make this into a pilot for a TV show.  While our primary goal was to build out a self contained piece that could stand on its own, the opportunity to create a show out of my life seemed like a decent proposition.

Just Aziz.

Just Aziz.

That was until July of 2015, when I read in a Vulture article that Aziz Ansari was coming out with a show called "Master of None".  I wrote an email with the link to Brian saying simply, "well, fuck."  I didn't know how to process the information at the time, whether to cut the cord or continue to go full steam ahead on the project.  How similar would the concept be? (I'll get to my thoughts on comparison in another post)  As interesting a life as I had led, there was no competition if Aziz's show was essentially the same as mine.  Ultimately, I decided there was enough differences and uniqueness about my own story from Aziz's life to share.  And as Aziz says in his own show, "There can be one.  Why CAN'T there be two?"

Over the better part of the year, we structured the story around my real life experiences, and what we knew from our friends in the industry as systemic problems that Asian American actors face.  I've already written ad nauseam on the subject but my main take is that it's something that isn't fully understood and nuances I'm still trying to understand myself,  My idea for the show could be meta in the way that Doug the character figures it out as well as me as the writer and actor as the show continues on.

It seems strange to say now that the best way to show these problems were structuring our A and B plots essentially around racial penis size analysis, but one thing I wanted to make sure is that I showed things as they were and didn't sugarcoat anything.  Besides showing the struggles of an Asian American actor, with the opportunity of having the lead (myself) be Asian American, I wanted to do something that I think hasn't been done effectively in most conventional filmmaking, which is just two Asian Americans on screen having an honest conversation about dicks.  It's something EVERY Asian dude has had in America with another Asian dude, and while it's simplistic and almost sophomoric, on some level it's the basis of a lot of the way Asian Americans, and for that matter racial theory in general, are viewed in Western society.

Brian and I spent the weekends for around 9 months working on the script.  At the heart of my artistry, I believe I'm a writer and somewhat of a philosopher, which is why getting this part "right" was paramount.  So much of the quality of a film or television starts from the concept and the ideas behind it, not its staggering production value (although I will get to my thoughts on that part later).  We were only able to work weekends due to his commitment to working on Grandfathered as a Writer's PA during the week, and a lot of writing the pilot felt a bit two steps forward one step backwards with a lot of debate.  Is this a comedy?  A drama?  How should Doug find the answers he's looking for?  What are his biggest struggles?  Why would we be interested in his journey?  A lot of writing is figuring out what you want to say and then fitting the puzzle pieces around it to best present that idea, and it can be exhausting to say the least.  Netflix shows where the writing really impresses me are Bojack Horseman and American Vandal.  The sheer amount of ingenuity and intricacies needed to plan those kinds of seasons out are mindboggling.

At the end of 2015, I was ready to go with the script that we had.  The question now was, how would I turn this script into production?

Death Note wrote its own name in a Death Note

I'm up at 5 in the morning writing this because there's so much to unpack about how I feel about the live action Death Note film I just watched on Netflix.  I have previously said ad nauseam to the Ghost in the Shell protesters that the GitS fight isn't worth fighting, because manga and anime adaptations aren't really "Asian American" stories, they're Asian stories, ported over for American audiences.  I can't help but feel a bit hypocritical talking about Death Note in the same light, because it's a franchise I have a strong emotional attachment towards.  But I'll attempt to try to sift through what I'm thinking without being too verbose.

Let's get the easy stuff out of the way first.  The movie is straight trash.  It was doomed from the beginning of conception, the film tries to pack a story spanning hundreds of issues of manga in a single 1.5 hour movie (I don't even know why they went with that run time given how much content there was, and even then I feel like they wasted a bunch of time on poor directorial choices) was probably not going to produce anything coherent.  None of the "fun" of the series is present in the film, the mind games and psychological warfare is all but disposed of, in favor of tropes typical of a horror movie.  The characters are under developed, the story is rushed, and it's just one big cacophonic mess.  Death Note was a great story because at its core, it challenged the audience with the simple premise of questioning moral absolutism.  This film does not challenge any beliefs you may have, it doesn't inspire you to root for Light or L at all, it doesn't do anything to make you care.  There's nothing that I'll say that hasn't already been covered in dozens of reviews I've already read, so I'll leave it at that.

But why does the fact that the movie is terrible trouble me so much?  Adaptations are never perfect, they get things wrong, and aren't always hits.  Why wasn't I this upset at the "Ghost in the Shell" adaptation?  Is it simply because I'm a huge fan of Death Note?  That's part of it, but at the end of the day, it's the way in which it was made that really bothers me.

Racial problems today are insidious, they appear to be nonexistent to the majority simply because of a lack of understanding and exchange between different groups.  But these problems are becoming more apparent since the internet and social media has spread information more readily.  Why did the #blacklivesmatter movement start recently?  Is it because cops in the past decade decided to disproportionately kill black men all of a sudden?  No, it started because cell phones have cameras on them and no longer did we have only police officers writing the narrative of how these tragedies went down.

Similarly, whitewashing, along with shaping the narrative of people of color with stereotypes, has been around Hollywood forever.  I recently rewatched 21, a movie based on an actual Asian American's life experiences, made less than ten years ago with a story that's distinctly (if not "perfectly" stereotypical) Asian American, an MIT student good at math desperately trying to stand out from his grades to get a medical school.  How many Asian American applicants to higher education heard that they need to be more "well rounded"?  Watching that movie was painful, especially when Kevin Spacey says the "big player" can't be Choi (Aaron Yoo), because he's well, Choi.  As recently as 2008, a character in a movie couldn't believe that an Asian American could accomplish a task that the real life character the movie was based on had done as an Asian American.

Whitewashing has become more spoken out against because my generation, the second generation Asian American kids who have grown up in America and speak the language, can see the way media portrays Asians as foreigners, nerds or other stereotypes.  We can analyze and point out the way the narrative has been controlled and used to erase them from the story of America in ways our parents could not due to the language barriers and their main objective of survival.  While I believe that there are some whitewashing battles to leave alone and others to take up the mantle, the fact remains that it exists and it's tough to hear Hollywood whitesplain it to us that it's because there are no bankable Asian American stars (chicken, egg, etc.).

And while Ghost in the Shell and Death Note aren't TECHNICALLY whitewashing per se, it seems that there is an abundance of ignorance in how these properties were ported over.  I largely ignored the GitS thing because I chalked it up to studio execs making a big budget film for American audiences, they're not going to give the role to an unknown Asian American actress with the amount of investment they put in.  

But the Death Note situation irked me a lot more because the producers are Asian American, they should know better.  The main producer in charge is Roy Lee, a producer who broke in the industry porting over Asian properties into American properties.  He's a smart guy, he got his start in the business by effectively and efficiently identifying good scripts by using an early method of crowd sourcing.  After a few initial hits, he got his big break by convincing DreamWorks to port over the Ring (a Japanese horror film) to the US in 2002.  After that he had several other big successes (The Departed, The Grudge) porting over a bunch of Asian properties in the 2000s.  Not all of his ports were successes, his company botched some of my favorite Korean films (My Sassy Girl, Old Boy) because porting over movies isn't as simple as copying a story from another culture and expecting it to translate especially with these character driven films, as what happened with Death Note to a large extent.

I had a chance to ask him at a Korean entertainment panel in LA a few years ago about what he thought about Asian American representation in media and his response was basically that it wasn't his priority nor was it something he felt focused on, which I thought was strange, given that we were at specifically an event for Korean Americans.  I knew that Roy's company was developing Death Note, so to hear that coming from him was a great disappointment.

To be fair, on a personal level, what he's doing is understandable.  He's not a creative, he's essentially finding a product that sells in one area, trying to find what's universal about it and transfer it over into America.  His job is basically to repackage content to make it "palatable" for American consumption.  And clearly from his port of Death Note, making thoughtful content isn't really his prerogative either, it's just "How can I tell the same story to a fan base eagerly waiting to consume the product as cheaply and as efficiently as possible?"

But his recent interview regarding Death Note really shows tone deafness about whitewashing.  When he says, "I’ve been involved in many adaptations of content from all over the world, and this is the first time that I’ve been seeing negative press." It speaks to how he chalked up all of his successes before as evidence that this is the way Hollywood works and this is how its done.  He's also been on record before saying that studios would not be interested in projects with Asian Americans in lead roles, just showing how much of the Hollywood kool-aid he's drank.  When he says, “Saying 'whitewashing' is also somewhat offensive, one of our three leads is African-American", it's a clear deflection to the effect of "I'm not being offensive, YOU'RE being offensive."

One of the things that annoys me the most about the Death Note adaptation isn't that the leads aren't Asian (and that I'm not the one playing L, a dream role of mine since I started acting), is that when the Asian characters appear in the film, they're Asian, not Asian American.  The comments made by the Asian American producers (and even Masi Oka) seemed to be misguided and part of the problem itself.  It seems that they didn't even fight to try to make the "American" roles cast as Asian, they simply accepted that American meant white and that Japanese actors that they approached were unacceptable because they didn't have good english.  They basically admitted that they didn't even consider casting an Asian American in an American role.

What's also frustrating is that opportunities for Asian Americans to lead in movies are virtually non-existent.  With a property like Death Note, it wasn't necessary to make the leads "bankable", I would say most people watching the film aren't doing so because of the "star power" of Nat Wolff and Lakeith Stanfield (no offense to those actors, but they're not Scarlett Johansson in terms of clout).  For it to not have even been a conversation to make a lead English speaking character Asian is a gross oversight.  And it's harder still to swallow that the people in charge were Asian American.  It's hard enough convincing white people that we belong in American stories, how much harder is it going to be still if our own people won't stand up for us?

I strongly believe that Asian American representation in these films would have improved the product.  And not just visibly in lead roles as actors, but also in the writing room, it would help to have people who understand the cultural differences and nuances to effectively translate these properties.  The writers of this movie clearly just had one job, to cram as much of the story of the manga into a 100 page script as they could.  It didn't work.  

From a financial standpoint, the American public has shown with their spending that they're interested in diversity in storytelling and less so with the white name headlining the property (provided the white name isn't an A lister).  There were chances to cast Asian Americans in all of these ported movies, but they were not even considered because even to Asian Americans in the industry, we're still not "American".  Hopefully people like Roy Lee will listen to the criticism of these films and work towards creating a better product, rather than blaming Asian Americans for being offended.

The Cause

I met someone for the first time recently, and in conversation the question of "Why did you become an actor?" came up.

I've answered this question in a variety of ways:

a) literally, as the chronological progression of my career path
b) some vague spiritual concept of destiny and the way my life has developed
c) an inherent love of story telling and blah blah blah

But when I was asked that recently, I decided to give an answer I always subconsciously felt: my desire to be an actor was to validate my own life's existence.

My childhood was always rife with feelings of inadequacy.  Much of it was due to being an awkward nerd and universal growing pains through adolescence (re: typical emo shit), but I'd say a large contributing factor is the lack of a firm grasp of identity.  This isn't uncommon in the second generation immigrant experience, there's a disconnect between how we're geared to adapt to the society around us and the principles instilled in us by our parents, principles which have come from a different society altogether.

Protesting oppressive governments has nothing on Korean pride.  True story, a Korean fan self-immolated to be the "12th man" on the field with the rest of the team.  

Protesting oppressive governments has nothing on Korean pride.  True story, a Korean fan self-immolated to be the "12th man" on the field with the rest of the team.  

From experiences in my adolescence, I've harbored a lot of resentment towards the "Korean mentality", cultural differences that I saw were hindrances to my own personal as well as the Korean community at large's assimilation into American culture.  I saw Koreans as xenophobic, misogynistic and generally hostile when I did anything that wasn't "Korean enough".  I hated the food (I haven't willingly eaten kimchi since I was 3), I hated going to Korean school on Saturdays trying to learn the language which I thought was useless because, hello, we're in America, and no I'm not going to pretend to be a fucking soccer fan and go all ape shit when Seoul makes the World Cup semis thank you very much.

Instead, I was obsessed with American history and culture at large, soaking in American movies and books and claiming them as my own.  In some ways, I lived American life by watching those stories and living them out in my imagination at home.  Being a relatively social pariah until high school, I was ripe for consuming "underdog" stories, seeing myself as one that needed to prove my own self worth.  

However, that didn't stop me from noticing that Asians were relatively invisible from the media, or even caricatured and derided.  But I thought to myself, "it's just because they don't know, they don't know what we're like because our parents are FOBs who can't tell them what we're like.  These Koreans are purposely differentiating themselves with their cultural quirks so OF COURSE we're going to be seen differently." There was a small part of me that would say, "You know what?  One day, I'll be the guy that changes things for Asian dudes everywhere and make them cool."  Back when I was growing up, I had no idea I'd ever leave New York, let alone live in Los Angeles, so this idea was more in the sense of, being a cool guy with cool accomplishments in my general community and have that be an example to all that we were indeed, cool, rather than "I'm going to be the Asian Brad Pitt".  But weirdly, I thought the way Asians were portrayed was something that ONE person could change and turn around.

It wasn't until college when I first started seeing racial nuances more clearly, and the hypocrisy of American "equality" and the institutionalism of racism.  This past year's political shitstorm has highlighted how clearly racism exists in America, and how there's still a strong sense of "us" vs. "them".  And it's silly to me how Hollywood pats themselves on the back for being the "bastion of morality", while the industry at large suffers from a clear diversity problem.  It remains one of the few industries that can legally discriminate based on race, by simply putting "Caucasian only" in a breakdown.

When I first thought about going into acting in 2008, I asked an Asian American actor what he thought about the landscape and how it affected his career, etc.  He told me that for him, it wasn't really a factor in his decision making process, that through and through he knew he was meant to be an actor and he pursued it and moved to Los Angeles, where he's carved out a nice career.  In a sense, he told me that he can only control what he can control, and while the prospects for AAs weren't great, they seemed to be improving.

A few years later, when I was visiting Los Angeles, I had a chance to speak to another successful AA actor about his views, and he told me that while he didn't shun the Asian American entertainment community out here, he didn't feel it was necessary to embrace it for his own career.  There's an unspoken stigma associated with AA talent in Hollywood: we're not very good.  And while this may read as a stereotype, there is some truth to this statement.  I won't go into why this is into too much detail (that's for another post) but it mostly has to do with the combined fact of the Catch-22 nature of the business (how can AA actors get experience when roles aren't being written for them) and the fact that the critical mass of AA performers is still in its infancy; many AAs simply don't pursue careers in entertainment largely due to the fact that its a hard field to break into.  They inherit a risk averse mentality from their parents, because as immigrants in a new land, it's doubly hard to succeed not only because of discrimination and language barriers, but without the network effects of having friends and family here growing up.

And the actor I talked to had a point, AA actors who have had enjoyed success in Hollywood typically came up independently, not tied to the AA community at large.  This put me in a mentality for a while in my early years that I had to think and act "American" (read: white) to be more "relatable" in Hollywood to the general public.  Part of me equated acting more American to distancing myself from other AAs, who held onto their more "emotionless" Asian attributes, and so I clung to this idea that being as "American" as possible would differentiate me from my AA competish.

However, I realized that it was Hollywood itself that had a major hand in portraying Asians as unfeeling robots, and that I had unwittingly bought into this narrative.  I also observed that even the most successful AA actors rarely lead the storyline, they usually serve as supporting characters at best.  This because Hollywood, while acknowledging we exist, are content to have stories that include us, but only insofar as how we are viewed by America (re: Caucasian people).  And the fault of this doesn't squarely fall on the shoulders of those in power, it also lies with us as AA creators.  So much content made by AA is as derivative as Bollywood, where AAs make versions of things we've already seen in America, only replacing them with AA characters.  Some of the only AA content that did well in the past 20 years was the Joy Luck Club, a story distinctly about the AA experience, rather than a romcom we've seen 20 years ago with AAs plugged and played in the leads.

Come to think of it, I don't know if EVERYONE in Lord of the Rings needed to be white.

Come to think of it, I don't know if EVERYONE in Lord of the Rings needed to be white.

The recent uproar over cutting out AA characters in comic book franchises has exasperated me because we're expecting Hollywood to solve this problem for us, to put us front and center into the stories they create.  But in any character based narrative, Hollywood will be unable to create a fully fleshed story featuring AAs, for the simple fact that many writers are not AAs.  AA writers in Hollywood are few and far in between, and those writing stories specifically for AA are even slimmer.  To wit, a friend of mine (who is Korean American) recently wrote a fantasy novel from scratch, his first attempt to write an entire fantasy saga.  He admitted to me that when he started writing, the characters in his head were white.  It was as if he wasn't allowed to even imagine characters that looked like himself in his own stories, stories that were supposed to be based in a FANTASY land.

Unfortunately, the AAs at the top in Hollywood are limited in what they can do and sometimes, what they want to do to help the community.  Case in point, some AA producers profit by taking successful Asian film properties overseas and "westernizing" them by replacing all the characters with American (read: white) actors with mixed results, without thinking of possibly putting AAs front and center in these properties.  AAs who wield any sort of power in Hollywood balance their efforts between trying to carve out a career or trying to tell AA stories, something that has virtually no track record of success.

Filmmaking is a collaborative effort involving many moving parts, all of them having to work together in sync to make a great product, and then somehow finding the money to pay them all for their time (filmmaking is expensive AF).  Having put together a TV pilot myself, I can attest to the difficulty in finding the right people who are not only qualified, but passionate about the story you're trying to tell.  And even though I spent a good chunk of money on the project, I was encouraged by people coming on board for cheaper than they normally would have, because they believed in "the cause".

There were a lot of blood, sweat and tears from this me when I watched it.

There were a lot of blood, sweat and tears from this me when I watched it.

I've researched a lot of black filmmakers who tell their own American story, and I realized that they have had to make their fair share of sacrifices and compromises to get any progress done.  But with recent success stories of movies like Moonlight, Get Out and Hidden Figures, they've shown that their personal stories could be universal and relatable, as large audiences come out to see films made with relatively tiny budgets.  The black film community is certainly reaping the rewards that so many of their filmmakers fought for.  They poured their blood, sweat and tears into perfecting their craft, but they also were able to come together and build from their culture and their identity together.

In order for AA film communities to have the same kind of progression, there needs to be a movement of filmmakers with an emphasis of behind the camera.  There's an overabundance of people (yours truly included) who think they will make a difference by simply being the onscreen talent (because that's the easiest thing for them to visualize), but the truth is strides need to be taken in all areas of filmmaking by AAs, ESPECIALLY writing.  We need more creators than performers.  And it'll be a lot more difficult given that our identity even as Americans is a story that is having its first chapters being written as we're living them out today, but if we're not the ones who start this movement, who will for us?  Are we going to continually blame Hollywood for not being able to create the stories that only we can effectively create?

That's partly the reason I've decided to keep the ball rolling after producing my own TV pilot.  I'm now assisting production on a short directed by a director that I believe in, Dan Chen.  Anyone who knows me will know how anal I am in who I choose to work with, and after working with him on my TV pilot that we shot last year, I can confidently say he is a director who respects the craft of filmmaking but is also about telling real and human stories.  These kinds of universal stories are the ones that normalize us, humanize us to the greater society and are the powerful ones that make differences in the world.

But the other reason is a comment from someone who's seen my pilot, who remarked to me, "I felt this visceral feeling that I don't think I've felt when watching a film before.  I wondered to myself, is this what white people feel every time they watch something?"  I recognize that I need to keep this train going no matter what, and that I know that I must be more of a content creator myself rather than trying to be primarily a performer.

JD was all like, "Fuck off, phonies."

JD was all like, "Fuck off, phonies."

I remember reading about when JD Salinger was alive, movie producers continually tried to obtain the rights to make a Catcher movie.  He refused, saying that the book wouldn't work as a movie, even after being approached by some of the biggest talents in Hollywood.  John Cusack said that when he turned 21, his only regret as an actor was that he was too old to play the coveted main character role.

AAs are in the unique position of being ensconced so firmly within American society, but have a culture and identity essentially in its prepubescent stage, figuring itself out and determining its own place in the world.  In addition to not being able to play Holden Caulfield, they essentially won't be able to play anyone in any story prior to the 1960s in America.  There are countless other roles they won't be able to play from the library of the American story, by very virtue of just not being here for the majority of its history.  (side note: I'm talking about Asian Americans, not Asians, who of course existed for ages but primarily in stories that took place in, well Asia)  Our plight of being invisible stems from not having a place in the American story.

That is, unless we realize that we as AA entertainers have to take responsibility and create the stories of our lives, that maybe someday will be looked at generations from now as an accurate depiction of what our lives were like, what we thought, what we feared, what we enjoyed, what we felt.

And throughout my experiences, I've realized the "no man is an island"-y aspect of a movement like this.  There will never be an AA "savior" that changes the game for Asians everywhere, it's a collective movement that needs hard work and effort from a multitude of people before we see progress and ultimately, great art.  Throughout working with other like minded people, I've come to a better sense of my own personal purpose by seeing this vision through, whether it be acting, writing or producing, or perhaps something else altogether.  I want to create a firm sense of identity as not only Americans, but as people who belong.


I have a Herman Miller chair that I bought that I still use today.  Around the time I graduated from college, the Herman Miller Aeron was all the rage, ergonomic chairs that were supposed to be good for posture, if one had to sit in chairs all day.  So a year after I had stopped working for the man, I decided I needed one of these chairs as most of my useless life was probably going to be wasted sitting in a chair in front of a computer.  Now of course, I couldn't just get the Aeron, so I got the Embody, a heavy fucking ass chair that cost an absurd amount of money.  I'm normally not the extravagant type, but I do like to get quality things that I feel like I'd get the most use out of, so keep that in mind if you look up how much one of these things costs.

I dub it, the "commando chair".

I dub it, the "commando chair".

A college friend recently moved into my apartment.  He's got tons of boxes, most of them shipped through UPS.  One of the things you figure out when you move across the country is that you have to limit the things that you bring over, bigger things like furniture is usually rebought on location.  When I moved to Los Angeles, one of the logistical things I didn't realize until it happened was that the Embody chair is a heavy fucking object, and it doesn't really come apart into many pieces, so compacting, packing and shipping it was a pain in the ass (not to mention the shipping cost was probably the price of most chairs in general).  So I brought it back to my parent's house in Westchester before shipping it over.

Suburban life doesn't change too much over time, but you notice little differences here and there, establishments that you go to tons of times as a kid growing up start going out of business.  It's one of those things my parents probably don't give too many shits about (I'm sure they're fine with the local A&P closing down), but growing up in it has a stronger feeling of change.  Intellectually, you know things are supposed to be different when you return to a place of childhood, but it does still elicit an emotional response of unexpectedness.

So when I went to the local UPS in Ardsley, I was somewhat surprised to see a middle aged Korean man running the shop.  The town is small enough that everyone knows everyone, so I'd have bound to run into any Korean family with a local business.  I surmised he must've been a recent transplant.

I brought the chair in and as anyone would, the ajusshi had a long hard look at it with somewhat of a puzzlement, as probably a combination of why would anyone own a chair like this, why would anyone pay to transport a chair like this.  After noticing my last name was Kim, he started engaging in a rapport with me.  There's a special type of chumminess that Koreans have with each other that I mostly disengage from (fighting!), but I obliged somewhat since the whole respecting elder thing.

Me and Doona go way back, she's bae.

Me and Doona go way back, she's bae.

He asked me if I was a college student (I still look somewhat young, I suppose), and when I replied in the negative, he asked me what I was doing over in Los Angeles.  I think moving forward, my default should be just to lie and say something pedestrian so as to not draw the disapproving look of an Asian parent (that isn't even mine), but at the time I did the stupid thing and told him I was pursuing an acting career.  Surprisingly, he seemed enthusiastic about it, asking me a bunch of questions.  He asked if I knew Doona Bae, a Korean actress who had "crossed over" into American media, as if all Korean actors knew each other in this small brotherhood conclave of Korean actors.  I said something to the effect of, "Nah, I'm kind of just starting out"  to which he gave me a look of utmost pride and expectation and said, "You're going to be big some day, I know it."  

I responded with a "haha/maybe/I hope so" but I think even then I had more doubt about my career than this man who had met me for all of 10 minutes about the certainty of his prediction.  Watching La La Land reminded me of how much of a pipe dream this all could be, but the fact that many people still pursue it because they "just knew".  I'm someone who's no stranger to rejection, one could say that rejection has shaped my entire personality and outlook on life.  Sometimes I do try to stir up the Michael Jordan-like mentality of "fuck da haters" and try to go HAM on my accomplishments, but there's only so much confidence one can self generate without confirmation from the outside world that there's something to be confident about.

Me in 20 years when I accept my Oscar.

Me in 20 years when I accept my Oscar.

Riding back from an Uber last month back home, a young Arabic driver gave me the same proclamation, that I was destined for greatness.  He remarked that I made him laugh just by laughing myself, and said I'd be a great comedian.  I couldn't help but skeptically thinking that just laughing during a stand up routine would probably not win over a crowd, and this guy was full of shit trying to get a 5 star Uber rating.  But it's interesting to run into strangers that have more confidence than you do in yourself (assuming they're genuine), because you wonder what it is they're seeing in their snap judgment of yourself.  Are they too naive to see reality and what it takes, or am I too cynical now to see my own potential?

It's almost because of these people that have given me their random vote of confidence, when I feel ready to give up and call it a life, that I have a responsibility to these people to fulfill their vision.  I remember every moment these types of things happen (pretty easily because they are so few and far in between) so hopefully one day if I reach the pinnacle, I can give them proper recognition.


"Since I was a child, I've always loved a good story. I believed that stories helped us to ennoble ourselves, to fix what was broken in us and to help us become the people we dreamed of being. Lies that told a deeper truth. I always thought I could play some small part in that grand tradition. And for my pains I got this — a prison of our own sins — because you don't want to change, or cannot change."

- Dr. Robert Ford (Westworld)


I'm being compelled to write more.  When you live by yourself, and with a pretty lame social life, fears start to pop into your head.  What if you had some sort of heart attack or seizure and you died because no one's around to help?  If no one sees me today, am I like that tree that falls in the forest that no one's around to hear?  Who's going to remind me what happened to me on December 14th, 2016?  Anyway, this entry kind of sucks, cause I'm just writing but whatever.

Time starts to warp too when you're alone with your thoughts.  Days become weeks, weeks become decades, etc.  Or maybe I should say decade.

I drive a 2004 Toyota Camry.  It's dirty, got a decent amount of miles on it, a bit scratched up, but it still drives well.  It's been in the Kim household since 2004, when I first became a legal adult.  So it's been around for most of my adult life, which is around 12 years.  I drove it to and from North Carolina a few times, and once across the country.  My mom used it mostly for 6 years when I lived in the city, but I took old Shadowfax (the name Michael gave it) once I moved to Los Angeles.

It's weird, 12 years is a long time, and then it's not.  When I was 12 years old or so, I remember riding the school bus looking out the window thinking, man, I've already lived 1/6th of my life in all probabilities.  Six more of these and I'm done.  That sucks.

Sometimes, living by yourself you do strange things to make it seem like you're not living by yourself.  So I walk by my car sometimes, and I just sit in it.  It's like a relic of the past, that I can just transport back into time by just being inside it, like I'm back in 2004.  Or 2005.  Or 2006.  Or any other year that I've been in that damn car.  I sit in the back seat, like I'm riding it, being driven around with my family or something.  I sit in the passenger side, imagining conversations I've had with people in that very seat.

Lots of things change in that first 12 years after you become an adult for sure.  Given the nature of my unpredictable path that I've chosen, I'd say the next 12 years there will probably contain significant life events that may change the course of my life, but I think the tone of them will mostly be the same.

Which is probably why I've held onto the car for so long, and will probably have it until it dies.  Getting into the car and sitting and taking it in is my opportunity to go back and try to redo my adult life.  It's sad cause when the car does die, the trajectory of the rest of my life will likely be set, as I drift off into nothingness like an astronaut untethered to his spaceship.  There will be nothing left to redo, I suppose.

Turning of the Third into Trumpland

it's been 3 years since I started this blog when I just turned 30.  Looking back, it wasn't so bad turning 30, you're still on the cusp of starting a new era and there's still time to turn it around so to speak.  Once you turn 33, it's like oh shit, it's only 2 years till 35, and then once you're that you're like oh god half way to 40, and then once you're 40, it's like am I still alive even?

No one ever talks about third-life crises when you turn 33.  It's probably because by this time, people are in their groove, set in their stride with their lives, or bookending their life by saving all of humanity.  You're not quite young enough to "die young" but you're not quite old enough to be like, that was a decent run, life.  I'm sure a lot of this is my neuroses talking to me about social norms and what not, but it's been a constant nagging feeling.

This is the reason I haven't been really celebrating birthdays anymore, cause of the reminder of this fork in the road I face of have I really done the things I've wanted to with my life yet?  I have trouble getting out of the house these days let alone feel like celebrating my inevitable irrelevance.

So, yeah blah blah chow meow, I was thinking this week on what I learned from all my experiences in the past 33 years has been, and of course this election has been the topic 24/7 for the past year.  And it's interesting that throughout this whole mess, I came to conclude that my philosophy has been shaped by my experiences in decision making in poker.  Poker requires one to be dispassionate about the results and to look at all choices as objectively as possible, and to also do the same for their opponent, figure out what he believes are his best choices.

Now, I will be the first to tell you that sometimes professional poker players have an irrational confidence in their own abilities to discern things objectively and accurately, and sometimes form laughably terrible ideas and opinions.  This stems from their experiences in the game, because the game involves making more "correct" decisions than your opponent, it reinforces the idea that you're an expert at decision making in every arena.  I've heard a poker player comment that he is somewhat an expert at acting because he's watched a lot of movies before.  I won't be going to him for Stanislavsky training any time soon.

So perhaps even with that caveat, I'm irrationally confident in my own mind in saying that my philosophy is even valid (after all it is an opinion and saying one's opinion is greater than another's well, is subjective in by very nature) or even that it's particularly original, but I believe in a few things from my experiences in poker and life, that as a society (in America, at least):

a) We tend to undervalue the importance of epistemology and suffer from HUGE confirmation bias thinking.  We lack the patience to figure out why other people think the way they do and explore the possibility that we may be wrong.
b) We overvalue binary outcomes where someone comes out on top, with our elections, our sports, our entertainment, etc.  As a result our positions and our ideas become polarized, with little room for nuance.
c) We get emotional.  This last part is human, emotions are what make us alive, and what make us care and gives us meaning to life itself.  But emotions tend to color our opinions, changing them from how we feel from one moment to the next, and can distort the way we process information.
d) We're selfish.  No matter who you are, this is an immutable fact as a society.  Sure, a few people may be altruistic, like mother teresa or something, but as a whole, people simply will not care about issues if it doesn't affect them, unless they find a way to relate to it.

Everyone seemed self assured (on my Facebook feed at least, since I'm not friends with too many Trump supporters) that HRC would become the 45th president of the United States.  Indeed, HRC seemed to be a favorite from polling numbers: on election night, gambling sites seemed to believe that her chance of victory was around 70%.  Even a friend of mine put down what I thought to be an absurd amount of money on Clinton winning, seeing it as "free money" in his eyes.  I successfully convinced him not to put even more money on it, to which he's somewhat grateful, but the point remains, 30% is not nothing.  People have a difficulty comprehending what 30%, 20%, 10%, 5%, etc. means in practice, because as humans, it's hard to process that probabilities and turn it into a feeling.  Poker players who have played the game for decades sometimes still get emotional when they run into a "bad beat", we feel that the pot has been stolen from us, that we are entitled to it when we are a 80% favorite.  In reality however, we should more think of it as that we owned 80% of the pot.

The fact of the matter is, no polling methodology is going to be 100% accurate, and there could be any number of theories why (polling participants giving false information, inaccurate sampling, biased methodologies, etc.)  However, social media heightens the idea that WE are right and THEY are wrong, being fed everyone else's statuses.  The problem is that if we get our information primarily through social media, it becomes inherently biased as the algorithms are designed to give us information we already believe (for more clicks), and less information that may be offensive and/or undesirable to us.  Social media becomes a circle jerk for people to just agree with each other's opinions, and defriend or block or ignore anyone who doesn't.

As I drove home, listening and furiously checking election updates on my phone, I was surprised and not simultaneously.  I didn't fully understand what had happened (one of my initial theories was that people were too embarrassed to say publicly they were voting for Trump so polling numbers were inaccurate).  But I knew that the numbers suggested that there was a lot more discontent with the Democrats than they would have you believe.  By the end of the night, I could almost believe Trump on his assessment of the bias of CNN, when they wouldn't even call Florida after 95% of the votes were in, presumably for the sake of making it seem like a close race for more viewership.

I'm going to make a few controversial comments here that I've mostly kept to myself for a while.  And I'm trying to think of the reasons why I've kept them to myself.  It's because the current social media and internet information does not have time for nuance, they can only process ideas in links, tweets or grams.  Anything you say can be retweeted out of context and/or twisted by the media to mean something else.  And no, this is not a defense for some of the things Trump said, because those are inexcusable, but it makes it hard for people to say something they believe without being demonized.  And part of the reason I care about that is because I have somewhat of a public image to maintain in the mere hopes that I become somewhat relevant in my industry any time in my life time.

But as I said, I'm getting old, so I'm getting to an age where I simply DGAF anymore about things and thinking the possibility of relevance in my industry may be slim anyway.  So here goes nothing.

To me, the new Ghostbusters movie was terrible.  It was not a good movie.  The jokes were flat, the special effects were cheesy, and the writing was simply lazy.  The reviews were mediocre, but even that was giving it too much credit.  When the first trailer came out, I thought it looked horrendous.  And apparently, so did many other fans of the original.

The reboot was intentionally made with an all female cast to a popular big budget franchise.  However it felt like it was almost too purposefully engineered to be that way, like a studio exec (I'm looking at you Amy Pascal, still mad about Spiderman franchises) said, "Oh we need more women on screen, let's make them Ghostbusters."  The problem was that it felt disingenuous, like they were morphing characters instead of creating them from scratch.  That brought about the label that anyone who disliked the movie to be a misogynistic and against equal rights for women.  I love Paul Feig's movies and writing, thought Bridesmaids was a comedy of that year, etc.  But I felt kind of annoyed that if I didn't like something, I was automatically a bigot, that I was blocking progress, that hey maybe I should stop hating women so much, when it was nothing about that, not on an even so-called subconscious level.  One of my biggest peeves is when someone questions my objectivity without basis.  

For me, these opinions kind of gave me perspective on how a fringe Trump supporter may feel right now.  They might feel ashamed of how they voted because of social media pressure to conform to what everyone thinks is the smart/moral/whatever choice.  And sure, it's easy to say fuck em if you know someone who voted this way and they should "know better", but that's not even giving them a chance to explain why.  And while there ARE racist bigots and you're probably more likely to be one if you voted for Trump, that doesn't make the whole voting bloc racist/xenophobic/misogynistic/etc.  To get the answer into who they are, we have to dig deeper.

I've looked at some of the polling data so far and have examined the narrative that this election was a "whitelash".  I admit, my initial thought hearing the results was that the white supremacists all came out last night and voted like crazy to take "their country back".  I've read a ton of posts saying that Trump voters value their lives over my rights as a woman, a PoC, a black, a Hispanic, an African American, LGBTQ, etc.  But the data shows that as a country compared to the election in 2012, white turnout was lower as a percentage overall (70% of the electorate compared to 72% last year) AND more white people voted for Mitt Romney than they did for Trump (59% to 58%).  Surprisingly, minority voters supported Trump more than Romney across ALL minorities, black/Hispanic/Asian except other minorities (which I suspect to be a lot of Muslims though I'm not sure if they are under the Asian umbrella, but even that percentage was not a great difference).

In reality, the staunchly Republican states were just as racist if not more in 2012 than they are now.  And although racism was definitely a platform on which Trump was running, it was ultimately a lot of pandering to his main constituents, people who were already racist, to presumably win the Republican primaries.  Our country's racists didn't become more racist, they just became more vocal.  To get a clearer story into what happened, we have to have a closer look at the swing states.  Did they turn "racist"?  Did more racists go out and vote in those states?  

Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin were states in which Obama enjoyed decent polling margins in 2012.  However these states were the biggest losses to Hillary's campaign.  It's reported that Hillary even skipped going to Pennsylvania because she thought it was safe.  As we begin to sift through the data, we're finding that entire counties shifted from being pro-Obama to pro-Trump.  And sure, we can blame them for being self serving, but the fact of the matter is a lot of these areas have been ravaged by technological unemployment, and they simply don't have the luxury of voting for simply a social platform, they needed an economic one.  They voted for the Democrats in the past and they didn't get help.  And although it may be an irrational and perhaps not a "correct" decision, they felt that Trumped-up Economics™ would give them a better chance at economic hope than Hillary, which they saw as a continuation of the democratic platform, no help or jobs.   We're also finding that many Democrats in those areas simply just did not vote as they had in Obama's years.  They lost hope in the Democrats, but that didn't necessarily mean they endorsed the other side.  Hillary simply did not inspire as much as our current president.

We are so quick to judge the other side for not agreeing with our platforms we're ready to be all like fuck those fucking racist assholes, defriend me and fuck you the moment we face defeat.  But if we take a minute and think about who voted and why, we might get a better idea and understand the other side a bit better than quickly jumping conclusions.  Those voters in Pennsylvania, were they misinformed and given empty promises by a charlatan businessman?  Perhaps.  But HRC didn't even take the effort to make them promises, she took support for granted, running on "moral high ground".  People have time for morality once they have food on the table.  Can you imagine how a destitute worker in Bumblefuck, America must feel when they get told by someone who has the luxury to complain about their lives living in Los Angeles or New York on Facebook that they're a terrible and morally corrupt person for their voting decisions?

We're all bigots, we all have prejudices.  It's because we're ultimately lazy, we don't want to get to know anyone with different opinions than us, opinions we may find insulting or offensive.  And it's easier for us to process groups of people as one way or another, that's how bigotry happens.  

I was at a party recently, where I was probably in the upper 80-90th percentile in terms of age.  I came across a young white male who was wearing a MAGA hat.  Being in a fairly liberal city at the time, I asked him, "You're wearing that ironically, right?"  And he was like, "No, bro."  And that was it.  I didn't really want to talk to him anymore.  I labeled him as a probably racist bigot and went off to talk with my friends.  I didn't really give him a chance to explain why or find out more.

But politics requires us to find out and understand.  It shouldn't involve simply picking a side and blindly adhering to what they say every time.  Perhaps that's why I'm so disenchanted and uninvolved, I ultimately want to remain lazy and uninvolved.  It's too much effort for what I ultimately deem to be a pointless exercise, getting worked up over an outcome I don't have much control over.  But after the results, I feel compelled to think and form an idea on how to act on what's happened.

Unfortunately, this election has larger immediate consequences than ones in prior years.  The racists have come out of the woodwork and made their voices louder than ever.  But we were fooling ourselves if we thought these dudes were awakened by Trump (unwoke?), they were always around.  Perhaps if I gave that MAGA bro the courtesy of a conversation I could've began the process of unbigotrifying us as a people.  We need to be vigilant for sure and protect those attacked by racists that are unable to defend themselves, but we also need to understand that 50% of America does not believe in bigotry.  The same people that supported Obama in overwhelming numbers just 4 and 8 years ago supported Trump.  But we say that because it's easy, it's easy to want to blame something tangible and someone for what happened instead of learning and understanding.

If I could impart anything from my years of "wisdom" it's this: we need to take time to process and understand.  In the age of social media, it's tempting to be the first one out there with this provocative opinion that will galvanize people in a certain way.  Trump's understood that from day 1 of his campaign, and has used it to his advantage.  It's great to protest (legally) and make your opinions known, but I would always encourage keeping an open mind to having flexible opinions to developing information.  Reacting emotionally can only carry so far, and may ultimately have the adverse effect of what we all want, positive change.

As for my thoughts on actually turning 33, they'll probably come soon enough with more entries on my last project.  I've just been...lazy.  As per usual.

About that Thing I'm Doing (part 3): A Marketing Strategy

Back in the summer of 2008 after a terrible (poker results wise) summer in Vegas, I visited Los Angeles again to see what life was like on the west coast.  I ended up meeting an aspiring actor that I don't even remember the name of anymore, who told me that become an actor is the worst decision you can ever make if you're not totally and completely utterly in love with it.  The odds are so against you really of even making it that you have to love doing it despite the lack of success.  And this was coming from a white male dude.

In New York, a lot of what I heard from teachers and other actors was that going to Los Angeles isn't for everyone.  They would tell stories of people who made the move only to get burned out and return after a few years, and one teacher even went on to say that acting out there isn't real acting.  The theater, they would say, is still the purest form of the art.  And they're not wrong, there's definitely continuity and more of being in the moment when you act in a live performance all the way through, instead of starting and stopping the same scene over and over again for 2-3 minute bursts for a film.

But ultimately film was where my passion was, I grew up watching and being affected by films, and more recently, television.  And part of me felt like the actors who were "burned out" were just making excuses and turning to good old New York snobbery to explain why they came back, instead of just admitting they couldn't make it.  So despite the warnings, I packed my bags and moved out to LA, to find out if I had what it took to avoid the fate of so many of my New York actors who had came before me.

In my years in LA, I figured out quickly (or perhaps, not quickly enough, based on where I am now) what they meant.  There is a difference between wanting to be an Actor with a capital A, and wanting to have a career in acting.  At the heart of it, acting and entertainment is a business, a consumer pays money in some way to see you entertain them.  The bigger the audience is for your particular entertainment, the more money gets made.  Simple economics, right?  Yet most people, myself included, don't really FULLY understand this concept.  In acting studios, you're taught the craft and the life of acting, but you're not really taught about how to "sell" your craft.

There is no one pathway to success as an actor, and because of that, there's no blueprint to really put your head down and follow.  Some gain success by going to an elite acting or performance program, showcasing around town to catch an influential agent's eye.  Others climb the ladder, starting hustling from commercials and co-stars to bigger roles after they've proven they've paid their dues.  Still others slowly build a following based on self-produced content, such as stand up routines, theater shows, or internet videos.  Even the ways themselves are starting to change, as the way we consume content has changed drastically in the past decade.

No matter what, all of these pathways have a similar theme to them, they have to do with being at the right place at the right time.  Uzo Aduba, an Emmy winning actress on the show Orange is the New Black, said she literally decided to quit acting less than an hour before she had gotten a call saying she had booked a role on the hit Netflix show.  For every success story you hear about like Aduba's, you can bet there are thousands of other actors who actually did quit and couldn't wait until the "right time" came up.  You can't act if there isn't a role to act in, and the right role to showcase your talent.

Tom kinda looks Asian here, right?

Tom kinda looks Asian here, right?

After a couple years of LA really being immersed in the film/television culture and how it worked, I realized that the juicy Asian acting roles were going to be few and far in between.  Asians are still seen as outsiders to American society.  The most telling moment is when an Asian person goes to an area without many Asians and get complimented on their English, despite having lived in America their entire lives. The ignorance behind this compliment implies that we just got here, and sometimes, that we aren't here to stay.  Although things have certainly changed in the past few years (at a rate that has been exponential recently), the bulk of roles for Asian Americans are still in supporting ones.  In broader American society, Asians are seen as supporting characters who are backdrops for the true American heroes to succeed (predominantly white dudes).  It's hard to believe, but The Last Samurai was an actual movie that happened only 13 years ago.  A movie where a machine gun literally mows down every last Asian guy on screen but somehow spares Tom Cruise's character in the final scene (making the title apropos!).

But it makes sense.  Films are made from screenplays, and screenplays are written by actual individuals.  No one in the film industry (who's not Asian American) is going to write an accurate story about an Asian American story, because they don't see life from that lens.  No one who lives in Asia is going to do us a solid either, their experiences are different there.

When I first got LA, I was hesitant to associate myself with the Asian American "cause", because I didn't want to be associated with being an activist entertainer.  I wanted to follow in the footsteps of the Asian Americans who had made in in the industry, who had never associated themselves with the "cause".  I think it's because I thought there was a ceiling in the industry for those who made it about being Asian and about nothing else.  As an artist, you don't want to be known as that Asian guy who does Asian stuff.  There was almost a sense of pride when I booked or went in for roles where I would see a bunch of white dudes, it was as if I could compete without being affirmative actioned into the industry.

But I think over time it dawned on me that in order to get a juicy role, I most likely had to create it myself.  In the film industry, people tend to cast at extremes: if you have a certain look that's unique and "in", you tend to get more opportunities to shine.  At the moment from my experience, Hollywood seems to be looking for two "types" of Asian guys, the stereotypical effeminate nerdy Asian best friend, or in an effort to seem diverse and culture-forward, the exact opposite: a hyper-masculinized "sexy" type of Asian man.  The rest, like me, fall through the cracks.  And as I am getting older, I didn't want to wait until the expiration date on my acting career to take action.  As our South Asian contemporaries had done in the Mindy Project and Master of None, I started to write my own content that starred a "regular Asian dude".

I think this is the reason why Louie resonated with me so well as a model to copy.  The show is Louis CK's perspective on life on such a base human level that it is relatable and compelling to anyone without having high stakes, crazy personalities or tragic circumstances.  In my writing, I wanted to accomplish just that, create a relatable and compelling perspective on life that was also uniquely Asian American.  How would I get there?

About that Thing I'm Doing (part 2): What the hell am I doing?

In late 2014, I was depressed.  And I don't mean the type of depressed where it's like oh my dog died, wah, but depressed like life is pointless and the only reason I'm not ending myself is because the idea of death is even scarier.  It was around the two year mark in Los Angeles, and along with my advancing age, it felt like nothing was materializing the way I wanted to.  I was at the point most new actors to Los Angeles feel when they get here, the feeling of hopelessness, and that nothing is going to change.

If there was a checklist of things to do as an aspiring actor, I could probably go through them all.  No stone was unturned, no small sliver of hope unslived.  I probably wasted tons of money on things that were basically a tier up from being an outright scam in order to get an edge.  Marketing strategies, headshots, acting classes, workshops, showcases, wardrobe stylist (wat), color consultant (yes, that's a thing), audition classes, subscriptions to trades, making a fake reel to get into the union, etc. ...I could be a damn good manager by now.

What was most frustrating was people who weren't in the industry giving me advice.  Maybe I should do this.  Maybe I should do that.  People who had no clue what the fuck they were talking about thinking they had the magic solution as to why I wasn't succeeding.  The most asinine suggestion I got was something like maybe I needed to work as a server at a restaurant to know what it was like to be a struggling actor.  But the thing that annoyed me the most was the condescension in people's voices, as if I wasn't trying hard enough.  Or I wasn't good enough.  Or maybe, I should try something else.  Sometimes their inane drivel would weigh on me because there would be a lot of days where I would be doing absolutely nothing, because I felt I had exhausted all the things I could do.  I wasn't even really having fun, just sleeping in and mehing around, spending perhaps whole weeks without physical contact with the outside world save for getting food and running errands.

Lifewise, things weren't going so great either.  Although I had managed to make a few friends, I still missed New York, being home with family and the familiarity of people back home.  And romantically, well, I'm sure I've well documented my failings in that department for a while now.  I just never felt a support system, it was mainly doing things on my own without a guide, a mentor, or a group of people to just bitch and moan to.  Just this blog, really, and my friends thousands of miles away on tiny avatars of fb/google/whatever chat. (CAN'T A GUY FUCKING CALL A FRIEND ON THE TELEPHONE, MICHAEL)

There was a sense also, of just everyone really being out for themselves in this town.  I felt that my trust and faith in people had been shaken, that what New Yorkers always say about LA is true, that no one has any real artistic integrity.  While I know now that this isn't always the case, it was suffocating being in a place where it seemed no one was like-minded in creativity, especially in the Asian American community (more on this in a later entry).

One of my best friends, Bobby, is a very similar Indian version of me.  We had all the same interests growing up, which mainly consisted of Starcraft, poker and generally surviving the pressures of elitist Asian standards of education.  He was a year above me in high school (though he's actually a couple months younger than I am).  During HS we shared the dread of being put on this track of becoming doctors, like it was a destiny chosen for us that we were to be force fed by parents who thought becoming doctors was the equivalent of becoming demigods.  Our lives were not unlike those of Harold and Kumar, which is why the movie resonated deeply with both of us.

He had it a bit worse though, both of his older sisters are doctors, so it was more expected of him to follow suit, while my sister used her Harvard degree to pursue a career in fashion, giving me a little more leeway to do whatever I wanted (a few dollas in the bank also helps too).  Bobby completed a 7 year program at Northwestern University and became an anesthesiologist.  Throughout his journey, I commiserated with him about how much it sucked, taking board examinations, doing residency, having loads of student debt that wouldn't be paid off well into his 30s.  For me, I empathized mostly with the seeming lack of choice that he had going into it.

But as we lived together as roommates in New York, me going into acting school and him doing his residency, it seemed that he had made his peace with the life that was chosen for him.  It wasn't so bad after all, being a respected member of society and working at a job with a material benefit to others.  We had made becoming a doctor such a heinous thing in high school because it was what our parents wanted us to do, but in reality, maybe our parents knew a thing or two about life.

In November of 2014, I stood at Bobby's wedding as a groomsman.  He married another anesthesiologist in his program (who happened to be Korean, can't get away from our kind, it seems).  At various times in the past decade or so, I always viewed Bobby as what "could have been" for my life if I had stayed the course and did what my parents told me to, and the outcome has not been as horrific as we anticipated.  It was at his wedding that I became most acutely aware of the decisions I had made in my life, and wondered if I had made a terrible mistake.  I wondered if I had traded somewhat assured happiness for a pipe dream that would never materialize, if I had squandered the prime years of my life doing something that had no future.  The living vicariously tables had been turned.

During those long days and nights in LA in late 2014, I stumbled upon a show that I had never seen anything like before.  It was an extremely meta show about a comedian, Louis C.K., that blew me away in terms of artistic quality.  The show, Louie, starts off with Louie doing stand up sets interwoven with moments from his life that either highlight his jokes or colors them in a certain way from their juxtaposition.  While the show is definitely surrealistic at times, there are moments he captures that are so visceral that you wonder if you're watching a comedy anymore.  It's humor that hurts, but it hurts so good.

I felt like I was watching something revolutionary and started to examine television and the direction it was going.  I looked into similar shows such as Girls, Togetherness, You're the Worst, Man Seeking Woman, and saw that the comedy genre was delving into how life is in actuality, instead of that perfect idealistic sitcom life that always feels so forced and disingenuous.

I started to think about my own life and how it could possibly be a comedy of its own, a Don Quioxte like tragedy of an overqualified person throwing away all of the talents he's built up his entire life and trying to pursue quests he may have no business pursuing instead.  I started spending those days and nights coming up with ideas and vignettes of possible directions of what I could tell and what would be interesting about the failures I've accrued along the way.  But I had a lot of research to do...

About that Thing I'm Doing (part 1)

It's been a long exhausting week.  I've undertaken possibly the biggest project of my life to date, and it's been a truly rewarding experience.  As a perfectionist, it's rare for me to undertake something and not regret doing a million things, but I can say that for the most part (you'll never get me to admit 100%), I have no regrets.  Like I did 10 years ago, I took a large bet on myself, and now it's time to see how the ping pong balls fall.

Hugo Weaving's trying to help me through the headache of life

Hugo Weaving's trying to help me through the headache of life

Ironically, so much of my greatest achievements have been birthed from a source of pain and introspection, what went wrong, what I could've done differently and the meaning of all that has transpired in my life.  It reminds me of when Agent Smith in the Matrix tells Morpheus that human beings define their reality through suffering and misery.  Does it take adversity to create greatness?  Perhaps.  The question in my mind remains however: does greatness overshadow living a happier (and perhaps less "meaningful") life?

I can't tell you the answer to that, I'm still living the life that I have and am trying to get to the answer of that as I do so.  So much of what I feel fulfilled about undertaking this project was the fact that it was better than standing still, trying to wait for the world to change.  There is so much value in making a move without knowing how it'll turn out rather than being paralyzed with fear, as my perfectionism has constantly done throughout my life.  There's no way to get the answers unless you look for them yourself.  I think I'm beginning to understand the concept of "seek and ye shall find" a bit better.

My parents flew in this past week and they were happy to see me active and working hard towards a goal.  They fretted a bit over the genesis of why I was doing what I was doing, and noted that most of the things I did seemed to stem from an insecurity in my own identity.  They wondered if they had failed as parents not equipping me with a firm sense self before impinging on me the importance of a survival mentality, of doing whatever it took to succeed.  They essentially told me I need to have thicker skin about things, and just move on with life.  There's no need to make a song or story about every so-called tragedy in my life.

And in some ways, they're right.  My life is far from tragic.  It's actually quite the opposite in a sense that the amount of actual tangible suffering has more been on an emotional and psychological level rather than on a physical one.  It's the type of suffering one might characterize as originating from bouts of "affluenza", when I start creating things in my mind to worry about when in reality the things I have to worry about are far beyond even #firstworldproblems.  Who cares if you didn't have friends in elementary school when disease, war and other things are killing people halfway around the world?

My dad called me today after landing back in New York yesterday.  After watching me undertake the project and reading my script, he concluded that I might be a nihilist.  I wouldn't say he's too far off, I've always somewhat lived life with a sense of melancholy and hopelessness, concluding that most things in life are meaningless when looking at things from an infinite time perspective.  On the other hand, my actions reflected a tenuous grasp of a strand of hope that what I do does disturb the universe in some way, that there is a general meaning behind all of it.  

Making this pilot has been my way of clinging onto that strand, and pulling it as far as it goes.  I can only make the leap, and see how far the rabbit hole goes.  And so I leap, without knowing where it will lead me.  I semi-joked with a friend of mine that if this didn't provide some sort of closure, I'd probably just jump off One World Trade in New York and film that and posthumously make a statement about life, which I guess is another sort of leap.  Semi, in the sense that I have no idea what I'm going to do with my life if it's not acting or in entertainment.  Go back to ripping off the mob?  No, no, no...I need a Batman to complete me.

What drove me to the point of making the leap?  Tune in next time on...gaktown.

Paying for the Sins of America's Past

It's not often I read in the news about someone that's my particular demographic, and it's usually not for something good, outside of the movement of Linsanity 4 years ago.  We're invisible in many arenas in American culture, most notably the public services.  So when I heard about the Peter Liang story, I immediately pored over as much as I could over what was written about the case.

NYC edition: The Vertical Crawl

NYC edition: The Vertical Crawl

For those not familiar with the Peter Liang, he's a 1.5 generation Chinese American from Hong Kong who grew up in Brooklyn, New York.  He became an NYPD officer, and was given the task of being an impact officer in what's known as a vertical patrol, where officers would patrol stairwells of buildings known to have high crime rates.  It reminds me of the Raid: Redemption movie, only probably a few levels tamer.

18 months after graduating from the police academy, on November 20, 2014, Liang's on one of these patrols with his other rookie partner, a white officer named Landau.  They started the patrol with weapons drawn, as the stairwell was dark and known to be dangerous.  As they entered the stairwell, a noise startles Liang, and his gun accidentally fires.  The bullet from his gun ricochets and hits Akai Gurley, a 28 year old black man in the chest one flight of stairs down.  Gurley, frightened by the gunshot and not aware that he was hit, actually runs down two more flights of stairs before collapsing.

For a few moments afterwards, the officers were unaware that someone was hit (the place was pitch dark and the bullet was a ricochet hit on the next floor down).  There's a bit of discussion as to how they would contact their superiors about the accidental discharge.  Finally, as they start to look for the bullet, they hear Gurley's girlfriend's cries 3 floors down and realize what had happened.  Stunned and untrained, neither officer administers CPR as they felt unfit to do so, but it was later determined that such assistance would not have mattered.  They allegedly made a radio call to ambulances (there's no record of this but this was posited that the stairwell had poor reception), but Gurley ended up dying at the hospital.

Fast forward to last week, where Peter Liang was convicted of 2nd degree manslaughter and official misconduct.  He's set to be sentenced April 14th of this year.  His partner, Landau, was granted immunity for testifying in the case.  He was not even given official misconduct charges that Liang was given, and he was just as inexperienced and responsible for the delay of medical assistance.

As any person of color, we owe a lot to the black community.  They fought for equality and freedom that many of us now enjoy.  There is no doubt in my mind that if the Civil Rights Movement hadn't happened there would be Whites Only signs that would exclude Asians and Hispanics as well.  Yet the narrative has been shaped by America to pit us against each other, one as the "model minority" who gets it right vs. the other as the lazy people who don't take accountability for their lot in life, the foreigners who came over taking opportunity and the overaggressive less sensible neighbors who have not welcomed them with open arms.  

There have been changes since the LA riots in the early 90s, as 2nd generation of Asian Americans have become better educated about America's past and don't necessarily subscribe to the naive racism of their less familiar 1st generation parents.  But while there may not be outward animosity between the two, there's certainly no presumption of solidarity either.

There's no easy solution to America's race problem.  The backbone of American life was built on the backs of slavery (the Confederate States of America would have been the 4th largest economy in the world by itself).  Even after the abolishment of slavery, the continuation of segregation and Jim Crow laws prevented blacks from gaining any sort of meaningful progress for almost a century.  Though racism is definitely on the decline, black people still suffer from being in disproportionately socioeconomically disadvantaged areas.  It's not easy to pick yourself up by the bootstraps when you're only a few generations removed from total destitution.

Amidst all this, with the arrivals of first Jews, then Asians, America and other western countries have bought into and promoted the Goldilocks theory of race, that whites somehow possessed the best of both races.  Asians were too effeminate, intelligent but emotionless, blacks too aggressive, stupid and dangerous, but whites were "just right".  The idea, while not explicitly stated, is somewhat tacitly accepted and its main function is that it alienates both races as "other".  Many white Americans who want to "make America great again" view America as a country that is run by people who look like themselves, "the way it used to be", and see the current shifts as a danger to that status quo.

These same white Americans are the ones who pardon a white police officer who chokes an unarmed black man to death while failing to administer medical aid when he is unconscious, white police officers who shoot 50 times into a car with a black man on his wedding day, plainclothes white police officers who follow a suspect to his home and shoot him while he's unarmed, and decide instead to pay the victim's families a few million dollars as restitution.  In some of these cases, the predominantly white police unions even speak out in defense of these upstanding officers, and claim that they were officers in the line of duty simply doing their job.  In all of these cases, aggression was intentional and calculated, though perhaps poorly.

Unintentional crimes are always curious to me as to how they should be punished.  If I'm zooming down a street and speeding, but nothing happens to me, I merely would get a traffic citation.  But if it's dark and suddenly I hit and kill a pedestrian while speeding, the consequences are much more severe, usually I'll be charged with negligent homicide.  In both crimes, I'm doing the same exact thing, I just happened to be unlucky in the second scenario.  In a purely emotionless world, the consequences would be equal in both cases, because they are technically the same action, but when an actual person dies, someone needs to take the blame.  On the flipside, It would seem Minority Report-y if we started to jail every speeder for "future vehicular manslaughter".

Asians.  The real threat to America.

Asians.  The real threat to America.

I don't believe the prosecution argued that Liang shot Gurley intentionally.  Both sides agreed that it was an accident, though the prosecution argued one that could've been avoided by Liang.  But the Black Lives Matter people seem to tack this shooting on as another example of racial profiling gone wrong, when it is more of a wrong place wrong time type of situation.  They are satisfied to make Liang the poster boy for the epidemic of the shooting of unarmed black men. Unfortunately, this case doesn't fit that narrative.  If a white person walking down that stairwell, I'm pretty sure he would've died too.  The fact that the bullet ricocheted further gives credence to the fact that his discharge was accidental, unless he's some sort of video game character.

One bullet.  More than enough to kill an object you can't see in the dark.

One bullet.  More than enough to kill an object you can't see in the dark.

Of course it's a building with a predominantly black population, one that's also dangerous and known for crime, which is why the patrol was happening in the first place.  But neither of those circumstances were Liang's decision, he was assigned to patrol here by the NYPD.  Whether he was qualified or not was a decision that was up to his superiors.

The police union that was so behind Daniel Pantaleo in the Eric Garner case was somewhat distant when it came to Liang. The claims of the officer being an upstanding citizen were noticeably absent. It almost seemed like the NYPD was happy to have Liang be the fall guy for their previous crimes, as a sacrifice to the angry mob.  As long as the city didn't have to shell out a few million dollars again, who cares?  They can claim that they now have more accountability AND save the city some money!  It's a win win for both sides!

It's even more jarring when a case that's almost identical happened to a white officer, who was not even indicted.  He was merely stripped of his weapon and assigned another job in the police department.  There's a clear bias and inconsistent handling of Liang's case, and it's not even disguised.

Do I believe Liang should be punished for what he did?  Absolutely, there are mistakes he made that probably could have been avoided (perhaps calling for backup or phoning in his superior officer before entering the stairwell).  But should that warrant a possible 15 year sentence in jail as a former police officer? (jail's particularly not fun for former cops)

The NYPD will continue to conduct these vertical patrols, patrols that put inexperienced police officers like Liang into these terrible situations to begin with.  Make no mistake, there is no progress here for the "Black Lives Matter" movement.  Liang has made a tragic error at the worst possible political time, he's been convicted by public opinion rather than legal precedent.  He was painted as too heady, too emotionless, too selfish to aid Akai Gurney in his time of need, whereas his white partner was somehow left off the hook for just sticking around and arguing with him during those critical moments.  He's blamed for the death of an accidental bullet which would've just been a disciplinary action instead of a 2nd degree manslaughter charge, and tacked on an official misconduct charge when any sort of aid rendered to Gurney wouldn't have mattered after he was shot.  I only can hope that somehow we can stop this miscarriage of justice.

Body image/health and Strength Training and Goals

I grew up a skinny, tall, nerdy kid.  In many ways, I embodied the Asian stereotype, both physically and mentally: I was good at violin, math, and not much going on in the way of sports.  My diet growing up didn't help, as I ate the same thing everyday during my K-12 years.  Cereal and milk in the morning, a ham sandwich at lunch, and some sort of Korean dinner where I would mainly eat some combination of foods that invariably contained rice and bulgogi.  My diet, while not optimal, was probably a lot more regulated and "healthier" because my mom didn't allow many sugary type foods (she never got soda in the house, I only got it through other means).

I remember thinking that being skinny was part of my unchanging identity.  There was a moment in middle school when a girl had commented that I'd be so much better looking if I had gained some muscle.  Never mind my unspoken thought that she'd be a lot better looking if she lost like 15 lbs., I just gave it a shrug and thought, that's how I am, it's not going to change.  It was a combination of not being familiar with my own physiology and just having a set image that I didn't bother to hit the gym in any appreciable way, other than running for track (which made me leaner), and maybe horsing around the weight room a bit.  I was Doug, and Doug was skinny, and that was that.

My kryptonite.  It's...perfect.

My kryptonite.  It's...perfect.

It wasn't until my young adult life that I started to change physically.  Working at a corporate setting brought about a more sedentary lifestyle coupled with even more eating.  Because I had started with such a low base of weight (from 135 as a 5'11 high school senior to 145 as a 6' college senior) I was rounding out to be shaped like a normal sized human. 

Once I left work, weight gain started to become more noticeable.  According to American Express, I was having Shake Shack at least once a week for a two year time period.  It got to an apex around the start of 2011 at around 185 lbs.  I think that was the first time I became somewhat conscious about my body image.  So I started to train for a half marathon and dropped back down to 165 during my training.  Although I kept exercising after the race, my weight became sporadic and inconsistent.  "You can't outwork a bad diet", I was told.

Aging is something everyone knows will happen, but because it's a slow process (unless you have a whole host of other bad habits besides dieting such as drugs, cigarettes or alcohol), you don't really clock it until it hits you.  It's most apparent in professional athletes, where you see a definite trend of peak physical performance plateauing by your late 20s to early 30s and then dropping off precipitously after 40.  At my age, you start to see the superstars you've been following as a teenager get to the end of their careers, and how much they've dropped off.  Legends like Derek Jeter and Kobe Bryant who stick around longer than they're really supposed to play worse than a replacement player in the final seasons of their career.

While looking older may vary from person to person, everyone will feel being older at some point.  After college and a bit of work experience, I would pull all nighters relatively easily, being able to power through with just adrenaline and caffeine when a task needed to be done.  Nowadays, I would be in a lot of pain and anguish if I tried to Jack Bauer through the day.  This could be partly due to being acclimated to a lifestyle that doesn't require me to usually do long nights of work, but recently I've just felt the weight whenever I don't get enough sleep.  Being heavier, running and getting into running shape takes longer simply because I have more weight to carry.

As I entered my 30s, it dawned on me that:

a) there's more life after 30
b) i don't look that young anymore
b) I should probably plan on living for the next 40-50 years or so
c) my current lifestyle was probably not optimal

Back when I was a kid, it was like I didn't even picture life as an old person.  It wasn't due to being a morbid person and believing in one's own early death before 30, it was more like like a kid who didn't comprehend a number greater than 10 after first learning how to count.  And it wasn't until probably right up to 30 that I realized that life was going to go on for a while, and I was like, "Hey, maybe I should go see a doctor.  AKA, my dad."  

The results of a blood test I got didn't show anything remarkably terrible, but it did seem to show that I was trending towards unhealthiness.  As my family does have some history of health problems related to heart conditions and/or diabetes, it seemed unwise to continue on this path.

In addition to being bad for my health, being fat or noticeably aging did concern me because of my career.  Acting requires you to look a certain way, and looking young and fit is important.  Although it's less pronounced now than it was in the past, casting is still somewhat dependent on your aesthetic.  When I went into audition for a big role that I thought I was really right for a couple years ago, I was told by a casting director that while she liked my read they were looking for more of an athletic type of actor for a role I went in for and straight out that I didn't really have a shot.

Now, I'm not really the "jock" type in casting anyway, so this didn't bother me too much.  But looking older and fatter probably wasn't going to be advantageous, you don't see many fat old Asian dudes on TV.  And although I look young for my age (fortunately), I didn't want to climb an uphill battle in extending my looks longevity.

I decided to research how to get in the best shape possible.

Prior to my start in strength training, I had lifted weights during a short period in 2010 with my friend, Bobby.  He had introduced me to starting strength, a method of strength training that is as simplistic as possible, just add weight to the bar every session until you can't.  Bobby had originally got me into poker in a similar manner, we both kind of read up on an "expert" and went on from there.  While we made some progress, we definitely made mistakes.  I once pulled a deadlift with what was most definitely improper form and was bedridden for a week.  After a while, I just quit because I wasn't seeing proper results.

Paul's a pretty chill dude

Paul's a pretty chill dude

So in September of 2014, I asked a friend of mine who seemed like he knew what he was doing health wise (he was always talking about being swole and eating kale and shit), what I should do, and he directed me to the only Starting Strength coach in Los Angeles, Paul Horn.  Paul is a trainer who also runs a gym called Horn Strength and Conditioning in the Westchester area near LAX.  I didn't know what to expect when I first met him, maybe some sort of stereotypical breh's brah, but it turned out when I went in for a consult that he had a very methodical and analytical way of doing things like myself, and was actually pretty nerdy sometimes (ask him about his spreadsheets), despite being jacked.

Similar to the book, we did the three basic lifts (squat/dead/bench), plus a shoulder press every week, 3 times a week, varying the exercises every session.  As I was getting back into it, I started off small, adding 5-10 lbs a session until we couldn't.  Every session progress was recorded into the "Book of Gains" (a notebook with the weight you achieved).  I was prescribed a diet of anything I wanted, provided I hit my weight in protein (grams of protein per pound I weighed) every day.  For around 6 months of training (more like 9 months because of breaks in between for vacation and what not), I learned how to lift and how to do it correctly.

Now, Paul's not a cheap coach, but there's something about paying a lot of money that gets you motivated to get up and go to the gym.  And it was definitely valuable because you always want to make sure your form is correct.  The gains were steady and certain, and it was always helpful to have someone motivating you to do the work.  His job was simple, to get me strong and thus healthier, and he definitely accomplished that.

the book of gains in graph form

Here's a look at the progress I've made.  The data is basically what weight I can lift for 5 reps.  Starting strength preaches doing lifts in 5s and then adding weight when you've successfully completed the lift.  

Some of the things you can see from the graph is that progress is logarithmic in nature; you're going to see early gains quicker when you're out of shape and then slowly progress as you become more advanced in lifting.  Another thing you can see is that both the shoulder press and bench press plateau a lot quicker than the other two lifts.  The dips downward are mostly from extended breaks from lifting (the large noticeable one is a 3 week break in July of last year).  And towards more recently, lifts have been plateauing (and even dropping off) very noticeably, and I'll get to that soon.

Taking a week off doesn't affect your progress that much.  But taking a few weeks off can really be devastating.  I get temporary gym memberships for 1-2 weeks whenever I'm in New York now, just so I can keep the gain train intact.  

But aside from progress, I noticed I wasn't really getting the body I wanted, dat aesthetic.  As a result of eating whatever I wanted to get to x amount of protein per day, I had ballooned into an all time high of 195 lbs by June of last year.  Unfortunately, I was also in a film program where I was (told a week before shooting) that I was to be shirtless in the film.  Needless to say, I wasn't too happy with the shoot after watching it, and I knew that I needed to make some changes in my regimen to look acceptable for my chosen career.  It was time to cut.

After I trained with Paul, I moved on to a popular powerlifting gym in LA called Barbell Brigade.  I like the gym because it's convenient, squat racks, deadlift and benches are all set up, and it's got a chill but intense environment.  I started to also lower the caloric intake (as well as protein), and as a result I lost weight but my gains started to drop off dramatically.  However, I've maintained much of my strength, while dropping around 10-15 lbs.

The ancillary benefit of looking more attractive towards the opposite sex hasn't really materialized, at least as far as I'm aware.  In fact, the opposite is true, I've had more dudes comment on me being bigger and asking about it.  I remember some guy saying that I looked like I would back a lot of dudes (I'm assuming he meant Korean dudes in a game of pick up) easily in the post as a power forward and wondering, what dude is he talking to right now (I'm terrible at basketball).  Swole recognize swole, but I do want the physique more of a point guard, lean-ish but strong enough to be explosive.  Athletes also seem to look super young, I mean Kobe certainly doesn't look 37 years old.  

I have recently incorporated cardio into my routine, partly because of a bet I had made with Bobby.  The bet was made back in 2011, when I said that I could run 3 miles in 20 minutes if I had a year to train.  I think the closest I got was 24 minutes, and I gave up and paid him the money.  This year, we made the same bet, now both of us in it.  While we won't race each other to the death (it'll just be if we can beat 20 minutes or not), it's an exciting challenge nonetheless.

But I estimate with the cardio training, I'll probably burn close to 1000-1200 extra calories a week.  I'm hoping to lose weight rapidly, we'll see how that goes.

As for diet?  My diet is still terrible.  I suppose there are improvements I could make, but I really need a nutritionist to help me.  Maybe that's the next step.

My goals at the moment are trying to reach a body weight of around 175 lbs with a 1 rep max of bench (262.5 lbs), squat (350 lbs), and deadlift (437.5).  Currently, I can probably lift approximately 205/350/380 at 184 lbs.  

I'm pretty happy with the progress I've made and the lessons I've learned over the past year and a half.  Hopefully it leads to greater success, both in health and in my career.

Asian Americans in Media (Fresh off the Boat thoughts)

I waited until after I saw the pilot and a few episodes to write this, because I wanted to give FOB a fair shake before giving my thoughts.  It was a good thing I had because this entry may have been a lot different otherwise.

Asian Americans are sorely underrepresented in American media.  Any Asian in entertainment can tell you the countless offenses that Hollywood has bestowed on Asians, from whitewashing stories with Asian characters (21, The Last Airbender, Dragonball), to having a single white hero triumph over a sea of Asian characters (The Last Samurai [how the hell is Tom Cruise the only guy standing after that battle], Wolverine), to having an actual Asian hero in a story inspired by Romeo and Juliet not kiss the female lead (Romeo Must Die).  Hollywood does not like Asian people, because Asian people to them do not represent sales.

Part of that is because of a lack of Asian Americans in entertainment to begin with.  While there are talented Asian directors, actors, musicians, etc. the fact remains that being artists as Asian Americans is a foreign concept, the vast majority of us are groomed to be, stereotypically, a doctor/lawyer/some other decently financially stable variant.  So you have a small percentage of Asians, who are a small percentage of the population, trying to be entertainers with many of them trailblazers finding their way in the business.  Then there's the whole chicken and the egg question, are Asians not marketable enough because they aren't on shows, or are they not on shows because they're not marketable enough.  And finally, it's the simple fact that the people in power in Hollywood are older, white men who inevitably shape content and media to fit their world views and biases, whether subconsciously or consciously.  One only needs to look at the demographics of Oscar voters to see that this is true.

So when I heard that "Fresh off the Boat" was being made into a sitcom last year, I was pretty excited.  As an actor, your first thought is, "jobs".  It's been 20 years since "All American Girl" was cancelled, and this was going to be the first show since then to have an Asian American cast.  But when I ordered the book on Amazon and read a few chapters, I began to wonder how it would take shape as a sitcom.  The book had a very raw and honest tone with stories that I would imagine would play on HBO rather than ABC.  While I'm not on board with everything Eddie Huang believes about race and identity, I also wasn't happy with the idea that his voice would be lost in its transmorgification into a sitcom.

How America sees azns.

How America sees azns.

Because Asians are few and far in between on screen, every appearance by an Asian in mainstream media is scrutinized by the Asian community to the highest degree.  For every Bruce Lee and Jeremy Lin, there's a Long Duk Dong or a William Hung that makes us into silly caricatures.  Asians that make it probably face an added burden of trying to "do their race proud".  And after "All American Girl" was received so poorly, everyone had the same thing on their minds, if FOB doesn't do well, we might as well resign to waiting another 20 years before we get another chance to prove ourselves.

I wanted FOB to be awesome, to be our "Cosby Show": the hit show of the 80s that opened the floodgates for "Family Matters", "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" and "Everybody Hates Chris".  So when I saw the pilot to FOB, my hopes were crushed.  I understood what Eddie Huang meant in his piece when he says that the network turned his life into a "cornstarch sitcom".  The show felt forced and disingenuous.

The biggest problem with the pilot is that it seems like the show doesn't know what it wants to be.  The family just seems like cookie cutter versions of sitcom characters who happen to be Asian, and the jokes heavily relied on the "white people make life miserable for minorities" trope that gets old fast (and I'm assuming faster for white viewers).  Some of the jokes fell flat (the 40 year old friend joke was just so much try too hard, especially after it kept getting repeated 100 times), and I was pretty sure that the show's longevity was in danger.

Fortunately, the show improves vastly in the following episodes.  It starts to focus on their struggles as ordinary people and their relationship as a family, rather than their struggles as Asian Americans.  And frankly, this is the way to go, seeing as it worked for Cliff Huxtable.  The Cosby Show and other black comedies after it touch upon race, but their main storylines are about the characters themselves, making them infinitely more relatable, even if you aren't black, the same way we relate to American media shows even though we're not white.  The more FOB taps into this universal experience of just being a person, the more it will be relatable to its non-Asian audience, and the more that audience will turn around and say, "Hey, these Asian Americans are pretty cool.  Let's have some more stories of those kinds of people."

That's not to say the show doesn't still have its faults, nor am I saying that it IS the next Cosby Show.  The show is still clunky as the writers haven't found their stride quite yet as to where it wants to go.  Part of this is due to the fact that ultimately, the writers have to divorce themselves from the source material (the part of Eddie's life on which the show is based takes up one chapter in the actual book) and find their own voice.  I don't envy their position, trying to simultaneously "get the story right", make it entertaining, AND appease the source material creator, who doesn't always give them his vote of confidence.

And I don't think that its wrong as an Asian to point out that it has faults.  All I've been reading from Asians who are in entertainment regarding the show has been glowing praise.  I've read stuff like "I was laughing the entire time." Part of me thinks that people want it to succeed so badly that saying anything negative could ruin its chances, because honestly, it ain't THAT good, guys.  We can't be so afraid of scrutiny that we don't seek to improve our craft when there are deficiencies, and then get upset when America doesn't accept Asians in media using the "just because we're Asian" crutch.

But I think that I (as well as Eddie, it seems) have come to terms with the fact that the show doesn't have to be 100% accurate or perfect to create change.  And because its on a big network, the soapbox we're on is that much bigger to be able to say to middle America, "At the core, we're just like you, human, people that want to gain acceptance and love and want to fit in."  And the strategy seems to have worked, FOB has already had high ratings and good reviews, looking likely that it will be renewed for a second season.  And because of the media's copycat tendencies for the latest trends, this can only be good news for Asian Americans who work in entertainment and want our voices to be heard.

I think Eddie Huang says it best when he talked about the premiere: “This got us on-base, but somebody in this crowd gotta bring us home.”  Our biggest work as Asian Americans in media may well start with FOB, but it doesn't end there.  There's a lot more progress to be made.

I'll continue to watch the show, because I support and have a vested interest in having more Asian Americans on screen.  I won't pretend like I'll enjoy every single minute of it, but I will admit that what we're watching is the start of something groundbreaking.  And if you want to see more Asian American stories represented on screen, you should check it out too.