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Atsuko Okatsuka Interview on HBO Max Special, Comedy Origin Story – The Hollywood Reporter


Even when she’s tossing products into a grocery cart or dropping it like it’s hot, Atsuko Okatsuka has the unique ability to maintain a somewhat innocent sense of change in everything. she does. Her special basic color comedy, Atsuko Okatsuka: Intruderpremiered on December 10 on HBO Max, perhaps the most moving story of family affection ever told in the context of attendance. Magic Mike Live in Las Vegas.

The members of the Okatsuka family – most notably her grandmother and her husband, actor Ryan Harper Gray – are not only prominent in the film. Intruder (directed by one of the comic’s indie idols, Tig Notaro) but also in her strong social media presence, which created a sensation that went viral around the world in earlier this year with #dropchallenge, accidentally started in January by Okatsuka.

The comedian spoke to hollywood reporter about how her “unusual upbringing” helped shape her sense of humor as well as her drive to make people laugh.

In the special, your interaction with the audience really stood out for me. How would you describe your relationship with the stand-up audience?

I consider stand-up comedy a job in the service industry. I wouldn’t have this job without them and without me, there probably wouldn’t be a program for them. We are all in it together. The reason I’m in comedy is because I love people and I want to enhance their experience and emotions. I’m not afraid to live in a world of improvisation. I almost grow in chaos, “yes and” -ing it. The rest of my hour — the jokes, the structure, the stories I’m going to tell — is written and rehearsed, but for me, making room for the game is really important so that even when you’re watching at home, hope you can feel like you are in that room too.

I did a standing scene during an earthquake in 2019. It was the unexpected moment: This scary thing, this natural phenomenon, 7.1 [magnitude], attacked all of us, everyone freaked out but my instinct was to calm everyone down first, and when I realized that everyone was fine, just kidding, because again, this is the service industry where I want to look at the audience: Well, you’re still here to watch a comedy show, I’m good at being funny. People are like, “How can you do that?” I do stand-up comedy most nights of the week, I grew up with a mother with schizophrenia, I was undocumented for seven years hiding in the garage – at a certain point, a battle. earthquakes are like zero; So does audience engagement.

When certain experiences happen to you — especially ones that can be stressful, such as dealing with an intruder or appeasing your mother — how much do you think about in the moment? there, “Hmm, could this be something important?”

I am very present in the current energy, but also a part of my brain [asking], “How do I bring light to an immediate situation?” My mother had a seizure. I remember as a child, she would sometimes have a seizure when we were in public, and some stranger would come and help us. In this moment it’s tragic and I want to make sure she’s okay, but once she’s okay, I’ll immediately try to make the situation funny so that, for example, when she wakes up. In return, she is being held in the arms of a very handsome guy. , the man stands out. I would definitely be like, “You, you! Can you be the one to hug my mother? So when she comes, she will giggle. Things like that I always strive for in situations. But I never thought, “This is going to be good for standing up.” I would really say if anyone does it as part of their process to be able to seek help and therapy.

Is there a relationship between the way you develop your art and comedy and the way you face life experiences that some might consider real hardships?

Sure. I always thought, God, it has to be more complicated than that, but sometimes it’s as simple as that: Tragedy plus timing is comedy. Of course, it takes the right perspective to get you there, and I feel very fortunate that some people fall into depression. I am so grateful that even in difficult times, I had a very protective grandmother, and so I am luckier than most. My grandmother made sure I had a place to play. While we were undocumented, she signed up for the annual visa lottery, and in year seven, all of our names were drawn and we received green cards. She was the one who planned our stay in my uncle’s garage. She arranged all the things that at the time, she felt as if this woman was shady. She makes sure these things are behind my back so that no matter how unusual my upbringing, I can laugh about everything without feeling hopeless.

Your grandmother is loved by her fans and is an important part of the your social media presence. What does she think of all this?

My grandmother finally went with the flow of life. She was a caregiver for most of her life; she still takes care of my mom most of the time. She was 87 years old and raised three children alone. She lost her husband at the age of 28, and then she had to raise me when my mother couldn’t. I started making silly videos to post online; it makes people feel really good, and that makes me feel good. One day she said, “May I join you in one of these dances?” This was the first time she had fun and allowed herself to play as well. When I told her things like, “We had 20 million views on that video,” it all still sounded fabricated to me. I don’t even know how many zeros are on the top of my head. I think any older person has had a hard time grasping what it means to be famous or famous. But when we were filming our special in New York, and I had to be on her first-class flight, I think she really saw it: “This is where comedy has taken you. I can lie down flat. I am eating beef. I’ll take the champagne.” She watched the tape where all these people were there to meet me, and the cameras were there. I feel like she really figured it out during the shoot.

You, your grandmother, and your husband, Ryan, make up a funny trio. Tell me about the choice to put them on stage at the end.

There’s an opening that we cut, like a little sketch, involving both of them. I’ve always wanted to get them involved somehow in this particular show and give them the limelight but it feels like [we should] just started special, so we cut that. But in the past I’ve brought my grandmother on stage when I’m on tour, especially during my LA gigs, and when my husband goes on tour with me, the audience always says, “Oh my gosh, that’s your father’s sister!” Everyone got excited and made jokes with him from the show they just watched. It’s all like, here’s why we’re in: Because we want to connect with our fans and audience.

You have such a unique delivery style. Do you have any comic inspiration?

I grew up Scooby-Doo. I feel like a cartoon character in the way that I present it. I am also a proud immigrant, I speak with a strange rhythm, I make strange sounds with my mouth. I grew up watching Lucille Ball and Charlie Chaplin. Because I don’t know English, it has to be a physical humour. And then when I finally got to know the language, the first person I saw standing up was Margaret Cho, and that was amazing to me. [realize] all of this I’m seeing as a comedy, more physical and animated, she can express with just words. I was like, “Oh, that’s its own art form.” It was a pivotal moment for me, when I realized that stand-up comedy is a job. And then Tig Notaro is another idol of mine.

Obviously we have to talk about #dropchallenge and how big that has become. What do you expect it to go viral and who you can’t believe did it?

I didn’t know it would turn out like that. I was on the Tanzania news. I’ve seen a fisherman in Zimbabwe or somewhere do it on his boat while fishing; nurses, doctors did it; stone separator. I learned about a lot of different jobs and careers watching people’s remakes. That’s my favorite part. Sure, celebrities did it, but it was commoners who did it that I was in awe of watching. It goes back to why I do comedy: because I want to see people enjoy, see themselves in me. Even if, I don’t know, Heidi Klum did it, I said, “Sure, sure Heidi, that’s great, but that fisherman tho…” Some people said, “It’s going viral. . Do people know you started it? You need to take credit! I was like, “Aahhh! How to do it?” But then you realize, who cares?Now it belongs to the people.That’s what it should be.

Finally, I have to brag that I have been interviewing you since 2017, when you agreed to participate CHEAPJapanese American women’s council and sit over Ghost in the shell and then talk about it for two hours. Since then, a lot has happened in your career and in the entertainment industry as a whole when it comes to Asian-American artists. In your opinion, how has the business changed since Scarlett Johansson played Motoko Kusanagi?

Oh, see, now you’re doing a full circle. This is the callback moment, because you’re describing the moment we met, and the last question is awesome. There are sentences like, “I’m the second Asian-American actress to have an HBO special, the first one was Margaret Cho, and it’s been 22 years, and now I’m friends with Margaret.” General public [becoming] A greater awareness of stand-up comedy is probably related to the fact that all networks have produced more specials in the past few years. Then you start to see a lot of different voices standing up too, and that helps too. But the Internet has also really helped: “Well, if the industry isn’t ready, I’ll be talking to my fans right away from my phone.” That’s really how I was able to get to a place where I said, “I’ve been standing for 13 years, I’m ready to go on tour.” I just didn’t know if I had a number, I didn’t know if I believed people would come to see me and when people started showing me they would be online, that’s when I started my journey. his first performance. I did my first tour last year, and it was in the second half of that year that HBO came and watched it. A lot has happened for me to become the second Asian-American female to stand on HBO with something special: I had to believe in myself, the industry had to believe in us a little more, and unfortunately, Instagram must exist because of that where I show up in front of people and keep making jokes there. So it’s the pinnacle of those things. Where does it go? I hope that I will make it easier for the third Asian-American to get an HBO special.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

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