CHARLYNE YI: ALLERGIC TO POISONOUS DEATH
Charlyne Yi: the strangely captivating stoner chick in that Judd Apatow film … oh, and the klepto-druggie in that other Apatow film. The girl who once shaved her head at a comedy show. Michael Cera’s ex-girlfriend, which was a role that actually got her nominated for an award. Wait—isn’t she in, like, five DIY bands? And Conan O’Brien loves her. She plugged sunsets in an interview with him and talked about having diarrhea on the highway. Appearing on Conan landed her a part for a season of House as an angry doctor. But fame doesn’t drive her. She wrapped that up and focused her energy into music, writing short poems and posting adorable and gently humorous drawings on Twitter every day. And now she’s got a book being published by Harper Collins: Oh The Moon: Stories from the Tortured Mind of Charlyne Yi. And she’s performing at Festival Supreme this Saturday. She’s got her hands in a lot of cookie jars and isn’t willing to choose one flavor. She’s not interested in the fanciest cookie. She just wants the one she wants when she wants it. And that makes her cool. This interview by Daiana Feuer.
What’s the riskiest thing you’ve done for the sake of a performance?
Charlyne Yi: Started talking. I don’t know—I shaved my head while I was singing ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ onstage and said it was a bald cap. But it wasn’t—it was my bald crazy head. People have a hard time telling when I’m joking or not so they didn’t understand I actually shaved my head in front of them.
Has there been anything you’ve experienced in a performance that thrust you into a vortex of embarrassment and shame, only to emerge empowered in your own self-worth?
Charlyne Yi: I performed at a club, and a woman was being incredibly racist towards me and so I brought her up on stage saying I was going to hypnotize her. I asked her to sit on a stool and put a blanket over her head for the rest of my set.
You recently got engaged! When did you know this was the person you should get old and fat with?
Charlyne Yi: Thank you! We’re not planning on getting old—been drinking the tears of the young to prevent that … thank God!.
Who proposed and how?
Charlyne Yi: My best friend Jet proposed in my bedroom. It didn’t dawn onto me ‘til a week later—what the reality of things was and I started crying then. He proposed and I kept saying ‘I can’t believe you want to marry me…’ over and over, and he said, ‘Well, you better believe it because I do.’
What does it feel like to look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m someone’s fiancée?’
Charlyne Yi: I haven’t done that yet. I’ve only looked in the mirror in passing and said, ‘Who the fuck are you? Wanna fight?!’
What was your life like when you were nine years old?
Charlyne Yi: Just got my first pair of glasses. I used to hide them and pull them out to see. Got in a couple fights. Had a growth spurt and was 4’ 8”. I am 5’ 3” right now. I was pretty good at basketball back then. Well, I was tall. So that made people think I was good. I tried to do drama but couldn’t summon that much energy to be a theater kid.
What was your best subject in school?
Charlyne Yi: I don’t know. I was a bad student. Lunch?
What were your responsibilities when you worked at Wal-mart?
Charlyne Yi: I worked at the One Hour Photo department. I remember having to read discount specials on the intercom and pretending I was frustrated because I couldn’t read well over the speaker and sighing very loudly on the speakers then hanging up. And then picking up the phone to the intercom again and giving it another ‘try,’ reading faster and harder and stuttering and giving up again. I thought it was funny. The fellow employees didn’t. They thought something was wrong with me.
What’s your practical advice for someone who just moved into their car?
Charlyne Yi: You can get a huge-ass ticket for it.
Would you say love is like watching someone eat and being grossed out by how they chew but at the same time wanting to kiss them or wipe their face?
Charlyne Yi: Ha! I wrote a poem about my boyfriend eating a burrito really great just last week. Seeing him eat a burrito is insanely cute—the way he chews, makes me want to shake hands with him and say, ‘It’s a deal! I’m in!’ And hug him and kiss him.
Do you think you’re an adult? What is an adult?
Charlyne Yi: I want to say yes. But the idea of an adult escapes me. Adult can mean age or maturity. I don’t mind getting old—I just don’t want to be boring!
Comedians tend to share their clumsiest moments of life. To be funny, do you feel like you have to put yourself completely out there?
Charlyne Yi: I actually don’t really do humor that’s drawn from my life. I don’t actually know where it comes from. But whenever I put an offering of black beans under my bed, I usually come up with ideas and jokes.
After doing House, did you make a firm decision to move away from doing TV?
Charlyne Yi: That was the longest job I ever had. I like trying new things. Like making shoes.
You also took a break from performing comedy, what were you doing instead?
Charlyne Yi: I started to do more writing, music, drawing, shoe cobbling …
Since you’re performing at Festival Supreme, and just did another comedy show, does that mean the break is over?
Charlyne Yi: I can’t tell if the break is over.
After your season on House, you volunteered in Sri Lanka. What did you take away from that experience?
Charlyne Yi: I went to Sri Lanka and Pune, India, for a month. I wanted to help orphans. I got to write some great music with some amazing kids, and try to understand and be there for them as a friend. A lot of the children are being sponsored so they can finish school and get out of the slums. But one of the hugest conflicts is that children get married at age 11 to 14 and immediately start having babies, and they just end up in the slums again—even poorer than before now that they have to support a child or children. Their only source of help is trying to finish their education and getting a good job. But I learned you can’t make decisions for people. You can’t make someone care about their self-worth. You can only be their friend and listen and give your opinion. It’s a hard thing standing by watching a child get married. But even in my world back at home, I can only just say my words and thoughts and hope the best for those I interact with—friends and family.
What place does music occupy in your existence?
Charlyne Yi: It fills up my entire left arm. I can’t help but do music. It’s like I’m possessed and I have to exorcise these ghosts inside me.
So there’s the funny side of you, but then there’s the softer side—the one that draws sweet characters and writes little poems. Do these two sides pull at you? Do you feel one is more you than the other?
Charlyne Yi: Every part of me is equally important. I feel like a mom trying to make sure I don’t love one over the other.
What do you love about making music?
Charlyne Yi: I can be honest.
What’s the point of entertaining other people?
Charlyne Yi: I think it’s why we are all drawn to friends that are interesting. Entertainment is company in this desolate world. Connecting with people gives us meaning. Memories rule.
When did you start drawing?
Charlyne Yi: When I was two. Then I took a long break, maybe twenty years. The people were outraged, and then very happy when I started drawing again.
How often do you draw?
Charlyne Yi: Maybe 3/4ths of my life is consumed by drawing.
Do you have any artist heroes?
Charlyne Yi: I am fond of Maurice Sendak, Dirk Zimmer, Shel Silverstein, Miyazaki, Harpo Marx.
What’s your new book about?
Charlyne Yi: Forgiveness, self-destruction vs. self-revolution and never losing romance for the world.
You spread yourself across the arts: music, art, acting, comedy. Do you focus on whichever thing beckons you at a particular time or is there a need to do everything at once?
Charlyne Yi: Some people say I have ADD. But I think it’s hard to be true to all the different extensions of yourself and maybe there’s this underlying expectation of ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ And the answer always having to be one thing as opposed to many things. I kind of just go with the flow of my heart. And sometimes I have to do things for economic purposes to pay for rent and food.
Is it important to seize every opportunity that is given to you as an artist?
Charlyne Yi: I wish I knew which ones were important. I don’t really take up every opportunity. I pick and choose. I go with gut or heart. My heart is really close to my belly.
If you knew the world was going to end in four days, where would you like to be and how would you spend the end of days?
Charlyne Yi: Singing on the top of a mountain with my boyfriend and sister. Maybe we can shoot things with slingshots—go for a good old-fashioned bike ride.
Are you ever plagued by existential insecurities?
Charlyne Yi: When I was three I was, but now I’m a grown-ass woman. I am totally comfortable in my own skin AND in the world!
What are the best and worst things about doing TV?
Charlyne Yi: When you have to film the same scene too many times, it often feels like hell. Especially when the devil comes out laughing behind every actor while I’m trying to act with them. That’s the best and worst thing about TV.
Have you ever stolen something from a set? If so, what and why?
Charlyne Yi: Lots of food. Because I was poor and hungry and my bones hurt.
If you were a Star Trek character, who would you be and why?
Charlyne Yi: Oh good, you’re asking this question. Been watching Star Trek: The Next Generation a lot lately. I’d definitely be Worf. Because I get blindly angry a lot and I’m strong.
Would you rather fall into a pit of snakes or spiders?
Charlyne Yi: Snakes. I’m allergic to spider bites. Although if a snake bites me, I may be allergic to poisonous death.
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Charlyne Yi: Only on Saturdays.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Charlyne Yi: Proud and 60% happy.
CHARLYNE YI WITH DIE ANTWOORD, THE KIDS IN THE HALL, ROCKET FROM THE CRYPT, ANDREW W.K., THE DARKNESS AND MANY MORE ON SAT., OCT. 10, AT FESTIVAL SUPREME AT THE SHRINE EXPO HALL AND GROUNDS, 665 W. JEFFERSON BLVD., LOS ANGELES. 1 PM / $75-$250 / 17+ / GET TICKETS HERE! MORE INFO AT FESTIVALSUPREME.COM.