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edge staff writer


‘How to American’ humorous and heartfelt

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The United States is a nation of immigrants. And every single one of those immigrants has a different and unique American experience.

Comedian Jimmy O. Yang is probably best known for his role as Jian Yang on HBO’s “Silicon Valley.” He’s also an immigrant; he came to this country as a teenager, moving from Hong Kong to Los Angeles with his family at the age of 13. As you can imagine, it was culture shock of a high order.

Yang’s new book “How to American: An Immigrant’s Guide to Disappointing Your Parents” (Da Capo, $27) relates his experience and how he assimilated – sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much – into this strange new home.

His first real leap into American culture came by way of hip-hop. The lion’s share of Yang’s education regarding the English language came by watching the BET show “RapCity” for hours a day. That led to a fascination with the music – a fascination that in turn led to Yang and some of his new friends attempting to make their own hip-hop (there’s a brief and unexpected footnote to this stretch that I won’t spoil).

From there, we follow Yang as he attempts to make his way as a stand-up comedian. It’s not the easiest career path, so he’s left to supplement his income in other ways – namely, by working as a strip club DJ, a job he describes in a way that reads as both surprisingly mundane and predictably weird. He shares his closest brush with deportation - courtesy of a drunken trip to Tijuana – and tales from the set of “Silicon Valley.”

And through it all is the thread of his parents. His mom spent most of her time in Hong Kong due to vastly superior job prospects, leaving Yang to spend the vast majority of his formative years with his dad in a single-parent household. Those stories have elements of Asian parent stereotypes, but all rendered in a considerably lighter way.

The parental clichés aren’t the only Asian ones Yang tackles, however; he skewers a number of them through his tales of trying to become a working actor (again, no spoilers, but Yang’s dad enters into this aspect of his life in a hilariously unanticipated way).

“How to American” is all about making you laugh. And you WILL laugh. Yang is a gifted storyteller with a slightly skewed perspective; add in a sense of humor that is equal parts goofy and twisted and the result is a fun, frothy bit of autobiography.

Granted, there’s not a lot of depth to these stories. One imagines that Yang focused on the funny parts and relegated the less entertaining aspects of the Asian-American experience to the back burner, though the truth is that it sounds like Yang had a fairly innocuous adolescence.

Yang’s comedic voice is clear throughout, capturing the essence of his experience with an awkward, self-deprecating charm. There’s a personable quality to these stories; they’re conversational in a way that never feels forced, leaving the reader feeling as though they’ve just been regaled by a weird-but-entertaining guy they just met.

“How to American” is funny. That’s all it wants to be and all it tries to do. This book and its author want nothing more than to make you laugh. And on that front, it definitely succeeds.


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