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Jimmy O. Yang talks ‘How to American’

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Comedian Jimmy O. Yang is best known for his work on HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” where he appears as prank-calling, house-squatting, app-developing, Jian Yang, and for his role in the movie “Patriot’s Day,” starring Mark Wahlberg.

The Hong Kong-born and Los Angeles-based resident has written a hilarious new book called “How to American: An Immigrant’s Guide to Disappointing Your Parents.” It’s available in hardcover, on Kindle and in audiobook form.

Jimmy O. Yang checked in with The Maine Edge for a conversation about the book.

TME: Your book made me laugh out loud many times and it also made me think. I loved the way you described your first impressions of America upon arriving here at age 13. What is your favorite memory of first coming to America?

Yang: On my very first day in America, my grandpa took us to what he called his favorite American restaurant, which turned out to be this fast-food Mexican place called El Pollo Loco. It had an all-you-can-take salsa bar. My grandpa suggested that I just ask for water, the cup for which I could fill with free soda from the machine. The amount of freedom in this country just blew my mind.

I was 13 years old, which is a pivotal and awkward age, especially at school. I didn’t understand English. It seemed like everybody was talking too fast and I couldn’t understand it.

The slang and the customs were way over my head. People would say “What’s up?” I had never heard that before. I kept looking at the sky every time I would hear it. Kids in PE class were telling me to sag my pants and I didn’t know what that meant. I was pulling my gym shorts all the way up like I was John Stockton or something.

TME: You write about breaking into standup. You were packing them in – doing killer sets – and your parents came to see you in Las Vegas at Brad Garrett’s comedy club. Your fans loved it. Dad did not. Was he aware at all that he was the subject of a lot of your material?

Yang: He wasn’t and he did not think I was funny at all. I knew better than to ask him for a review. My friend said to him: “Jimmy was so good tonight, right? Richard, do you think he’s funny?” He said: “No. He’s not funny. I don’t understand.” The joke is that his response is now in my act and in my book. He reluctantly admitted that he liked me in “Silicon Valley.” He said “Jimmy, you and that big American guy are funny on that show but your standup is not funny.” It was very much a backhanded compliment.

TME: And the section about your father breaking into show business with help from your agent was amazing. He was nailing auditions left and right. How shocked were you by that?

Yang: He said “Acting is so easy. If you can do it, I can do it.” I said “Fine. I’ll ask my agent if she needs an old Asian guy on her roster.” Apparently, old Asian guys are a hot commodity in Hollywood because there’s only about two of them.

One of my favorite sections of the book is the audition log that I kept, tracking all 101 auditions I failed before I got “Silicon Valley.” So my dad ends up booking his first four out of six auditions which is unheard of for any actor. The plan completely backfired on me.

TME: After going through the process of becoming an American citizen, you probably now know more about American history than most Americans who’ve been here all of their lives. Do you feel that the process of becoming a citizen should be simplified?

Yang: Without getting too political about it, I have some ideas about the naturalization process. It took me years. I was qualified to become a citizen several years ago. It isn’t that I’m unpatriotic. It’s just that I literally did not have the required $750 to file the paperwork until I landed the part on “Silicon Valley.” I finally became a US citizen two years ago.

It’s an interesting process. You have to answer 100 civic questions, and from what I remember from Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” segments, I bet that half of America would not be able to answer most of them. I think they should re-jigger those questions to make them more current. They should be asking things like “What is a pass interference in the NFL?” or “Name five Snoop Dogg songs.” If you can answer those two questions, then you can become a US citizen.

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