“Coming Out” to My Parents About Doing Standup Comedy

Jenny Yang Jokes a Tuesday Night Project, Little Tokyo, Los Angeles

I work snark for the money.

Yeah. I said it. I “came out” to my parents that I’m serious about comedy. Let’s be real here: I have no real comparison to what it might feel like to have to “Come Out” to my parents in the traditional, sexuality sense. But I’d like to think that telling my parents that I’m taking “joking” rather seriously was like a close friend of a distant cousin to the real “Coming Out” experience. I started doing comedy a couple years ago. After a few months I realized I liked it and will pursue it while I kept my day job. So I figure, I should probably tell my parents, cuz that’s what a normal adult child would want to share with their parents when they make a large time commitment to a new hobby that brings them joy.

We were at our regular local hotspot, the Souplantation. That’s an all-you-can-eat salad, soup and baked goods bar where Torrance families like to go to have their unsupervised children smear their nose-picking fingers in the rainbow sprinkles bowl by the frozen yogurt machine. That place is so crowded and old I can’t imagine how they could have kept that place clean since I started going there twenty years ago.  I’d wonder why I haven’t gotten sick from that place but I figure I’ve gone there so many times my bowels have developed a strong immunity to Souplantation’s microbes.  They say they have specific hours but it feels like they are never closed. They have this never-ending buffet line of people who like to eat food from their trays with bare hands while they wait for my older Chinese parents to balance the sunflower seed spoon over to their own plate.

During the prolonged silence and everyday drivel that is usually the extent of my conversation with my parents over meals, I decided to tell them that I was starting to do comedy. This is exactly how it went, translated from Chinese.

Me: Mom, Dad. Did you know I took a class on how to tell jokes?” (I don’t know how to translate the term “standup comedy”) You know. Where you tell jokes in front of a group of people to entertain them.
Dad: Oh yeah?
Mom: (Silence – continued sipping of her chicken noodle soup)
Me: Yeah. It’s fun. I’ve been having a good time with it.
Dad: That’s nice. Performing sounds exciting.
Dad: (To my mom) Did you want some of my pizza? It’s good.
Me: What do you think? It’s kinda cool right?
Mom: Well I don’t know. How much did the class cost?
Me: Oh. Well it was 8 weeks and we met each week for a few hours. I donno. over $200?
Mom: (Does mental calculations and writes them with her fingers on her palm) Oh well that’s not bad.
Mom: (To my dad) Here. Take this. I can’t finish any more.
Dad: Well if it’s interesting to you that’s good.
Mom: (Silence)
Me: What do you think about that Mom? (I just couldn’t let it go)
Mom: I don’t know if I like it. Because telling jokes is always those dirty jokes.  They always say bad things about their family members, too.  And people tell them at night in those dirty bars. They’re dangerous. Is that where you’re going? You have to be careful in those places.
Me: (But mom you have never gone outside of the house. How would you know?) It’s not like that mom. It’s fine. Not dangerous at all. People are nice.
Mom: Yeah well you’re only doing it for fun, right?
Me: Yeah.
Dad: You have to try this brocolli. It’s sweet.

Before we proceed, NOTE that my mom’s FIRST reaction was to ask how much the class cost and proceed to do precise calculations to see if I overpaid. Kudos to mom for staying in-character! I would expect nothing less.

Something that is typically considered frivolous like comedy and joke-telling was probably not what my parents had in mind for me we moved from Taiwan when I was five-years old. I probably built up the moment of telling them about doing stand-up a little bit in my mind because I didn’t know how negative their reaction would be. It wasn’t like I was announcing to them a whole new lifestyle – I was still keeping my day job (for the time being). What I did realize was that I could still feel like I was engaging with them and honoring my relationship with them by letting them know about this change in my life. I didn’t have to feel like my self-worth was pinned onto their support of my decision. It wasn’t like I said “Mom, Dad. I decided to become a private escort, turning tricks for money.” That, I’d imagine, may elicit more of an intervention. “Informing” them becomes more of a “courtesy” rather than a “request for approval.” Well, that’s kinda nice.

How about you? Did you ever have to have a “Coming Out” conversation about your creative pursuits with your family or loved ones? What was that like for you? What was their reaction? Or was it not a big deal at all? Holler.

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15 responses to ““Coming Out” to My Parents About Doing Standup Comedy”

  1. your loyal fan says :

    love the inaugural post! i haven’t had a coming out moment but my mom totally does the whole calculations things on her palm a lot. looking fwd to more posts!

    • Jenny Yang says :

      awww…thanks “your loyal fan”! 🙂 i’m fixin’ to write regularly to get my creative juices flowin’! appreciate the feedback!! it’s what this is all about!

  2. Patrick Ross says :

    This is a great story, seems like it could work well in a comedy routine!

    I noted your mom went first for the $ analysis, but I really liked it when she shifted focus to suggest you were joining Fight Club…

    • Jenny Yang says :

      Thanks, Patrick! Man. That’s the hope! To translate some of my blog musings into my routine. 🙂 You got me figured out!

      Hahah! Yeah. I love my parents and they are like TWO generations older than me and I guess it’s to be expected that they’d think comedy was seedy and dangerous or something. Hahah!

  3. Cindy says :

    So mine was a coming out in the actual sense. A lot of feigned surprise, ’cause no one really was. Not really. …and then the whole “we didn’t raise you this way” crap. It’s all the same. Parents have expectations. It’s our job to disappoint them. 🙂

    You should most definitely work your coming out into your routine. It’s funny. Even better, it’s funny because it’s true.

    • Jenny Yang says :

      Hahahah! That’s awesome Cindy. I really appreciate your point about how “it’s our job to disappoint them.” I’ve been thinking about that idea…like that there’s a difference between reacting to what your parents expect just to react and rebel VERSUS making a kind of choice within yourself about your path that may not happen to fall in line with you parents expecations. You know what I mean? I’ve been trying to figure out how one can make that distinction for themselves, especially if you are like an 8th grader or young high schooler who makes all these huge decisions about your life in just those tender years.

      And thanks for the encouragement! I’m definitely stoked to figure out a way to convert some of my blog material into my standup routine. Will DEFINITELY report back on how that goes!!!!

  4. cynthiahussey says :

    Hey Jenny, Most of all, good for you for following your creative drives. I can’t wait for your podcast. I like its description at the top of your page. Congrats also on coming out to the folks. It’s true that we all fear disappointing them, because we so desperately want them to be proud of us.

    I’m actually unbelievably lucky in that department, and I’m sure there must be others, too. My parents are never disappointed by me. In fact, they’re proud of me, the aspiring screenwriter (and my brother, the aspiring magician). They have always been and still are completely supportive of my goals and efforts. I know I am amazingly fortunate. And I truly treasure my parents.

    So to anyone who’s a parent, here’s a small suggestion: be supportive of your kids and their ambitions. It really will help to create an amazing relationship with them.

    • Jenny Yang says :

      Hi Cynthia! Thank you for the affirmation. Certainly, since I’ve embarked on my creative adventures in earnest I have actively surrounded myself with like-minded and supportive folks (including people like YOU online!). I have five episodes up on my site so DO feel free to stream or download. 🙂 My parents have pretty much accepted my independent choices…mostly by not really asking about it. Hahah.

      It’s really great that you have parents who are proud of you for being a screenwriter (I say…drop the “aspiring” part.)

      What I love about ALL of this is I’ve been inspired to write a series of books that kids like my high school-age nephew can use to help them think through navigating parental expectations with their own self-development. Wish me luck!

      Do let me know what you think once you’ve listened to the podcasts! I would sincerely value your opinion, especially if there is anything discussed that you feel particularly useful for your own process. I’m going into a phase of feedback and focus right now to help me guide my new podcast format starting September.

      Jenny Yang

  5. Brandon says :

    Wow I feel the same way I tried to tell my mom I wanted to do stand-up and it was like I was telling her I wanted to smoke crack on my church’s steps. Plus I told her I didn’t want to go to college and so I went to college and flunked out and now our relationship is sloppy.

    • Jenny Yang says :

      Oh man, Brandon! Sorry to hear about that. I think it’s often so challenging for parents to fight their instinct to want “stability” and “success” for their children and embrace such an unfamiliar career path like stand-up comedy. I guess it sucks that there isn’t as “clear” of a career path to comedic success than say becoming a successful lawyer, accountant or doctor. Harumph. Are you still doing stand-up now?

  6. drlisachu says :

    Courteous of you, indeed. I was laughing out loud because it reminded me of one of my clients’ telling me about a conversation with his mom about taking acting classes. It did not go as smoothly as yours!

    I found this site through your comedy one, and it’s reassuring to know that I’m not the only one with more than 3 websites representing “my work” these days.

    I am a proud “Bad Asian Daughter”, pursuing the creative life after getting a Harvard degree, a medical degree, having been a partner in a VC firm, and having owned my own violin school for kids in Silicon Valley. Now I live by the ocean, play in an acoustic rock duo (http://chinesemelodrama.com), work at REI part-time, and do life coaching for fellow human beings in need of creative soul recovery.

    LOVE what you’re doing and sharing in the world. Thank you!

    • Jenny Yang says :

      I’m so glad you got a good laugh, Dr. Lisa! I love that you are life coaching now. Sounds like we may be cut from the same cloth, hahahah. We need more life coaches and healers who have been healing themselves! 🙂

  7. Dougie says :

    Hey Jenny, I have always wanted to perform standup comedy. It’s has been my dream since I saw Jerry Seinfeld perform when I was a child. However, I have been reluctant to start getting up on stage since I feel my parents would not approve of me doing so. However, Jenny Ive wanted to chase this dream for too long and I cant keep what Im passionate about in any longer. I have taken several comedy classes and I even for my senior seminar in college studied the art of the joke and why we laugh. I just wanted to know how you gathered up the courage to tell your parents you were serious about comedy? I have a unique sense of humor and I have been told my sense of humor is unlike anyone then they have ever met. I’m not saying that my sense of humor is something that will automatically capture audiences but I would like to find out. So if you have any suggestions for me that would great. THANKS

    • Jenny Yang says :

      Hey Dougie! Sorry it took me so long to respond! I’ve been more active on my jennyyang.tv blog so find me over there! I’ve retired this CreativLife podcast 🙂

      What I have to say is that you are on the right track if you have even committed your studies to the art of comedy. It shows you have a real passion for it! I think there are the right times in our lives for us to reveal such things to our parents, depending on what our relationship is with them and just where we personally are in terms of our commitment to the comedy craft. I told my parents FINALLY because I felt like comedy was becoming such a big part of my life, it would feel like i wasn’t being honest with them if I didn’t at least let them KNOW I was doing it. We don’t have a very “chatty” relationship anyway so just informing them would have been adequate. But I was glad I did it because it just makes for me to feel like a more “whole” person if I ever had to refer to it in conversation.

      What do you think about that? What are you afraid of if you had to tell your parents? Their reaction? Their disapproval? Would they disapprove so much that it would affect your life in a real and meaningful way? (eg. hurt your relationship with them, they’d “cut you off” financially etc.)

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