Sierra Katow (@sierrakatow) is an LA-based comedian and writer who’s performed on NBC’s Last Comic Standing, Laughs on Fox, and Last Call with Carson Daly. You can learn more on her website, and catch her in an upcoming show. Sierra is currently a producer of the podcast Queery with Cameron Esposito and recently finished working on Take My Wife, which, since the Seeso shutdown, needs a new home. :(
This week, Sierra talked to me about the visibility of Asian Americans in Hollywood and the awkwardness inherent in accepting compliments.
Apparently disney is starting its global search for a Chinese actress to play live action Mulan. I don’t get it. Is Matt Damon busy?— Sierra Katow (@sierrakatow) October 5, 2016
The ridiculousness of Hollywood whitewashing makes it too easy to tweet about it. Luckily, this was in response to a headline saying that Disney was looking for a Chinese actor to play Mulan which for some reason made the news even though, duh it’s Mulan. Chinese hero. Saves China. Why the hell should it be a headline that they’re actually looking for a real live Chinese actor? That should be expected, no? My sister and I grew up on Mulan and I didn’t realize how impactful that movie was on us young Asian gals until I watched it just recently and was like, “Oh my god. This is what I’ve been trying to emulate my entire life. Someone give me some weights and I’ll climb a damn pole!”
Wow, yes, Mulan is everything. My mom didn’t let me watch any Disney princess movies except for Mulan because she didn’t think the others were strong women, so I used to think Disney was super into Asian people.
That’s incredible. Your mom sounds like someone I would definitely follow into battle.
When did you realize there weren’t very many Asians in Hollywood? Did you ever have a moment where it went from being the unquestioned norm to something that outraged you?
I don’t know when I realized it, but I must’ve been aware pretty young because I remember trying to conjure Asians where there were none. Like if anyone looked remotely Asian I was quick to welcome them into the fam. Like John Legend. I mean kinda, right… like a quarter? I mean, he’s not, but hey this was way before his marriage to Chrissy Teigen, so I must’ve been onto something at least. Then there were a lot of white folks with really dark brown hair who got my hopes up or even people with Asian last names, like Justin Long, who I thought maybe could be half, but then I’d discover later that it was all in my head. It was pretty slim pickings as a kid but now there are more Asian actors onscreen and I obsess over them.
Since recently it’s been a larger conversation, I’ve become more outraged. I think before it felt more like a personal problem, but realizing that representation is something a lot of people care about, I’m more energized by the thought of sticking up for it.
New to this DM thing pic.twitter.com/rlyy7kgqa5 — Sierra Katow (@sierrakatow) December 15, 2016
Haters gonna hate. Creepers gonna creep. I just thought this was a pretty embarrassing way to DM someone so I made it public. Afterward, the guy came back at me with some not so nice DMs, but at least now he’ll hopefully think before coming at a stranger on Twitter with a line like that.
Ugh, this is so gross!! Kudos to you for making it funny. How often do you get weirdly racial comments like this on Twitter, or in general while doing comedy?
I’ve definitely woken up to YouTube comments on some of my standup videos that weren’t too fun to read and trolls don’t respond well to the fact that I’m pretty visibly Asian and a woman and talk about it. But the upside is that I learned to turn off my phone notifications, which is great – I keep the trolls out at the expense of being a little slower to respond to snaps.
Hey, good for you for turning off notifications and ignoring that noise. What’s something else that you’re really proud of?
I’m pretty proud of how steadfastly I’ve stood by wearing Crocs - I think I’m going on year 7. In fact, Twitter’s a great platform to defend Crocs (I probably should’ve shared those tweets instead of these three). I consider myself an unofficial Crocs spokesperson. I think the official one is John Cena but I’m hoping to follow in his footsteps. We have similar builds.
I tend to downplay everything, well some things sometimes, or not really whatever it’s not that great anyway.— Sierra Katow (@sierrakatow) August 24, 2015
This is one of those fun, self-aware tweets. But, hey, it is true that I downplay a lot of stuff, especially when it comes to talking about myself. I’m trying to work on avoiding saying phrases like “Oh I’m just working on this thing, it’s silly,” or whatever minimizing language we’re (interpret “we’re” as you want) taught to use to avoid coming off too cocky. There will come a day when I can speak with self-confidence and not want to climb under a rock right after, but until that day comes you can reach me under this rock. Thank you.
I interpreted “we’re” to mean you and Selena Gomez. Anyway, do you also have trouble accepting compliments? Does accepting praise feel weird to you?
Interpreting “we’re” as me and Selena Gomez is the highest compliment anyone has given me and I’m having no trouble accepting it, if that’s any evidence. Of course, it’s probably common for a lot of people in comedy to have a tough time accepting compliments. For me, maybe it just sounds like I’m taking myself too seriously. That’s probably why I’ve always gravitated towards jokes with self-deprecation, plus humor’s a great way to deflect compliments so if you’ve developed that tool then chances are it might turn into a reflex.
Hey, nice rock.
Sorry, can’t take this compliment.
Karen Chee is a writer/performer who contributes regularly to The New Yorker and McSweeney’s.