Charlyne Yi on Retiring From Acting and Comedy to Focus on Music

Independent musicians are often thought of as self-serious crybabies, holding their craft to the highest imaginable standards and scoffing at anything resembling fun. Often, that’s not the case, however, as many musicians moonlight with comedic output, and vice versa. From follow-worthy Twitter accounts to viral videos and other projects, we’re here to point out some of the most interesting crossovers between the worlds of independent music and comedy.

If anyone fits the role of “creative” as noun rather than adjective, it’s Los Angeles-based artist Charlyne Yi. From turns in Apatow comedies like This is 40 and Knocked Up (not to mention her incredible Step Brothers DVD featurette) to a left-field role on Fox’s dad favorite House and Paper Heart, her fascinating 2009 meta-rom-com, she boasts a respectably diverse IMDb profile.

Her resume goes way deeper, however, as she’s also spent years as a fixture at the Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles as well as a comedic YouTube champion. And none of that includes her various musical endeavors, from her charming, often intimate solo work and countless Los Angeles bands, including the art-damaged post-punk of Keychain, her mid-2000s Paul Rust collaboration as The Glass Beef and Broken Eyes, a recent group with XBXRX member and video director Vice Cooler.

Currently, she plays in a band called The Rangdangs and writes poetry on Twitter. In our interview, she promised an exciting new project coming this year, but don’t expect to see her on the big screen any time soon. After all, she also told us that she’s retired from comedy and acting.

Did you get into comedy first and then start playing music or vice versa?

I started trying to play guitar in high school. The first thing I learned was a sloppy version of “La Bamba” that I have yet to master. Although, in first grade I used to eat the popsicles with the jokes on the sticks and tell them to the two girls who were trying to be my friend. But then, when I was one years old I used to mumble the words to “Somewhere Out There” from American Tale. But…. then when I was in my mom’s stomach, she used to say I always played knock-knock jokes in her belly. Hmm… this sounds like “the chicken or the egg” question.

Are comedy and music linked, in your mind, or do they come from a different part of you? 

Music is always with me, through sadness and happiness, and everything in between. I’m always singing along in the streets. Comedy comes and goes, it’s hard to find sometimes. Sometimes it’s there and I don’t even know it. I made a little doggy-door, in case it ever wants to come back. It comes on it’s own terms.

When you write songs, do you have humor in mind?

Most of my songs tend to be from a sad or angry place, but sometimes they’re so intense they can be funny. There’s a fine line that anything can teeter. Sometimes all that “darkness” is uncomfortably funny. It’s hard to take myself serious sometimes, sometimes it’s impossible.

What about as a means of self-expression… does music communicate something that you can’t communicate with comedy?

I feel like there’s less pressure to listen with music.  It can be in the background, people can listen, and multi-task.  They can absorb it while doing other things like having a conversation.  But it’s impossible to react to comedy if you’re not fully absorbed in the words or visuals of the performer.  I like that people can feel music even though they’re not having to concentrate on the music.  They can absorb it regardless of direct attention.

From a distance, you seem to be involved in many very different scenes, from the Apatow crew and mainstream television to the UCB and even The Smell. Where do you feel most comfortable?

Music is everything to me. I feel most comfortable playing music. Maybe I don’t look the most comfortable playing.  But I am still learning. I’ve always wanted to be in a band since I was in fifth grade and saw the film That Thing You Do. I never thought, “I want to be a person pretending to play drums in a moving picture, or stand on a stage and talk into a microphone forever and make people laugh.” Acting was an accidental survival move, and comedy was something I came upon per chance and got addicted to. But now I retired from both. I don’t ever see myself not create sounds from an instrument, or humming a new melody.

Sorry, do you mean to say you’ve officially retired from comedy and acting? What brought about that decision? The people need to know!

No one knew me well enough for acting or comedy to be like “Oh no! She’s retired? Officially??” Haha. I think the world will be okay. Comedy, I just accidentally stopped doing it, and noticed after a year, then two years, then thought “Hey maybe I should perform since I haven’t done it in a long time,” and I did a “come-back, farewell show” here I did my last show. I don’t really have the urge to perform comedy anymore. No big instance changed my feelings. I just love to do a lot of things. And right now I want to learn. Also, I never really considered myself a comedian. I just thought of myself as a performer, because I wouldn’t necessarily tell jokes, I’d story tell, play songs, dance, and play games with the audience. So I was always roaming about wanting to do more than just accidentally make people laugh during the process of everything else. And now I’m more interested in singing and dancing and other things. Acting, like I mentioned earlier was an accident. I needed to support myself. And sometimes I got to do things that were similar to my stage-performances so that was cool.

Who are some musicians that you look up to? What about comics?

Tchaikovsky is cool. My friend Nathan Fielder is really funny.

What do you want your career to look like, or do you not think about that?

I want to make things that are fun. And be happy. That’s all.

It’s hard to keep track of the bands you have been and currently are in. Can you tell me what you’re working on musically right now?

I’ve been a lot of  bands that broke up. But currently I’m only in one band, The Rangdangs. And hopefully, in the works, is another band that will only perform at churches and temples and all proceeds from the shows would go to homelessness or good causes like that. Also, I am working with a great mate on a TSP (top secret project) that will have music in it. But this project will be revealed later this summer.

You’ve collaborated with so many different people in both bands and sketches. Do you prefer to work with others? Who are some people you dream of working with?

Sometimes I like working on my own. It depends on the project. I haven’t any real dreams of folks I wish to work with. I get excited meeting new people who are creatively amazing all the time. So I just am excited that so many cool people exist.

What else have you got going on?

I’m currently writing poetry. And planning on trying to learn how to build chairs and mugs. And the other stuff I mentioned about the new band, and the TSP (top secret plan).

In your opinion, who is the funniest person in the world?

My little sister. And my boyfriend. And oh yeah Harpo Marx.

Josiah Hughes is a freelance writer and the music and film editor at Fast Forward Weekly.

Charlyne Yi on Retiring From Acting and Comedy to […]