Celeste Yim (@celestrogen) on Activism and Bits

Celeste Yim is a Toronto-based comedian. You can find her @celestrogen everywhere and can find her work at celestrogen.com. She’s a Bob Curry fellow at The Second City, where she’ll be putting up a revue at the end of April, and will be performing in Toronto SketchFest tonight with her troupe, The Follies. This week, Yim talked to me about three of her favorite tweets, plus online harrassment, Ryan Gosling, and how to love bits and be angry about systemic racism at the same time.

Yim: These days, I tweet a lot of earnest activist tweets, which I find really funny and tiring. Twitter and comedy are such stupid, endless voids and so many people use them to shout jokes about people’s butts into. I think it’s so funny that now we’ve all, by necessity, converted into accounts/activists that talk about neoliberalism and hegemony and cabinets and stuff. This sweet baby meme is all of us, being dragged out to protests that shouldn’t have to occur about something so fundamental when all we want to do is scribble about butts and chicken fingers and nice things.

Have you found your balance between activist tweets and comedy ones? If so, how? And If not, do you feel a need to find a balance?

Hard no. I’m pretty sure my most popular tweets are ones that are very not funny about very not funny things. Maybe people just aren’t READY for my comedy? I haven’t found a balance between activism and comedy anywhere in my life! Activism can feel really inextricable from who I am and when I do intersect it with comedy, it feels very natural but also very taxing. It’s nice to just do one or the other sometimes, especially on Twitter where the stakes are so low. What a curse to have both a dazzling love of BITS and SKITS and other NICE comedy things and such a reckless anger about systemic racism et cetera?

I feel like I’m always trying to normalize the idea that it’s OK and good to be calling out racism. It’s dangerous to think about race in monolithic terms – and many egg profiles get mad at me about doing so. Obviously not all white people will do blatantly racist things, but in this industry race jokes or racism by white people can feel really inescapable. On Twitter, talking about racism in ways that people like me can understand and respond to makes me feel more ready to approach it in real life. Can white people just be chill about that?

How has the way you tweet changed over time?

I think I care less and less about making tweets pithy or clever. It used to feel like Twitter was important but then I think maybe we all just realized it’s work and: we don’t get paid for it? Like, at all? So now if I’m tweeting something about race I don’t really care enough to format it into a joke, whereas I used to be nervous that no one would care about my hot opinion if it were just naked and blatant. It turns out people do! It’s nice and, as I grow as a comic and writer, I don’t feel the pressure or need to explicitly lace every opinion in comedy so much as I feel obligated to surface things that people – especially in comedy – would never or sparsely otherwise talk about, I see what people do and don’t like, and take it from there. Being honest and talking about difficult, unpalatable things takes a level of sophistication that I save for real work. On Twitter, I just say whatever I want and I think sometimes the vigour with which I do is funny/striking enough.

One time a very incensed dude on Reddit put a bounty out on me, saying he would pay cash money to anyone who could find evidence of me saying something “blatantly racist”. And then within seconds, hundreds of tweets like this one came up and him and his cohorts were verrrrrrrrry upset about how “racist to whites” I am. I have so many tweets about white people that they are almost satirical because of how small their impact will be. Anything I say about white people will never ever change how anyone sees or treats white people. I know this for a fact. Whiteness, especially in the entertainment industry, is so impenetrable and I just really like playing a character who truly believes she is above rich, powerful white people when I (a small Asian girl) am so obviously not.

How did you find out about the Reddit post and did anything become of it? Did you come away with any lessons about how to handle this kind of online harassment?

A dude wrote an article about it for Vice! It was all verrrrrry fun. I wonder if anyone did get paid for it, and if so, someone – I don’t know who – owes me triple that amount. This is my truest opinion. I don’t know if I considered it a learning moment so much as a moment of shock about how bored people are. I guess I learned that regardless of any protest of any kind (especially but not exclusively the fungible kind) reverse racism continues to be: fake. I learned that the kinds of dudes who are upset about reverse racism are: rich. And also: should get hobbies. I learned that I made no money, even though I am: a goddamn hero. I try not to pay attention to online harassment because it is so extensive and, most annoyingly, soooo uncreative. This was an instance which was mildly interesting at least, but in general people (men) always protest me in the exact same way (i.e. you are racist to white people, you are a snowflake, you are Asian, you are an Asian snowflake, etc.). If you’re going to be offensive, at least pique my interest! I’m not made of time!

Are there any other characters or points of view you like tweeting from?

It’s fun to mirror so many weird corners of Twitter where people just talk about things they know nothing about. I try to act very naive about things I know a lot about. I’ll just make grandiose, untrue statements because that is what every oppressive person does to assert power. I’ll tweet that Ryan Gosling really wishes he weren’t white. It’s so cathartic. And then, for continuity, when people (men) oppose me, I act like I don’t know what they are talking about. In my bio, for instance, I call myself “the first ever Asian female comedian” and this really riles up some people (men) who find my profile. I’ve received thousands of messages saying either a) “Haven’t you heard of Margaret Cho?” or b) “Haven’t you heard of Ali Wong?” And never any suggestions other than those – obviously. It’s so good. Maybe if I get bored one day, I’ll change it to the “third ever Asian female comedian” and see how that goes.

Jenny Nelson lives, writes, and performs in Brooklyn.

Celeste Yim (@celestrogen) on Activism and Bits