comedians you should know

Not to Humblebrag, But Robin Tran Knows She’s a Genius

Photo-Illustration: Selman Hoşgör; Photo Courtesy of Subject

This week, we’re highlighting 22 talented writers and performers for Vulture’s annual list “Comedians You Should and Will Know.” Our goal is to introduce a wider audience to the talent that has the comedy community and industry buzzing. (You can read more about our methodology at the link above.) We asked the comedians on the list to answer a series of questions about their work, comedy during the pandemic, and more. Next up is Robin Tran.

When did you feel that you were funny enough to make a legitimate go at comedy?
I didn’t think I was funny enough for a long time. I didn’t do it because I thought I was funny, I did it because I loved the art form so much and wanted to share my insights with the world and just kidding it was to get laid, and it worked!

But seriously, I just loved the art form of stand-up and wanted to be part of that world. I’ve known logically for a long time that I’m good at stand-up because I studied and watched it my entire life, but that’s different than knowing that you’re funny offstage.

I didn’t actually truly internalize how funny I was until my Just for Laughs set, where I literally say “Oh I’m really funny” out loud on camera. It was a revelation that took nine years to reach, and I’m amused it happened on camera, and now everything feels more fun than it ever has.
Describe your comedy in five words.
Mischievous shit-stirring Asian trans lesbian.
What of your work do you think you’re best known for, and what of your work are you most proud of?
There are two I’m most known for:

Coming out to my Vietnamese mother with a language barrier, which people call “born boy brain girl.” I wrote this joke while I was actually coming out, because it was the first time I ever disassociated from my body and it felt like I was looking down at myself coming out to her, and I wrote the joke in my brain simultaneously because it was the only way to cope with the intensity of the moment. But don’t feel sympathy for me, I’m only sharing these details to humblebrag about how I’m a genius!

And my Roast Battle with Joe Eurell, a comedian with cerebral palsy, has achieved a small cult status. This is also the work I’m most proud of. We received two standing ovations after delivering the most brutal jokes we can to each other. It’s been popping up on random sites and Reddit, and a lot of famous comedians have retweeted it. One of the few clips that brought the edgelords and SJWs together.

If there were a ’90s-style sitcom built around you and your material, in which you had to have a different job than comedian, what would be the title and logline?
Trans roast battler from Little Saigon is forced to live with her white girlfriend’s family. It’s called Fresh Princess of Orange County.

What have you done for comedy during COVID that you thought you would never do?
I became a TikTok star! And I started creating memes (maybe I’m the only one excited about this one). I started looking at social media as a place to perform because so many people would be home, and I figured introverts need entertainment too.

I wasn’t waiting around for stand-up to come back. I thought in my mind, Pretend stand-up is over for good. Figure something else out. So I taught myself how to make videos and memes and had a blast every single day. I got over 175,000 TikTok followers during COVID.
Who are some of your favorite comedians right now? Who is putting out work that excites and inspires you?
Eddie Pepitone’s For the Masses special is my favorite of all time. I think it’s just perfect and almost every joke is good enough to be a closer. Otherwise, there are just too many to count, because most of my favorite comedians are also friends I see around, so I fall in love with comedy bits I see in the moment. I’m sorry to be vague. I oftentimes see comedy through the lens of specific jokes rather than specific people.

And I’ve also stopped looking to others as inspiration, and I try to look at myself from the outside as a fan, and try to make myself do work that would inspire that comedy fan within me. My goal every day is to think a thought that surprises me, so I can always keep myself on my toes and remain unpredictable.

What is the best comedy advice, and then the worst comedy advice, you’ve ever received, either when you were starting out or more recently?
The best comedy advice I ever received was from my father. He used to do comedy. In 2017 I asked him what he used to think about while performing. He said, “No, don’t think, because thinking will take away from what makes you naturally funny. You know how to tell a story. You don’t have to think when you’re telling your girlfriend a funny story, right?”

For the longest time, I didn’t understand. Because trying to think about not thinking is still thinking. So I spent the next few years working on my self-confidence so I could trust myself that I’m funny and I know what I’m doing. It was very recent I was finally able to go onstage and not think, and it was the greatest set of my life. Now every set I have is a fun surprise because even I’m not sure what I might say.

The worst advice? So many to count. A lot of bad advice from male comedian gatekeepers who bully open mic’ers with these comedian “rules.” A lot about not ruffling feathers. They’re always mocking people voicing their opinions on social media. They sound so outdated; it’s like they want stand-up to become Blockbuster Video.

Anyways, I was mocked for years for cutting up comedy clips and posting them, tweeting a lot, posting my opinions nonstop. I was called lazy and told I wasn’t “grinding enough.” I was mocked for putting up TikTok videos of my stand-up. And then COVID happened! Whoops! And oh boy did they wish they built some kind of online presence after the stage was taken away. Sorry if I sound bitter about them, it’s only because I still am.
Tell us one story from your childhood that is a good representation of your life.
One time I asked my mom if I could go outside and play and she said no because she just had a dream that it was raining blood, and then I developed agoraphobia for 28 years.
What’s an embarrassingly earnest goal you have?
I want to become a pro-wrestling backstage interviewer. It’s a shame I’m an Asian transgender lesbian and it’s all people want to hear about because I know more about pro wrestling than everything else I know in my life combined, cause I’ve been watching for 31 years. It’s a part of my coming-out story I always leave out, because there would be too much backstory to “It all started when Daniel Bryan got eliminated early at the 2015 Royal Rumble …”

 If you had the power to remove anything from the comedy world right now, from trends with material to how the industry operates, what would it be?
I would get rid of nepotism before anything else. I can overcome a lot. I truly think I was funny enough to overcome a fair amount of racism and transphobia. But I don’t think I can overcome, “Yeah sorry, we decided to go with my son-in-law instead, better luck next time!”

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Not to Humblebrag, But Robin Tran Knows She’s a Genius