So many comedians have shticks. Whether it be drugs or delivery or how they treat the crowd, there’s no shortage of how that comedian can perform their set. But there often comes a time when a comedian is stuck in the rut of their set. They have to stick and move; landing jokes in places where they look like they shouldn’t land. In short: a comedian must evolve past hokey practices to find an entirely different level of funny.
Joel Kim Booster would’ve had a shtick twenty years ago. He’s gay. Easy. He’s Asian. The jokes write themselves. He was adopted by white people. Seriously? But he’s so much more. From already appearing on Conan to being recognized by the world’s premiere comedy festival, Booster is working his way to the top. And no one is stopping him.
I caught Booster in between gigs to talk to him about all things comedy.
How was being a part of Just For Laughs’ New Faces?
Joel Kim Booster: It was a huge honor. Obviously JFL is a hugely respected institution within our industry, but more than anything I’m super thankful I went with the New Faces group I did. I just genuinely loved and respected everyone I performed with. Being there as a new face, I've definitely heard stories before, of how competitive it can get, but I never felt that way with my group. For one glorious week comedy didn't feel like a zero sum game and we could just be wholly supportive.
You grew up adopted. How did your early life pave the way to comedy?
Joel Kim Booster: I guess I just got used to upending people's expectations at a really young age (people thought I'd be white, but I wasn't! Wow!) but I think more than the adoption, the homeschooled thing really influenced me. I just never developed certain social filters, and my earliest memories of making people laugh was just being sort of outrageously honest with them, which is definitely a big part of my act.
Your Conan set has to be one of the crispest sets in recent memory. With late night standup being a big event in the early days of the genre, how was it performing on one of the only shows that still features standups?
Joel Kim Booster: Everybody told me that Conan was the best place to have your first late night set, and I have to believe that's true. Everyone, including Conan and Andy, was so warm and supportive. It was a huge, sort of disorienting thing, but that made things easier. I tend to move around a lot, but I was so nervous during the taping, I couldn't get my legs to move. I think it's the only time I've performed comedy completely stationary.
Were you really stood up by three men on three first dates? If so, fuck those guys. A call or text at the very least would’ve been nice.
Joel Kim Booster: Yeah, that is for real! I'm honestly not sure what happened there— all OKCupid boys too. Go figure. I just hope they didn't make it to the bar and then turn around? Somehow it's more comforting to think they stayed at home or, like the bit says, dead.
Being both gay and Asian automatically has you in two different camps. How are you able to use these aspects of yourself as an advantage on an unsuspecting crowd?
Joel Kim Booster: I think it adds some layers that hopefully makes some of my material on those subjects a little more surprising. I think people are used to hearing gay comedians now and Asian comedians. But both? Wow. Truly wild.
This blog post on your site is amazingly inspiring:
“I’ve spent my entire career trying to prove that I’m funny despite being gay. Running full speed away from the “gay comic” label because I was afraid if people said that about me it somehow ghettoized me away from the regular comics and the kinds of opportunities they got. That it would always hang over accomplishments like this.”
I think it perfectly encapsulates not just you but other comedians who are viewed as falling into certain categories. How has your journey defined your subsequent success?
Joel Kim Booster: It's weird. On one level, I'd like to say it doesn't matter at all— only the truly shitty comedians ever make my sexuality or race an issue. But the longer I do this, and the more successful I get I see more and more that the industry (whatever that means) is sort of increasingly more interested in watering you down and fitting you into s box that makes sense to them. I'm still trying to figure out how comfortable I am with it all on that level, but when it comes to my material or who I am as a comic, not a commodity, I'm not concerned with it so much.
You’re writing on Billy on the Street. Do you find it difficult to get into the mindset of someone else (in this case, Billy) as you write?
Joel Kim Booster: Yes and no. Billy is amazing and has a very specific voice, but it also happens to be one of the most fun to try and approximate. I'm not a stellar monologue joke writer— I could never write for Fallon or any of those guys, but coming up with bits about Shailene Woodley? That I can do. The whole process was a blast.
You’re pretty active on Twitter. Do you find it a valuable platform to get jokes across to the audience both new and old?
Joel Kim Booster: No, Twitter is bad. It just is. It's fun to write jokes for a very— VERY— specific audience (half the shit I tweet would NEVER work on stage) and the character limit is a fun writing challenge at times, but ultimately I think Twitter is hell. There's not enough context and without that, I think comedy is less fun. But I'm fully addicted and will never stop using it.