Comedian Tina Kim sells out shows on both coasts with her wit and charisma. So can someone please give her a sitcom?
By CAROLINE AOYAGI, Executive Editor, Pacific Citizen
NORTH HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – March 18, 2005 – “I see myself as the next Ellen Degeneres or the next Rosie O’Donnell,” said comedian Tina Kim, as she digs into her lunch of spicy Thai chicken and rice.
It’s a bold statement by any up-and-coming comedian’s standards but the words role off of Kim’s tongue matter-of-factly as she continues to launch one rip-roaring joke after another during a recent interview. That’s because Kim has got the talent to back up her words and most importantly — she knows it.
“I always wanted to be a star and I have the desire and the want to be a star,” said Kim, her words colliding into each other as she hurries to complete her thoughts. “I want my own sitcom; I want to be in the movies. It’s already been developed and it’s ready to go. I’m ready.”
Kim’s rock steady confidence didn’t materialize overnight. The 30ish Korean American’s first career was as a TV news reporter and anchor in small towns like Missoula, Montana and Yakima, Washington. But after a few years of disillusionment, she sold her car in 1998 and bolted for New York to begin her new career as “Tina Kim — Comedian.”
As a child, Kim’s only Asian American mentor was broadcast journalist Connie Chung, but it was when she first saw comedians Henry Cho and Margaret Cho that she realized comedy was the path she was meant to take.
“I was mesmerized. When I saw Margaret Cho I thought I could do that,” said Kim. “If I didn’t see Margaret Cho I would not have gotten into comedy. But because I saw her I believed I too could do it.”
Kim spent two years taking comedy classes — something she advises comic hopefuls to never do — and put in her time with several temp agencies. Kim even worked for free at comedy clubs answering phones and handing out tickets in order to get five minutes of stage time.
But talent is hard to suppress and soon, comedy club owners began to notice and book her for gigs. Soon she was producing her own shows and her efforts have earned her rave reviews in The Seattle Times, The Boston Globe and CNN. During the first season of “The Last Comic Standing” Kim was the only AA female to appear on the show.
“The crowds basically love me everywhere. My comedy is for everyone,” said Kim. “It’s all about me; it’s all about charisma. I can say whatever I want and people will go with it because they like me.”
“I know if Jay Leno ever saw me he would book me like that,” said Kim, with a dramatic snap of her fingers. “I know he would but I have no connections. But in due time it will all happen.”
Kim’s humor is something everyone can relate to whether it’s dating hell or her love of British men with buff arms, a nagging mother, or yo-yo dieting nightmares, most of us have been there and done that. And that’s what makes Kim’s humor, well, so darn funny.
“My wittiness and my life — I laugh at things —that’s how I come up with things,” she said. “I can’t sit at home and come up with ideas. That’s the last thing I would do.”
The youngest of four siblings, Kim moved to Seattle, Washington from Korea with her parents at the age of four. Much of her routine delves into her life growing up in a Korean American family and the dualities that naturally come about are something most Asian Pacific Americans can easily relate to.
As a female, Korean American comic the comparisons to comedian Margaret Cho are obvious and it’s something Kim has had to deal with her entire career. Although Kim has always admired Cho’s career, she notes that they are very different.
“I don’t get really pissed off because they only know Margaret Cho. My comedy is totally different from hers,” said Kim. “So I tell them come and watch me and you’ll see the difference. You’ll see we’re completely different although we’re both Korean.
Last year Kim made the move to Los Angeles “to become a star” and is adjusting to life on the West Coast where “the men never ask you out.” As with all full-time comics waiting for their big break, Kim still worries about earning enough money to cover rent, car payments, and everything else that comes with big city living.
“Comedy is the hardest business ever. You can’t survive doing comedy — only the rich and famous,” she said. “They’re already famous so for them it’s fun time to run up on stage. Otherwise you don’t make anything in comedy.”
Unlike most comedians, Kim does not have a manager or agent. She books her own shows and has learned to do it all, including promotion, sales, producing, and artwork. She even learned to develop and design her own website, www.tinakim.com, that boasts about 2,000 Tina Kim fan club members.
But after eight years of working the club circuit and making a name for herself, Kim is still waiting for her big break and she admits that sometimes feelings of discouragement creep in.
“Some days I get discouraged. It gets lonely and sometimes I can’t handle it anymore,” she said. “But I snap out of it; I gotta keep going. I can’t give up my dream because my dream is everybody else’s dream … and that keeps me going. I’ve come this far and there are a lot of people who want me to make it.”
With so few AAs comics, especially, AA female comedians, Kim knows first hand how difficult it is to get recognition and the opportunity to showcase her talent.
“I have a double whammy because I’m a woman and I’m Asian. So they’re like, ‘Oh, she’s Asian. We don’t have a lot of Asians that come to the shows so she can’t perform.’ That’s my obstacle.”
In the next couple of months Kim will be releasing her second CD, this time produced by David Drozen of Uproar! Entertainment who has worked with well-known acts like Margaret Cho, George Carlin, and Denis Leary. Ultimately, Kim wants to be a sitcom star where she can bring her own brand of humor into millions of American homes.
Kim also would like to find a husband, preferably someone like British hunk Robbie Williams, and have kids. “I want to get married right away because I love kids and I want a family,” she said. “But whoever I marry has to be rich because I’m not going to suffer anymore,” she said with a giggle. “I’m not in my 20s anymore. I want to be able to have a house and decorate it!”
Kim does not shy away from the title of “the next Margaret Cho” but is paving a path that is distinctively her own. And she is more than willing to embrace the role of mentor for up and coming comics, both AA and non-AAs.
“I have to make it big. That’s what I want and that’s what I see,” said Kim. “When I get to that point, I will open all the doors.”
“There are a lot of AAs that want to make it but just struggle and they give up,” she added. “So it’s going to take the strong to make it. Or I have to hurry and meet that rich Jewish producer. And then girl, I’ve made it!”
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