Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Douglas Michael Show with Suzanne Whang

Time for a summer rerun of THE DOUGLAS MICHAEL SHOW, my blog interview series. Today's guest is the lovely Suzanne Whang, who will be performing her hysterical stand-up show this coming Friday & Saturday (June 4th and 5th) at The Cavern Club @ Casita Del Campo in Silver Lake, CA. Get tickets here.
Suzanne is a woman of many talents. She has been the host of the top rated HGTV show, HOUSE HUNTERS since 1999, as well as the popular spin-off series, HOUSE HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL. Her other credits include co-hosting TV's CENSORED BLOOPERS and a red carpet host for ABC's ACADEMY AWARDS coverage. Aside from her numerous hosting duties, Ms. Whang has also fostered a career as an R-rated stand-up comedian, winning the Andy Kaufman Award at the New York Comedy Festival! She also won Best Up & Coming Comedian at the Las Vegas Comedy Festival, epitomized by her outrageous slogan: "Don't judge a gook by her cover."

Doug: Hi Suzanne, let me first tell you how much I loved seeing you perform last October. A friend of mine saw your show in Provincetown over the summer and told me "if you ever get the chance to see her, do it.". So I did. And I laughed till I cried.

Suzanne: Wow, that's high praise coming from someone who seems to really speak his mind. Thank you! I absolutely love performing in Provincetown. I'm sure I'll be going back again this summer -- it's become a Whang tradition. I have never gotten such huge audience reaction and felt so embraced by a community as I have in Provincetown. I hope you'll be there sometime when I'm performing!
Doug: P-Town is one of my favorite places in the world, so it might just happen! Your act is beyond words. Some of the outrageous topics you cover are things that make most people very uncomfortable. I have to ask you, do get any fans who know you from HOUSE HUNTERS and come to see you perform and are shocked by some of the material?

Suzanne: YES! And it's secretly (not anymore) one of my favorite things -- to know that people are there there expecting sweet little Suzanne, and I start talking and their heads explode. It can get messy to clean up. I've also gotten a plethora of email from people asking me to settle a bet- Is there any way that the host of HOUSE HUNTERS could possibly also be that crazy character Polly on LAS VEGAS? I'm happy to stir up the status quo -- all of the people I admire have huge balls. Mine are gigantic -- I have to get my panties custom made. There's a magnet on my refrigerator that says, "Well-behaved women rarely make history." Woo hoo!Doug: Oh my god - that was you on LAS VEGAS? That was a cool show. Thanks for that ball image, by the way. Your cousin, Sung Hee Park is a unique character. Is she based on anyone you know?
Suzanne: She's an amalgam of my mother (who can't tell a joke to save her life) and a bunch of middle-aged Korean women who used to attend my Korean church when I was a little kid. These women were very abrupt and had no social filter, but were somehow still charming. The character was born in 2002 in my acting class at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, when I tried my hand at stand-up comedy and it went so well that I got hooked. My teacher Richard Lawson encouraged me to start doing my act in comedy clubs. But he also suggested that I try embracing the stereotype of Asian women that I hate so much. What??? Why would I want to do that? I've been spending all my energy proving to everyone that I'm NOTHING like that stereotype. And he explained that I'm spending so much energy resisting it, that I'm still at the effect of it. Whatever we resist, persists. Whatever we fight against, we empower and perpetuate. What would happen if I just tried embracing it as part of my artistic palette, just to see what happens? I was livid and silently decided he was an idiot and that I was going to quit class. But then I decided that it's crazy to take an acting class and not even try what the teacher suggests. So the next day, since I still didn't want to try his assignment, I decided to work from the outside-in, like the British actors often do. I went to Koreatown and bought a hanbok (traditional Korean dress) and a Korean fan and Korean shoes. I came home and put it all on, and I was still livid. But I stood there and was patient enough to wait for an idea to come to me. And that is how Sung Hee Park was born. Embracing that which I formerly resisted has brought me to a feeling of wholeness, both as a person and as an artist. I'm using my comedy as a satire of racism and stereotypes in America. And it's been a wild ride. Thank you, Richard Lawson.

Doug: WOW - The secret origin of Sung Hee! The race issues you touch upon with the character certainly are funny, but also thought-provoking. How long does it take most audiences to "get
the joke"?
Suzanne: It depends on the audience. Some get it right away, some never get it. I find that Los Angeles audiences are sometimes too concerned about appearing politically correct. I think political correctness is so damaging -- putting a big fake plastic smile over everything, pretending it's all ideal. I use my comedy to shine a light on the dark places, and my goal is to break down people's defenses, level the playing field, and sneak my message in with a spoonful of laughter. New York City audiences usually scream with laughter immediately -- they're not as concerned with what other people will think if they laugh. The smarter the audience, the better for me. And the best audience of all is a room full of gay men.

Doug: I guess I'm your best audience - a semi-smart gay man FROM New York City! Is there any topic that you or Sung Hee won't touch?
Suzanne: Theoretically, no. But they say that Comedy = Tragedy + Time, so sometimes you have to wait a certain amount of time before people will have perspective on a particular event.

Doug: So, no Haiti jokes yet, right? Who are your comedy heroes?

Suzanne: I have many. Here are some of them, in no particular order. Bill Hicks, Steve Martin, Andy Kaufman, Margaret Cho, Ellen DeGeneres, Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell, Bill Cosby, Chris Rock, George Carlin, Kristen Wiig, Ray Romano, Roseanne, Lucille Ball, Whoopi Goldberg, John Leguizamo, Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett, Dick Van Dyke, David Letterman, Craig Ferguson, Johnny Carson, Jake Johannsen, Jon Stewart, Larry David, the two guys in Flight of the Conchords, Chevy Chase, Alan Arkin, Catherine O'Hara, Christopher Guest, Judd Apatow, my father, and my grandfather. Ask me again tomorrow and it will be a new list.

Doug: That's the Who's Who of Funny right there. I agree with about 98% of your choices. For some reason Jim Carrey and Will Ferrell always rubbed me the wrong way. I've grown to love Chevy Chase on COMMUNITY, so maybe there's hope for Jim and Will. Let's talk about some other things you've done. You've appeared on a bunch of "procedural dramas" like COLD CASE and sitcoms like TWO AND A HALF MEN. Which do you prefer?

Suzanne: That's like SOPHIE'S CHOICE -- impossible to answer. I prefer a well-written script, whether it's drama or comedy. You actually picked two very well-written shows as your examples. I had one of the best dramatic acting experiences of my career on COLD CASE. I loved the writing, I loved my character, I loved the other actors that I worked with, I loved the director, and I loved the collaborative experience on set. And it was an absolute ball working on TWO AND A HALF MEN. Both Jon Cryer and Charlie Sheen are flawless in their delivery and timing, and once again, it's great writing. Even though I only worked on one episode, they invited me to the season's wrap party, which I thought was incredibly generous, and indicative of the whole atmosphere on that show.

Doug: You were also in CONSTANTINE starring Keanu Reeves, based on the comic book HELLBLAZER. What was that like?

Suzanne: That was a milestone for me because I had never been in a film with special effects or prosthetics. I played a poor mother living in a tenement, with no makeup on, wearing a ratty housecoat. I'm making tea for my daughter who has the flu (or so I think), and when I bring it into her bedroom, she's not in her bed. Why not? Because she's... wait for it... HANGING UPSIDE DOWN FROM THE CEILING, WITH YELLOW EYES AND BULGING VEINS, SPEAKING IN TONGUES, POSSESSED BY SOLDIER DEMONS! Don't you hate when that happens? It ruins your whole day. It was fascinating to see the prosthetics they used for her, and the harnesses to hang her upside down. When I first saw the film in a theater, even though I obviously had read the script and knew the story, I jumped out of my seat and screamed at one particular moment. People who've seen it will know which moment I'm talking about. And I loved working with Pruitt Taylor Vince.

Doug: I remember that scene - it was pretty wild. But not as wild as TV's CENSORED BLOOPERS - was that with Ed McMahon or Dick Clark...or both?
Suzanne: I was Dick Clark's co-host sidekick, so Ed McMahon wasn't there, although Ed was a guest on a FOX morning show I hosted and he was incredibly kind and wonderful. I met Dick Clark when he was a guest on this same morning show, FOX AFTER BREAKFAST. Tom Bergeron and I were interviewing Dick, and we had great rapport with him. The interview probably lasted 10 minutes. Cut to one year later, I'm now living in Los Angeles, hosting NEW ATTITUDES on Lifetime, when my agent calls me and tells me that I've been offered the job of being Dick Clark's co-host on BLOOPERS on NBC. What??? I didn't even audition for that gig -- where did the offer come from? Well apparently NBC had told Dick Clark that they wanted him to have a young, attractive, hip female co-host for BLOOPERS, and Dick said, "Find that woman Suzanne Whang from FOX AFTER BREAKFAST, and offer it to her." We hadn't had any communication whatsoever since I had met him, but he remembered me and he was confident in his choice. Working with him was a dream come true -- he was the consummate professional, and it all ran like a well-oiled machine. He let me ad-lib and make fun of him too! It was surreal to think that I was on stage with the host of AMERICAN BANDSTAND!!! I have enormous love and appreciation for him.

Doug: What a cool story! I was in the audience of the AMERICAN BANDSTAND 50TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL a few years back and Dick seems pretty cool. It's amazing how he's still working, against all odds. So, what is your dream role?
Suzanne: There's not one dream role. There are dream experiences... I'd love to work on a show at the caliber of ALL IN THE FAMILY, with the same humor, pathos, depth, and courage. I'd love to work on a show like ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, with that level of outrageous comedic risk. I'd love to collaborate with people like the Coen Brothers, Judd Apatow, David Fincher... I'd love to host my own talk show, open my own spiritual center (I'm also a minister and I give guest sermons which are always irreverent and funny). I'm writing my second book (autobiographical essays), pitching my own television series ideas to networks (so exciting), and doing stand-up all over the U.S. and Canada. I do professional keynote speaking and would love to do more of that. I'm passionate about all of it, and I'm happy in my personal life, so I'm always living my dream role -- as my authentic self. (puke -- was that too corny?)
Doug: Not corny at all. Great answer. I'd love to see a sitcom starring you. In the meantime, I heard you have an upcoming show at one of my favorite night spots, Casita del Campo in Silver Lake! I can't tell you have many times I've squeezed into that basement and laughed my ass off. That crowd is gonna eat you up. They know you're not a drag queen, right?

Suzanne: YAY!!! I hope you can come to the show -- it's Fri June 4 and Sat June 5 at 8 pm. $20. Or send people to come bask in the insanity of the Crazian (my word for a crazy Asian). Tickets are also available at suzannewhang.tix.com. Please encourage people to buy tickets in advance, since it will probably sell out. Yes they know I'm not a drag queen. I sometimes wish I were -- because I absolutely LOVE drag queens! I love Jackie Beat, Dina Martina, Varla Jean, Thirsty Burlington, and Shangela!

Doug: I will be there! Well, thanks so much for taking time to chat with me. So are you available to help me find my next house?

Suzanne: Fuck off.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

What a great post. I never new Suzanne did so many things. Can't wait for the show in Feb. Buying my tickets now!

Anonymous said...

SUZANNE WHANG is the ultimate Gook-ru! (thats guru with ook)