Being a comedian is no easy job, whether that’s doing stand up sets or on-screen performances. But somehow, these Asian comedians make it look easy.
Some share their biting wit through hilarious stage performances that leave us gasping for air. (Don’t ask about our cardio stamina.) Others exercise a physical comedy that transcends language and cultural divides.
And while it may seem that mainstream U.S. audiences are just starting to appreciate Asian comedy in films like Crazy Rich Asians or Everything, Everywhere All at Once, some of the comics on this list have been drawing in crowds since the 1960s.
And no, we will not be calculating how many years ago that actually was.
As the 2023 film Joy Ride hits the big screen, we’re taking a look at the best Asian actors, writers, and stand-up comics have been tickling our funny bone for generations. We’ll pay respect to the Asian comedians who laid the groundwork for some of the funniest comedy routines today. And we’ll take a look forward to see just how wide and diverse Asian comedy has become.
And if we can get our magic ball to start working again, we’ll try to see where it might be heading in the future. Stay tuned for more on that.
22 Funny Asian Comedians You Need to Know
1. Pat Morita
Noriyuki “Pat” Morita may be best known for showing a generation of teenagers that the best way to learn karate was by cleaning his house. But this The Karate Kid (1984) actor had a thriving career in comedy long before he played Mr. Miyagi.
He based his stage name “Pat Morita” partly on comedians like Pat Henry, exchanged quips with Henry Winkler in the sitcom Happy Days, and even headlined the first Asian-American sitcom, Mr. T. and Tina back in 1976.
Ironically, Morita’s background as a comic initially worked against him when his name came up for The Karate Kid. While producer Jerry Weintraub didn’t think the comedian could pull off the gravitas of Miyagi, Morita — who was living in Hawaii at the time and having trouble finding work — had grown his hair and beard out for the first time in his life and now had the perfect look for the karate sensei. Who knew not shaving could help with your job interview?
2. Jackie Chan
International martial arts superstar Jackie Chan’s lightning-fast kicks and punches draw comparisons to Bruce Lee, but he’s actually got more in common with Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. That’s because Chan uses his unique kung fu style — developed from years of rigorous training in the China Drama Academy — to offer side-splitting displays of physical comedy.
Whether he’s struggling to save a priceless vase from falling in a fight with multiple henchmen in Rush Hour (1998), or turning Gene Kelly’s tap-dancing routine in Singin’ in the Rain (1952) into a dance fight sequence for Shanghai Knights (2003), there seems to be nothing the kung fu master can’t turn into a weapon — or a comedy prop.
Still the funniest scenes in Chan’s career are the outtakes that follow his films, which show him falling off buildings, getting stuck in a bank teller window, and basically breaking every bone in his body to get each scene just right. Wait…you can get paid for being a klutz? Wish we knew that earlier!
3. Randall Park
Comedian-actor Randall Park gave new meaning to the term “color-blind casting” when he briefly replaced John Krasinski in The Office to play “Asian Jim” in an office prank that gave Dwight (Rainn Wilson) an existential crisis. Since then, Park’s starred in his own sitcom, Fresh Off the Boat, and even became part of the MCU as FBI agent Jimmy Woo.
But it wasn’t always goofy pranks and family-friendly comedy for Park. Early in his career, he appeared in the TV drama House as a hospital patient who tried to circumcise himself.
According to Park, the casting people told him he was perfect for the role, which made him wonder just where his career was going. Shortly after, he was cast in a commercial for KY Jelly. We’ve heard about the dangers of typecasting, but these sound like two particularly unnerving signs.
4. Margaret Cho
Comedian Margaret Cho doesn’t shy away from controversial topics. If you don’t believe us, just take a look at any of her stand-up routines that cover substance abuse, eating disorders, LGBT issues, and Asian-American stereotypes. And then let’s talk about your trust issues.
However, we’re most impressed by the fact that some of Cho’s most popular sets include jokes where she recreates awkward phone conversations with her mother. If we knew there was potential for comedic gold on the other side of those chats, maybe we’d let them go on a little bit longer. Maybe.
She’s a comedian. She’s a rapper. And she’s an actress whose roles have let her play everything from a spider to a dragon to a gender-swapped seagull in the live-action version of The Little Mermaid (2023).
Clearly, Awkwafina is one performer who doesn’t allow herself to be limited by one career. That’s something that’s allowed her to do everything from host a short-form web series to host SNL to carving out her place in the MCU as Shang Chi’s best friend Katy. And here we thought having a lunch date and a dinner date on the same day was exhausting.
6. Bowen Yang
Australian-born Bowen Yang started his SNL career as a staff writer before becoming SNL’s first Chinese-American cast member and fourth-ever cast member of Asian descent.
Not satisfied with this achievement, Yang spent one sketch showing off his other “firsts.” And let’s not forget his revolutionary performances as the Chinese Spy Balloon and the Iceberg That Sank The Titanic. Is there an award for the First Person To Make A Career Out Of Bringing Inanimate Things to Life? It might be tight to write out on a medal, but Yang gets it, no questions asked.
7. Tien Tran
In the eyes of a gifted comic, anything and anyone can provide material for a hilarious comedy routine — and Vietnamese-American comedian Tien Tran (full name: Hanh Tien Tran) has proved this again and again by mocking the high school teacher who insisted on calling her “Hank Tina.” Or, the “entertainingly racist” woman who mistook her for ice skater Michelle Kwan while Tien was shopping for tankinis at a T.J. Maxx.
However, Tien’s most creative comedy may have come out of the COVID-19 lockdown when she appeared on the online show Quarantine Cribs. She gave people a virtual tour of her home, making sure to point out the flourishing mold in her bathroom which she titled Why Won’t You Go Away? and her “scallion daughters” which she grew by chopping up green onions and letting them grow in jars.
Kind of makes us wonder if we can turn our pandemic Pringles sculpture into an HBO special.
8. Sabrina Wu
They can do impressions. They can beatbox. And they can speak real Chinese and fake Chinese. They’ve also performed comedy on The Tonight Show and played the role of the oddball “Deadeye” in Joy Ride. At first glance, it seems like comedian Sabrina Wu can do it all! But what they couldn’t do is win a Moth StorySLAM in college.
Hey, if you’re going to lose to someone, it might as well be to Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman who went on to perform at President Joe Biden’s inauguration in 2021. But where can we cast our votes to have Wu perform her “hot girl pooping” impression at the next gig?
9. Sherry Cola
Bubbly, cool, and refreshing, Sherry Cola (birth name Sherriña Colada) plays the crazy best friend Lola in Joy Ride. But when she’s not pressuring her friends to make questionable decisions, Cola has a very varied career. She’s performed stand-up comedy at events where she likens being a bridesmaid to being chosen for jury duty (with fewer options to get out) and starred in Randall Park’s directorial film debut, Shortcomings (2023).
According to Cola, her mother originally wasn’t thrilled that her daughter chose to pursue comedy. But now that she can bring Randall Park to her restaurant, she’s beginning to change her tune. Hopefully, mom won’t know him as “that self-circumcised, KY jelly guy.”
10. Stephanie Hsu
This Academy Award nominee once attempted to end all reality by putting everything on a bagel in Everything, Everywhere All at Once (2022), definitively proving that our Einstein Bros. order is indeed one of the most dangerous things in the universe.
Hsu has such strong memories of Everything, Everywhere All at Once that she once started crying when she saw the movie on the plane and got to a scene where Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and her sing karaoke together. Yeah. We cry when our parents sing in public too.
11. Jared Goldstein
Don’t be fooled by his flowing locks. The Jewish-Asian comedian Jared Goldstein won the “good hair” lottery and is funny, too. It’s not that those two things are exclusive. We’re just kind of jealous of people who really can have it all.
Goldstein decided to give the stand-up thing a try after his college credits expired, which kept him from applying to grad school. A few years later, he was featured on Comedy Central and Laugh Factory. He amassed a healthy set of movie and TV credits including Dollface and Modern Family, making this funny man a bit too busy to listen to classroom lectures.
Smart, funny, and follically blessed? Say hello to the new triple threat.
12. Bobby Lee
This Korean-American stand-up comedian, actor, and podcaster got his start when the coffee shop he worked at closed and he went next door to try and get another job. That store ended up being The Comedy Store in San Diego which allowed Lee to hone his performing skills. And, he eventually became MADtv’s first Asian cast member and the host of an insightful video podcast called TigerBelly.
Sadly, the only shop next to our Starbucks…is another Starbucks. We may not become famous, but at least we’ll be caffeinated.
13. Ali Wong
She’s a stand-up Asian comedian with multiple Netflix specials. She’s also a writer for the sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, and an actress who’s appeared in everything from American Housewife to the romantic comedy Always Be My Maybe (2019). Ali Wong might be one of the hardest working women in comedy. If not, then she’s definitely the one with the best glasses.
Ironically (or perhaps understandably), some of her jokes center around wanting to work less and get paid more. In her Netflix special, Hard Knock Wife, she basically pitches a movie to Pixar asking to play a talking piece of tofu opposite a large piece of beef voiced by Idris Elba. Yes, but will the music be provided by a singing Braspberry who sounds like Justin Timberlake?
14. Ken Jeong
Ken Jeong may get audiences howling when he plays Leslie Chow in The Hangover (2009) or Ben Chang in Community. But he admits to Ellen that his twin daughters don’t find him particularly funny. In all fairness, from their point of view, his comedy routines are filled with nothing but dad jokes.
Fortunately, Jeong has a great fallback career. He was actually a physician of internal medicine for several years before making the jump to full-time entertainer. Still, after creating and starring in his own sitcom Dr. Ken, hosting I Can See Your Voice, and appearing as a panelist on The Masked Singer, we think he’s pretty set in his career path.
15. Jo Koy
This comic got an early inkling of his acting talent when he imitated his mother’s voice at the age of fifteen. In order to score some tickets to Eddie Murphy Raw, he convinced the ticket agent that he was indeed a Filipina woman. He even convinced his mother to drive him to a packed Seattle Colosseum by claiming that she was taking him to a movie. In the end, she had to drive for two hours while he watched the show inside.
Still, mom was supportive of Koy’s performing dreams. She encouraged him to participate in school talent shows and even hold performances for family and friends. Then, 35 years later, Jo Koy found himself performing at the same colosseum where he first saw Murphy deliver his stand-up. One can only hope he got mom some good seats this time.
16. Jimmy O. Yang
Maybe you loved to hate Jimmy O. Yang’s character as Jian-Yang in Silicon Valley. Or maybe you loved to love him as Dr. Chan Kaifang in Space Force. Or maybe, you loved to hate and then loved to love him as Josh Lin in the film Love Hard. And maybe you got a headache after trying to follow this logic.
Either way, Yang has made an impact as one of the funniest Asian comedians on the screen, and his stand-up isn’t too shabby, either. Now, who has the Advil?
17. Nasim Pedrad
Iranian-American comedian Nasim Pedrad has quite the comedic range. She’s played a ton of hilarious characters on SNL, including Nikki Minaj and Taylor Swift’s roommate. She pals around with Princess Jasmine as her handmaiden Dalia in the live action version of Aladdin (2019). And, she played a fourteen-year-old Persian-American boy in Chad, a sitcom she helped create.
Great actors tend to suffer for their art, but being willing to re-experience your awkward adolescence as a teenage boy? Now that’s dedication.
18. Jenny Yang
Taiwan-born and Southern California-raised Jenny Yang had a hard time convincing her mom that stand-up comedy was a good career. That is, until President Barack Obama honored her for her leadership in “Asian American and Pacific Islander Art and Storytelling” and named her as a “White House Champion of Change.” Yang got to take her parents to the White House, after which they were completely cool with her career choice.
Now, we just need to get ourselves nominated for the prestigious “Leadership in Ranking Batmobiles” award. See, mom? We’re changing the world!
19. Maya Erskine
In a story that seems to echo Nasim Pedrad’s Chad, the 30-something Japanese-American comedian Maya Erskine, ended up playing a 13-year-old version of herself. And, she dragged her 30-something friend Anna Konkle in their comedy television series PEN15. Who needs enemies when your friends make you relive your years in braces?
The show offered a hilarious look at middle school life as it really happens and drew from Erskine and Konkle’s real-life experiences. Many of those experiences dealt with Erskine’s struggles with her cultural identity. So, when it came time to introduce her mom on the show, they cast Erskine’s real-life mother Mutsuko as her TV mom — and had Erskine direct her in the episode “Yuki.”
And it seems Mutsuko became quite the serious actress on set — refusing to answer to “mom” and insisting that she be called by her character’s name. Just like our mom when she plays Fortnite. Yeah, we’re looking at you, “Mompocalypse.”
20. Kumail Nanjiani
Plenty of comedians draw from true stories about their families and day-to-day lives to fuel their stand-up routines. But only a select few, like Pakistani comedian Kumail Nanjiani, turned the true story of the first year of his relationship with his white girlfriend — and the discomfort it caused his family — into a major motion picture, The Big Sick (2017).
Think he’ll also make a movie about his impressive, muscular transformation for his role in Eternals? On second thought, we hear enough about protein shakes from Chad in accounting.
21. Ronny Chieng
This Malaysian comedian and Crazy Rich Asians star uses his position as a correspondent on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show to talk about all the important issues, including the history of K-Pop. That’s right — in a remarkably thorough breakdown, Chieng took audiences from K-Pop’s early days, noting the Kim Sisters were the first K-Pop group to break through internationally during the Korean War by singing to American GIs, paving the way to today’s obsession with BTS.
In the end, he concludes that the South Korean government, “saw K-Pop as a way to boost Korea’s cultural strength and economy without having to do a Squid Game.” Well, yes. That, and to get “Gangnam Style” stuck in everyone’s heads.
22. Atsuko Okatsuka
If you’ve just started seeing Atsuko on your FYP, welcome to the party. The stand-up comedian was named one of Variety’s “Top 10 Comics to Watch” in 2022, and her HBO special “The Intruder” also dropped that year. That total coincidence aside, we would be remiss if we didn’t call out her true claim to fame: starting the #DropChallenge on TikTok Some people really do have it all.
My #yearinreview 😭 I started the year accidentally creating the #dropchallenge then ended it launching my first ever @hbo special! Thank you for a wild ride! I couldnt have done it without you!! ❤️ #atsukookatsuka #hbo #hbomax #standupcomedian #standupspecial #myyear #2022tiktok #asiancomedian #fy #fyp #fypシ
- Joy Ride is Coming To Theaters In July, But These Asian Comics Will Get You Laughing Now - June 30, 2023
- We Hope You Have A Lot Of Popcorn, Because There Are A Ton Of Must-Watch Summer Movies for 2023 - June 19, 2023
- When We Grow Up, We Hope We Can Be As Badass As These Female Cartoon Characters - April 18, 2023