“Tim’s finishing law school? That’s amazing,” my mom told her friend, Tina. “He will find a job in no time. Andrea is still figuring it out. Yeah, still doing stand-up.”
I smiled and listened to them from across the round table at the dim sum restaurant.
“Must be exhausting staying up late at those clubs and bars,” Tina replied, offering a not-inaccurate opinion I did not ask for. “Not good for your health!”
“Tim probably stays up late studying and going to college parties though,” I said “Yeah, he definitely does. I follow him on Instagram, he’s in a frat. They stay up way late, Auntie T.”
At any family gathering, I’m always on the defence about my career choices as a stand-up comedian and writer. Everyone has something to say.
Immigrating to Canada from Mainland China at 10 years old was very confusing. I had to juggle two different worlds at all times. In North American culture, I was always told to be fearless, bold, and chase my dreams no matter how big. My family, however, made sure to teach me the opposite: be afraid, be normal, get a sensible job, and die quietly at age 128 (the dream life of many old Asian grandmas). I had a lot of conflicting ideals fed to me during my teen years which shaped me into the person and comedian I am today. I love and owe everything to my family, but when I decided to pursue stand-up as a career, the biggest pushback was from them.
It’s ironic because most immigrant stories are full of risk and uncertainty. Yes, let’s abandon our lives here in our home country, move across the planet where we’re not even sure if they sell bamboo leaves to wrap sticky rice in, learn a whole new language, abandon all our chickens, and start completely from scratch.
I love being Asian. I love the rich history, the red bean desserts, and yelling at each other as a normal way of speaking. Growing up in China taught me how to be straightforward, assertive, and live freely in my own way. I was also a very precocious child. I loved making people around me laugh and I knew how to do it at a very young age. I remember pretending to eat worms when I was four years old to scare my grandma, which would make my grandpa laugh. Then actually eating worms (committing to the bit) so my cousins and friends would think I’m funny. I would only let adults take photos of me if I was wearing sunglasses, so clearly I understood comedy because that is hilarious.
Things got a lot less funny for my family when I dropped out of a prestigious business program in Ontario and moved back home in Vancouver to “tell jokes at bars for no money.” Comedy is a long game of patience with no guarantee of anything happening ever. You really have to love the process, something my family hates so much. It doesn’t matter that I’ve worked extensively with Just for Laughs or have an album coming out. They really only want results.
“Why don’t you just do something else? This seems way too hard.”
“You’re not really good at making first impressions.”
“You run out of breath when you talk and have bad posture.”
All said by my family members out of love, of course. They just don’t want me to face rejection from strangers. Rejection is much better when carried out by a loved one.
I learned from my mother that women can do anything, even if they really do not want to! My mom is the type of woman that does breathing exercises everyday to help her win arguments through pure endurance. A single mother who has always made it on her own. On the day of my 22nd birthday, she took me out to lunch. I was a year into stand-up, working hard and feeling really good about myself. I was excited to have a talk, woman to woman, about independence and not taking any from the man or whatever. Instead, I got a very sincere earful about how she would prefer it if I stopped working so hard and just settled down.
“Being an independent woman who focuses on career is not a life you want, baby. It’s 1 p.m. on a Sunday and I am tired, that is not natural.”
She’s come so far with something she doesn’t even like to do; I want to be a career focussed maniac, so this should be easy.
I learned hard work and perseverance from my grandparents. My grandmother has four older sisters and one little brother. She used to have more brothers growing up, but their family was so poor, there was not enough food to keep everyone alive. These are the conditions she grew up in! She couldn’t even dream of going to school, but started working wherever she could right away, got a ton of experience in the workforce, met my grandpa and made a nice life for herself.
When my grandpa was 10 years old, his mother visited a fortune teller and told her that my grandpa is a curse to the family. This was rural farmland China in the 1940s, so the fortune teller’s word is as good as a doctor’s. This fortune teller was probably also the town doctor (she works hard). My grandpa was forced to live on the streets for eight years, surviving on one plain steamed bun a day, wrapping cloth around his feet as shoes. This did not discourage him one bit. He still went to school everyday, somehow saved up enough to go to university (I mean, everything was way cheaper back then) and became a respected electrical engineer.
I grew up watching my family laugh through the toughest times. When you have nothing left to lose, it’s vital to stay in good spirits, find the humour in your predicament, and do the best you can, otherwise you lose even more. I’m so lucky that I never had to face anything as harsh as they did. I live in Canada, I eat scones, I have a dog that wears a bowtie, and I tell jokes for very little money. Life is good.
If it were up to them, I would just sit in a safe room, eat three meals a day, and go to sleep at 9 p.m. (they want me to go to prison). However, the fighting spirit was passed down to me and I am going to continue on my path of uncertainty, despite their wishes. All because I love it, I have faith, and all the skills I learned from my loved ones.
Andrea Jin is a Vancouver-based comedian recording her debut comedy album at Little Mountain Gallery on January 31, 2020. Follow her on Twitter.