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Comedian Atsuko Okatsuka on Husbands, Asian Grandmas, and AR-15s

Published November 13, 2020

Photos by Kim Newmoney.

Atsuko Okatsuka has survived an earthquake. Actually, the L.A.-based comedian thrived in one, and she’s got a viral clip to prove it. Okatsuka, who moved to the United States when she was young with her grandmother, has weathered several storms: living undocumented for seven years, growing up with a schizophrenic mother, and being called “Stacey” by classmates and teachers. But, in her own brilliant way, Okatsuka has been able to sublimate all that into  quirky bursts of comedy as host of the popular Let’s Go Atsuko! podcast. On Twitter, Okatsuka lambasts the soon-to-be-former president and dances with her grandma. We caught up with the comedian for a quick whirl through her roller coaster life. 



“When Donald Trump got COVID. That was my first real laugh! I don’t think I laughed as a kid. I was so basic. There was a tweet by a pro-semi-automatic-weapon guy back when we were having more intense gun debates who tried to make a case for owning an AR-15 by saying, ‘Well, what if you live in an area like me where in my backyard at any moment thirty-to-fifty hogs come running at you within five-to-seven minutes while your kids are playing?’ For some reason, that just got me.I was keeled over laughing, thinking about how he thought he really got us.”



“My parents met on one. That is why my grandma raised me.”



“The reason I’m alive. See, now what I’m trying to do is give you shorter answers because I feel bad about my first one. That’s an intense answer, but she really is the reason I’m alive. She raised me. My mom is schizophrenic, my dad lives far away. Everything I know, I’ve learned from her, which might explain me being really cheap.”



“I was living in the U.S. undocumented for seven years. It’s kind of amazing all the things you can do without papers. I went to school, I had friends. We went to theme parks, grocery stores. We took public transportation, just like everyone else. We just couldn’t vote or drive or own a gun. Those three things mixed together—I wonder if people do it in that order? Do they vote, drive… no, usually you learn to drive, vote, and then own a gun? How old do you have to be to own a gun, 18? As a teenager, when I got my Green Card, I was only interested in one of those things: driving to go see a boyfriend.”



“He’s like my second grandma. A lot of people think I’m mature because I’m married, but I would argue that getting married is the childlike thing to do. Because when you’re married, you’re like, ‘We get to do everything together?’ Or like, ‘Everything we own! Split it in half!’ Or ‘I get to be with my best friend!’ It’s a very childlike state of mind. Being single and having to date, that’s very adult. You have to show up places all the time. You have to be interesting. Then meanwhile, the marrieds are just like, ‘We’re going to be together for ever and ever until death do us part because these rings said so!’ That’s what I think of when I think of my husband. Just, like, another reason for me to continue being a kid.”



“Streetwear queen! Getting off airplanes with Timberlands and then, you know, just on the trail with the coolest fashion. She represents a lot of us. We see a lot of ourselves in her, with her being a Black woman, an Asian woman, the first woman to be Vice President. What’s it feel like to be an icon of so many sorts?”



“Most parents, in general, it’s like, ‘No, no, no, don’t give them the right to vote!’ You know what I mean? If I know Asian elders at all, sure, they’re sweet. They might be fun to watch on a TikTok. But they went through a lot. Maybe they came at a time when there was internment, or, I mean, even now, during the pandemic, people have started stereotyping that Asians spread COVID. When gun sales were going up among people of color, a lot of them were Asian immigrants because they were getting scared that they were going to be targeted for hate crimes. So, I think all of that adds up to them thinking about their own experience when thinking of politics or voting. What kind of laws do you want to vote for? You vote for laws that benefit you only. Which means, ‘I immigrated here, I did it legally, so the next people should do it legally too!’ It’s almost like a buffet mentality. Sometimes at a buffet, if it’s a more special dish, like a lobster, they’ll still only give out limited amounts. It’s like, ‘Yes, we’re a buffet, but yeah, there’s no more lobsters for the day! We only make 20. You were too slow to come here.’” 



“I’m a lower chakra person. Like, I’m lower energy. I like staying low to the ground. I think with my hips. I feel with my groin. I like walking barefoot. I like feeling close to the earth and where I come from, which is another groin. We all came from another groin area. Something unleashes when I just let go. I have no idea! It was never meant to come out of someone that looks like me. I’m so grateful that I found it. For me, dance is survival. When I came here, I joined the cheerleading squad. It was, like, one of the only things I was able to do. We weren’t those stiff kinds of cheerleaders. We didn’t have any white girls on the cheerleading squad. We weren’t just angles and sharp moves. That’s where I made my first close friends. And I still take all of that with me. It’s where I found community—in my hips.”



“Can you believe it? They allow it!”



“I used to think about it more, but now it’s just about how you enter. Within those few seconds, without you saying anything, how you carry yourself coming in. You’re already in character. A lot of times, they play Enya-type music when I come on, which, I think I’m going to call racism on that! Me? Ethereal Asian? On TV, there’s always an Asian muse, a hot Asian girl who doesn’t really say anything. She’s very mysterious. Or she does say something, and it’s really wise. That’s kind of the feel I get when I’m walking up there with Enya. It’s like, now I’m going to tell you your future or something. No, give me Lizzo!”



“Oh, thank god for the pandemic, right? We all have an excuse! Thanksgiving is only going to be hard for the losers. I think that is a lot of people’s family. But I don’t think it’s that hard because I don’t really see Trump supporters crying, and I think it’s because they know they didn’t lose any rights. There wasn’t really that much at stake for them. In fact, they’re actually going to get some rights for losing to Biden. This is probably easier for me to speak about only because I don’t know what it feels like to have a racist white uncle that I have to go home to. But I think most people are going to get a turkey breast from the grocery store and eat it on Zoom.”



“Right. Hello! Hi! That’s me! What a perfect song the Ting Tings had. Sometimes the Zeitgeist just provides you with things. “They call me Stacey. That’s not my name!” “Stacey” is the name my teacher gave me when I first came to the United States. She was Japanese-American, too. And this goes back to the Asian Conservatism. She wanted to fit in. Her parents were interned in a camp. But at the time, I didn’t know that. You need historical context for why someone is acting a certain way or trying to be oppressive. Looking back, I’m like, okay, she wanted me to not get picked on with a name like Atsuko Okatsuka. Because maybe she was picked on, too.”



“This is harder than I thought it would be. I’m realizing things about myself that I didn’t expect. I’m glad we’re doing this.”



“You know, despite whatever you might think when you see it written, my first and last name are different. [Laughs] That’s stupid! Why do I always want to do a joke?”