A strip club DJ, a shoe salesman, an employee at a restaurant called Chop Suey, and an Uber driver — these are just some of the many jobs Jimmy O. Yang held before making it big as a stand-up comic.
The Hong Kong-born comedian wanted to be a businessman just like his father when he was growing up and he learned some business tactics while trading Pokémon cards with his friends in sixth grade.
Speaking with The Atlantic in an interview, Yang explained that his dad worked for Dow Chemical for several years before opening his own business selling medical equipment.
“I think he liked his job. But he’s old-school Chinese. Our thought process here in America is, ‘do something that you love. Find a job that makes you happy,’” he said. “But my dad’s mentality is, ‘your job doesn’t make you happy. You work hard, you make money, and then you use that money to go do something that makes you happy.’”
So when Yang set out to do stand-up, his dad wasn’t too thrilled.
“He thought I was crazy. He thought it was just a phase that I would hopefully snap out of. He didn’t understand stand-up,” the 31-year-old actor said.
While studying economics at the University of California at San Diego, Yang was an intern at the now-defunct financial services company Smith Barney, but he realized that working a 9 to 5 job sitting in an office wasn’t for him.
After graduating college, he worked three different jobs as a used-car salesman, a DJ at a strip club, and working the door at the Comedy Palace in San Diego where he first met his mentor Sean Kelly, who gave him some life advice:
“Be ready. One day your chance is going to come, where you sign with a bigger agency, or a producer is interested in you, or somebody saw you doing stand-up and they want to make a TV show about you, or something like that, so just be prepared. Always be working. Even if you don’t have auditions, take acting classes. Just get on stage as much as you can. Just be prepared.”
Yang carried Kelly’s advice with him even while he was working on the set of “Silicon Valley” and driving Uber, which he did between the first and second seasons of the HBO TV series.
“I enjoyed it. You’re on your own schedule. There were some stupid drunk people every now and then but, for the most part, people were very nice, and I’m a people person. In a way, I was just kind of running my stand-up material on some of these people, just chatting them up. If you want to really make a decent paycheck, you’ve got to work a lot, and it’s exhausting,” he continued.
Besides his mentor and dad, Yang listed his “Crazy Rich Asians” co-star Ken Jeong, Bobby Lee of “MADtv,” and former NBA star Yao Ming as his role models.
The actor will appear in the upcoming “Crazy Rich Asians” movie on Aug. 15 and emphasized the importance of diversity in casting.
“In this movie, we have the really funny Asians, the really model-looking, beautiful Asians, the extremely talented Asians, big, small, tall, short Asians, Chinese from Singapore, Malaysia, America, England, and Australia, but we are just family. It was so liberating in a way that I wasn’t just the only Asian person on that screen,” Yang said.
Read the full interview here.