Off-Ramp contributor Chris Greenspon profiles comedian and actor Charlyne Yi. Some of the language in this piece is a little strong.
Maybe you’ve seen ex-stand-up-comedienne Charlyne Yi as the dorky Dr. Park on "House," or as one of Seth Rogen's stoned roommates in "Knocked Up."
These small roles might be her best known work, but Yi became a performer to take risks, not to get famous.
Charlyne Yi's humor has always made people uneasy. Besides being recognized as "the awkward character" from "House," Yi has always tested her audience: by getting her head shaved onstage at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre while singing a Sinead O' Connor song, announcing her boyfriend dumped her on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" or making audience members play the dating game in a comedy club. However uncomfortable or emotional one of her appearances is, she doesn't do things half-heartedly.
Yi's stand-up career began at 18, when she sneaked into UC Riverside classes that she couldn't afford. She decided then that she would move to Los Angeles and pursue comedy. It was a rough start at first. Audiences were often hostile to her during performances, which sometimes consisted of her lip-syncing to her own voice. However, she was determined to be her own kind of performer, or nothing else.
"One of my best friends from childhood was like, 'Isn't that a little irrational, you're gonna go do comedy? What's your back up plan?'" recalls Yi, "And I was like, 'I don't know about that! Isn't it more irrational to fight for something that you hate, than that you love?'"
In 2007, she briefly appeared in the Judd Apatow film "Knocked Up." She co-wrote and starred in the mockumentary "Paper Hearts" in 2009, and was cast as Chi Park in 2011 for the final season of the medical drama "House."
Her art took a definitive curve after the season finale of "House" in 2012. Yi volunteered at an orphanage in Sri Lanka, and while there she collaborated with a group of orphans on a short album called "Mr. Sunset."
Since then, passion and introspection have been a mainstay of Yi's work. She's moved away from television and stand-up and has focused more on producing short films, is on her way to becoming a published poet (with a book on the way through Harper Collins) and has curated memorable concerts like the series "Let's Get Emotional" at the Steve Allen Theatre.
Now, after years of trying her hand in different mediums, Yi has found her place in L.A.'s art and music scene. She still acts in comedy shorts from time to time with other aspiring performers, as well as headliners like Fred Armisen and Channing Tatum.
Currently, her primary outlet is songwriting. She just recorded an album titled "Reincarnation," and she's due to tour the Midwest in late September.
Listen to Chris' piece for much more, including Yi's story of an exchange with her sister that taught her the true power of words, and for her impressions of working with Hugh Laurie as an actor and director.