Kristina Wong is known for pushing buttons with her comedy and performance art.
For her graduate thesis at UCLA, she created a fake mail-order website where Asian brides — instead of being stereotypically “obedient” — were shown dominating and beating up their white husbands.
Wong wants her art to create a discussion on how Asian females are depicted in culture and the media. On July 19, she’ll perform at Step and Repeat — the music and performance art event at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Geffen Contemporary.
Wong spoke to The Frame about making white men feel uncomfortable, performing the same show for eight years, and why she chose comedy and performance art to get her message across:
You're dressing up as a large vagina for your performance at MOCA this Sunday?
Yeah. I actually made it for a short film called "Asian Vaginas and Racism." That film was to address what I often hear people say: "I'm not racist. I once dated a black guy," or "I'm not racist. I once dated an Asian woman." And sort of taping into the logic of that.
When people are watching your act, who's more nervous? Asian women or caucasian men?
Is that the point?
Yeah. I kind of like watching white men squirm. Actually, I think that's an aphrodisiac for me. I kind of enjoy it 'cause I've been made so uncomfortable in so many situations. It's kind of fun to pull reversals.
What kinds of situations are you talking about?
Well, when I was in college, I remember going to parties and I'd have men come up to me and say, "I love Asian women." I was like, "Is this the '70s? What is this?"
What's an answer to that?
I don't know. I don't know what to do when people say, '"Asian people are so quiet and studious." I don't know what to do with that as a compliment. Like, You're a well behaved dog.
A lot of your comedy and performance art takes those expectations and subverts them.
It's the greatest disguise for a comedian to walk into a room or a space, and I play a lot in public space. For many years, I was crashing the Miss Chinatown Pageant as a fake Miss Chinatown named Fanny Wong, Former Miss Chinatown Second Runner-Up.
Playing with this idea that I'm this harmless, non-threatening person in the room and then, boom! — explode like a bomb on everyone. And I don't get reprimanded the same way — in ways it's like, Oh, that was so cute. Sometimes people are very offended, but they're not as quick to usher me out of the room because they're not quite sure what just happened.
Why did you decide comedy and performance art were the ways to tell your stories?
You know, I never thought of myself as a comedian. Originally, I watched other performance art as I got out of college in the year 2000 and I loved the idea that someone could jump around on a mattress and cover themselves in jelly and have public therapy. So I was like, Yeah! I want to do that for a living, not really understanding how difficult it would be to make a living at it.
The more and more I would do performance art, the more and more I found myself satirizing the performance artists around me, and I was beginning to be introduced more and more as a comedian.
You did a performance piece called "Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," for eight, nine years?
Eight years, starting in 2006. Can you imagine doing this exact same radio show every day? It really messed with me, and in it I play a character named Kristina Wong, an overachieving, very enthusiastic character who is setting out to save all Asian-American women from depression and suicide in an 85-minute theater show. That is an impossible task.
You need at least 90 minutes.
[laughs] That extra five wraps it all up. And Kristina insists that the subject matter of depression and suicide is all fiction — it's all based on research done on other women outside of the Wong family. In the Asian-American community, there's so much invisibility already that it's hard for people to understand that Asian-American women could possibly ever have problems, because aren't we just these cute, studious, non-threatening people?
But the character Kristina Wong falls apart during the show, and the ability to hold the show together as this fiction piece falls apart and it becomes very clear that she needs to get help. The struggle of that show was like, Wow, I'm a working artist but this show about depression and suicide is ironically killing me.
I began to feel like I was a substitute for a social worker, and I had a very tortured relationship with the show. I wasn't sure if I was doing enough, so I was becoming the character in that way.