Jiaoying Summers is all about perseverance. The rising comedian can tell you story after story about running between open mics and finding time in between to pump breast milk. There was also the time she was banned from TikTok for making a joke about her own upbringing and survival in China during the one-child-policy era. After putting up a fight, she was reinstated.
While developing her own comedy career (and being a mother of two), Summers helms a community for emerging comics seeking to practice their own craft by operating the Hollywood Comedy Club and Pasadena Comedy Club. However, lately her time has been devoted to other stages, such as Carolines on Broadway and West Side Comedy Club in New York City and The Laugh Factory during Netflix is a Joke Festival. And for anyone who opts for TV instead of comedy clubs, Summers’ first 30-minute comedy special for Comedy InvASIAN 2.0 recently debuted on Peacock.
Following her whirlwind month of comedy milestones, Summers spoke with LA Confidential about the special, the time John Singleton told her she was funny and finding humor in pain.
You've had such a busy, super exciting couple of weeks. How are you doing?
Yes. Also, I filed for divorce 10 days ago. My ex-current husband is being very dramatic…On top of that, I have two little comedy clubs and two little babies. So it can be really stressful, but I feel like the best is yet to come. I just have to stay calm, take a deep breath and know I'm doing the best I can.
Does working help with all that?
I think so, it does. When I do well on stage. It really works like my therapy… I feel like my babies will be proud one day knowing that I've been hustling, building my craft and skill to become a better performer.
What's it like to finally have your Comedy InvASIAN 2.0 set out in the world?
It means a lot to me. That day I filmed the special, that was the day that I moved out from my house. My husband and I had a huge fight over like two weeks. I'd been crying every day. So he's a nice person, but he does not think I needed to be doing comedy and he thinks it's embarrassing. He thinks I'm not talented. I’ve become so in love with comedy and I realized that it is not a hobby anymore to that point. When I was doing my specials two years in, I just don't want it to feel like a hobby anymore.
I was certainly not feeling well. My face was swollen, I was crying. And I was actually going to just go back to my normal routine, my opener joke, everything I planned out— it's so painful. I remember, I went on stage I was like, “Oh, this moment is so real to me. I have tears in my eyes.”
I remember, I was going on stage and some older comedian was like, “Oh my god, you better have notes because this is your first 30 minutes you've been doing for two years.” Then I just said, “Uh, uh. I don't need a note to remind me how much I hated my husband. I have 30 minutes.” So I started with a very spontaneous thing. I think that was a very important moment for me to know that I have it. Even on the worst day of my life, I still have it because I was meant to do this to empower girls.
I think it was a true example of how comedy can heal the pain. I didn’t feel like I was putting on a smiley face trying to convince everybody I'm funny, I'm good at what I do. I just truly feel that that was probably just this huge, grand therapy session I needed to know that the world still needed me to show up. And I don't have to stay home and cry and feel like I failed.
Did that experience change the way you approach how you do sets now?
I go to clubs and I've seen hundreds of people every week, how they go off and some people kill some, people don't and the same joke being told many times and how they improve. And I know this is a craft, but after that I earned the freedom of being in the moment and you don't have to be a clown to do a certain trick. I feel like if you're authentic, you're digging into the pain and rip it open to be okay with it and that's actually funny. Because a lot of things that are tragic can be funny. We make it funny. We make other people who are suffering feel normal. And that's the process of healing is to talk about it.
@jiaoyingsummers When comedians own comedy clubs #comedy #standup #standupcomedy #comedian original sound - Jiaoying Summers (Funny Mom)
How would you describe your comedy and what experience do you hope to bring to your audience?
I'm just this very strong woman who’s not afraid to say anything on my mind… I know deep in my heart, I'm a good person. I'm supportive and support minorities in comedy for my own shows. As a foreigner, as an immigrant, I think the way I see things like marriage, like parenting, even friendships and careers, the way I see it is probably very different.
We have a lot of amazing comedians that are Asian American. The issues they talk about would be how America would perceive Asian American women. Like Ali Wong, she shattered the illusion and this stereotype that people have often of quiet, obedient Asian women, and I am so proud of the progress she has made. And at the same time, me, as a Chinese woman who became American a year ago, who came here as a teenager, my experience is very different.
Being a dark-skinned Chinese girl is one of the worst things that can ever happen to you. We don't talk about it and that affects generations of girls’ confidence…I want to talk about that issue because it's very universal. Even in India, in Eastern Asia, in Southeast Asia or Asia, colorism is a huge crime against Asian women's confidence. And when I talk about it, people relate to it. Even Asian American women who were born here are affected by it, but they can't even talk about it because people don't get it in America.
I just want women to know they can do anything they want, be anyone they want. I can be the example. I am from a dumpster. I don’t let this define me. Even though I'm from a dumpster, I can still go on the stage and get on TV. I speak the truth and I'm not afraid of people not liking me because people haven’t liked me my whole life.
I'm a comedian. I want to say whatever is in my mind, and I know who I am. I'm not racist, I’m not sexist and if the thing I say offends you, don’t watch a comedy.
You’ve said before that you started pursuing comedy because your acting coach said you were good at it. Why does it feel like it’s the right space in entertainment for you?
I remember when I was a young girl in China, I wasn't attractive. I was told that they didn't want me, but they took me back, so I had to be an obedient girl, which means you listen. So I'm obedient, but then I realized that I'm not popular because I wasn't a pretty girl. Also, I had nothing to be proud of because I'm always quiet, but I'm dying to have people's attention and approval. Then I realized that I just make people laugh. I always say things that are funny, so I really wanted to make sure that I make more people laugh.
I worked very hard on my acting. I studied with the best of the best in Hollywood: Howard Fine. I started his master class, I did Lady Macbeth. I was a serious geek for the craft. I love it. My accent has been one major problem with my acting career because often they don't have a role for a foreign Chinese girl. It's obviously written for an Asian American girl who was born in America with a perfect American accent or is like a prostitute or a lady who has a thick accent but, only one sentence.
I auditioned for a TV series called Rebel for John Singleton. It's about a Black girl, I think she's a cop. Her name is Rebel, she’s from Oakland and then she had a sidekick called Kara, a Chinese American who had this Oakland accent. I auditioned for it and John Singleton liked my audition, but he told me they can’t pick me because they need a girl with an Oakland accent who was born there. I remember I forgot a few lines and made a joke and everybody laughed at the casting office. And John was like, “I can't give you the role, but you should try stand up comedy.”
I just became so depressed about the way people around me were taking off. They got big movies. I'm just not talented. I can't go anywhere. And then I just realized that maybe I should try open mic and I tried my first open mic. I remember I was breastfeeding. I have to pump milk in the bathroom and the pump in the car. Of course, I bombed it was. It was the hardest thing— way harder than acting. I was just standing there. I blacked out. And I don't know what I said, but I remember I was walking down the stage and someone said, “Wow, somebody should not be doing comedy. Oh my God.” And I was in the car, pumping milk and crying. I realized that, “Maybe I should try it.” I never failed so hard. I failed more than at the auditions, actually. I just said, “I'm funny. I've always been funny. Why can I try it? If I don't make it at least I tried it. If John Singleton thinks I'm funny, maybe I’m kind of funny.
There’s still a long way to go from where I want to be, but I feel like I have control over my career as a comedian, but not when I was an actor. I don't have a musical ear. I really can't have a perfect American accent. But as a comedian, I can just go onstage to do my show and make people laugh.
The Hollywood Comedy is located at 5871 Melrose Ave 90038. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photography by: Sela Shiloni