Recap: One on One: A Conversation with Suzy Nakamura and Phil Yu

A conversation between actress, Suzy Nakamura (“Dr. Ken”) and V3con Voice honoree, Phil Yu (AngryAsianMan.com).

By Erika Lee

V3con Voice Honoree Phil Yu, the founder and editor of Angry Asian Man, a popular news/culture website covering the Asian American community, was the recipient of the Voice Award at the V3con Opening Awards Reception last night.

Suzy Nakamura is an American actress. Nakamura is known for her many guest appearances on sitcoms such as “Jim,” “Half and Half,” and “How I Met Your Mother.”

To close out V3con, the pair sat down for a conversation on Asian American identity, and how to make the community more visible in media and entertainment.

“I didn’t even know my Asian American identity until I moved to California,” Nakamura said. “I grew up in Chicago in a predominantly black neighborhood, but nobody told me they were black.”

Yu had the opposite upbringing, having grown up in a large Asian American community in Cupertino and not noticing the significance of it until college.

“I was not confronted with that aspect of my identity until I went to college in the midwest,” Yu laughs. “In Chicago, actually.”

Nakamura did hundreds of theater and comedy shows in college, but only played an Asian role once. She was not aware of the discrimination in the entertainment industry.

“I felt like if I was the most qualified, then I’m going to get the job,” Nakamura said. “It was very naive.”

Nakamura asked Yu if his popular “Angry Asian Man” persona is just a character or if he considers it who he is today.

“Well I did it anonymously at first, but once it kind of came out, but I wasn’t as public about it. I was working as a civilian and I worked at Yahoo for several years but I still wear it on my sleep,” Yu said. “I didn’t hide it, but I wasn’t public about it either.”

He reveals that when a person is an idea or persona more than a real person, there is a sense of boldness that comes from the anonymity.

“I didn’t think anybody was reading it, you can say what you want. Now my personal and professional identity is tied to this thing, there’s a responsibility,” Yu said. “There’s a lot of things that came along with it, like being able to build a career around something that I didn’t think would happen.”

Yu asked Nakamura about her show “Dr. Ken” and how “Fresh Off the Boat” served as a way to open the floodgates for Asian Americans in mainstream media.

“If you say you’ve got this show about this immigrant family that is struggling to open a restaurant, no one is going to listen,” she said. “If it weren’t for ‘Fresh off the Boat,’ I don’t think ABC would’ve gave us a chance.<?h3>

Yu adds that this visibility for Asian Americans did not happen overnight, but was part of a larger process. “But it doesn’t happen just like that.

“She didn’t just come out of nowhere,” Yu reminds the audience. “There’s a giant process and ecosystem that makes this all manifest.”

Nakamura explains that for true diversity to happen, the writers, not just the actors, need to be diverse.

“We need writers of diverse backgrounds and ethnic groups and different levels of experience,” Nakamura said. “Straight white men that have been writing sitcoms for the past 30 years. What we need to do is to get kids of color in the classes, get them interested in improv and writing, then get them in the room.”

Yu closed the conversation by reiterating that inclusion isn’t just for Asian Americans, but for all minorities.

“Of course I’m a cheerleader for Asian Americans,” Yu said. “But in the larger conversation about diversity, I’m interested in seeing everything but just straight white male perspectives.”