By GUY AOKI
Since she stepped down from active involvement in MANAA around 1999, I had only seen former MANAA President Toshi Yang Iinuma once. That was three years ago at the Torrance Library when my aunty Frances Kakugawa gave a talk about Alzheimer’s and her book of short stories, “Kapoho.”
Toshi thought it high time we got together, and she was a longtime fan of Ken Jeong, so she wanted to go to a taping of his sitcom “Dr. Ken.”
Jeong set me up with a producer who gave us VIP passes, and we chose to go on Tuesday, Dec. 8. We arrived at the Sony Pictures Studio lot in time for the 5:30 p.m. warm-up and 6 p.m. taping. The VIP area was to the left of the studio audience and on the ground floor where they shoot the scenes, but it looked pretty dead there, so we decided to join the crowd.
I looked up at the audience, mostly white, a few blacks, and barely any Asians. I thought it terrific that they came out to support an Asian American family show (I’d later learn some came from as far away as Bakersfield), something I’d pushed for for years as part of the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (APAMC).
The warm-up comedian singled out a 91-year-old white woman who ended up dancing to “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees with an enthusiastic 30-something black man who’d thought she was cool. Wow, the multi-ethnic love was reaching even higher levels!
I was surprised that the staff started handing out water bottles and boxes of cheese pizza (at least that’s what it looked like; the boxes were empty by the time they got to us). Usually, studio audiences are on their own, having to bring their own munchies to survive the hours-long tapings.
Also, I’ve never before seen stars of a sitcom come out into the audience (they usually just take their bows at the end of the night’s work), but a producer told me Jeong usually does, sometimes taking questions, other times joking and/or singing karaoke.
This time, his co-star Tisha Campbell Martin (“Martin”) welcomed the fans and introduced Jeong, who ran into the audience slapping hands up and down the aisles. They sang a revised version of Atlantic Starr’s “Always.” Their hopeful refrain: “We’ll be on ABC… for always (at least for five seasons)!”
Turns out that night’s taping was significant because it was their 14th episode, and the first of the “back nine” they were awarded after generating strong enough ratings to get beyond their initial 13-episode order for a full 22-episode season.
After the two stars said goodbye, we were shown the episode that was going to air that Friday night where Dr. Ken Park and his wife Allison (Suzy Nakamura) are going to get away from it all for the first time in years (since she had emergency surgery) with a trip to Hawaii. Only thing is, neither bothered to break it to their kids that they weren’t coming along.
Allison: “You said you were going to tell them!”
Ken: “Noo! Remember? You said you didn’t want me to tell them because you thought I’d enjoy it too much!”
“No, I said tell them, just don’t sound like you’re enjoying it too much!”
(Laughing) “Hey, I’m not that good an actor!”
Molly: “OK, so you would literally rather have surgery than vacation with your own children?”
Ken: “Did she stutter?”
As the kids walk out of the kitchen in a huff, their Dad tries: “Look, I’m sorry guys, I’m really torn about (can’t stifle his laugh any longer) this!… See, I told you I’m not that good an actor!”
Of course, once again, the joke’s on Dr. Park because he forgot to ask for time off, so he tries (unsuccessfully) to trade vacation time with other doctors. When Allison shows up at his office and Dr. Julie (Kate Simses) inadvertently tells her the truth, Allison angrily begins walking out on her husband, who begs, “Wait! Wait! Just let me explain!”
She pauses to let him to just that. A startled Ken says, “Wow, I did not expect you to stop! I got nuthin’!”
Pretty damn funny!
Later, 11-year old Albert Tsai demonstrates what a great actor he is when making an increasingly sad face (blinking and looking as if he’s on the verge of sobbing) to his mom. Despite being determined not to fall for it, she ends up asking, “Oh baby, are you okay?!”
The episode we were taping was a sequel to that one, where the Parks are stuck at the airport trying to get back to L.A. Dr. Oz (who taped his part the night before; the producers wanted us to laugh at the pre-taped footage) makes a cameo appearance as himself and gets into a fight with Ken when he wants to trade seats with him (mild spoiler alert).
It was an unusual episode because we never see the Parks return home and Ken doesn’t interact with his office staff. Watch for it in January.
Halfway through the 2½-hour taping, Toshi and I returned to the VIP level where we saw some of the actors taking breaks between their scenes. I still can’t believe Krista Marie Yu, who plays the couple’s teenage daughter, is actually 26. She looks like she’s 16 and was bouncing around the set as if she was 12! The warm-up comedian told the crowd that Jeong would be available for pictures after the show (wow, this guy really does appreciate his audience!).
I met Tsai’s mother, who told me her son has only been acting for 2½ years. In that time, he got noticed for being a scene-stealer in ABC’s “Trophy Wife,” and now he’s a regular on his second series in three seasons. Not bad!
I was shocked when I went up to meet Kate Simses and she turned around with a smile and said, “Guy!” Huh?! She said she saw the Facebook comment I’d made on Jeong’s post (where I said she was very funny and a welcome addition to the cast). Huh! Good memory, that girl!
“You Like Us! You Really Like Us!” Department: Although the NAACP Image Awards sometimes includes non-black talent (e.g. Sandra Oh in “Grey’s Anatomy”), it was still a pleasant surprise to see Hudson Yang nominated for “Best Youth Performance” for “Fresh Off the Boat.” Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang are up for Best Writing for a Comedy Series, “Master of None” — the “Parents” episode — and Ansari’s also acknowledged for directing that episode. Winners will be announced on TV One on Feb. 5.
If that wasn’t enough, the Critics’ Choice Awards were even more effusive in their support for “FOTB.” Not only did Constance Wu get nominated (for Best Actress in a Comedy Series), but so did her co-star Randall Park and Ansari for “Master of None” (both for Best Actor in a Comedy Series). B.D. Wong’s up for Best Guest Actor in a Drama Series (“Mr. Robot”).
What’s encouraging was that in Wu’s and Park’s categories, half of the six nominees are people of color and Rachel Bloom also got well-deserved recognition for starring in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” a show I’ve championed since Day One. Winners will be announced in the Jan. 17 broadcast on A&E, Lifetime, and LMN.
Plug/What Makes Me Tick Department: Had a great conversation about my life with Ken Fong on his podcast, where he’s talked to various Asian Americans including Nancy Kwan, authors Lisa See and Naomi Hirahara (my “evil twin sister;” we share the same birthdate!), and Angry Asian Man. We covered a lot of topics, including being bulled in intermediate school, the impetus for starting MANAA, the Sarah Silverman debate, working with Casey Kasem and Dick Clark, the saddest thing Richard Carpenter ever told me about his sister Karen, and why Donny Osmond declared us “friends for life.” Also, the separation in my mind between pushing causes (aggressively) and my own songwriting career (barely).
Although Fong was a pastor at Evergreen Baptist Church for decades, the interview had nothing to do with religion, nor was it all serious stuff; a lot of it was quite humorous. I was flattered when he went on Facebook and said of the 33 interviews he’d done, mine placed in the Top 3 for most entertaining. Thanks to Toshi Iinuma for telling Fong about me. You can listen to it here. http://asianamericapodcast.com/?podcasts=guy-aoki
’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.