Comedian Chang Entertains, Educates in Two-Part Event
By Maggie Huang '13, Contributing Writer
On Friday, Feb. 28, comedian Eliot Chang entertained a full house in the Friedmann Room. Grant Gordon, Chang’s friend and fellow comedian, got the audience going with a series of jokes about gay bars, Long Island natives, women and more. Chang then took the stage and satirized everything from veganism to rapists in his one-hour show. Following a five-minute break, Chang returned to conduct a question-and-answer session during which audience members sent in their questions to him via text message.

The Asian Students Association (ASA) and Korean Students Association (KSA) sponsored Chang’s visit to campus. The comedian had previous come to the College in 2005 and was “eager” for a repeat performance. Social Countil, Program Board, and the Amherst Association of Students jointly funded Chang’s latest visit to campus this past Friday. ASA head Daniel Hsu ’13 hoped that bringing an Asian-American comedian to campus “might break down some stereotypes, with his Q&A intended to understand issues of Asian-Americans in the media.”

Chang avoided branding himself as an ethnic comedian, cracking jokes about anything but Asians during his hour-long show. He allowed barely one Asian-related joke — dealing more with race in general than Asians specifically — before moving onto material that he claimed Comedy Central had censored, for being too provocative.

In a more serious tone, Chang admitted that because he was a comedian, people would frequently ask him blatantly racist questions to his face, as if humor neutralized the nature of their remarks. Chang further admitted, toward the end of the show, that he was in fact ill and had almost cancelled. He thanked the audience for their support and the KSA and ASA for allowing him to do half of his act sitting down, which “really helped.”

KSA head Minjoo Kim ’13 reviewed the event positively overall.

“We were worried that only asians would show up but the audience was very diverse, so I think we acheived what we wanted,” Kim said. “People had fun, Grant Gordon and Eliot Chang were both very funny, chill, and I think they also enjoyed their audience a lot. Eliot Chang liked us so much that he did overtime.”

Chang, who usually holds a post-show diversity workshop to address Asian-American topics of interest, conducted a Q&A session after the Friday show, since he was sick. He maintained that the Q&A was still valuable because it “address[ed] issues not addressed in college, especially about Asian American issues.” The handful of students who stayed for the Q&A were engaged and kept up a steady flow of questions, and Kim appreciated the chance “to ask Eliot personal, social and cultural questions about himself, his job and his standing as an Asian comedian.”

During the session, Chang revealed that he usually kept his ethnicity a secret to foster ethnic togetherness. “The minute I say [my race], first of all, some people are like, ‘yes!’” Chang said. This creates division in his opinion, which is counterproductive. “We’re strongest when we unify with other Asians.”

When an audience member insisted on asking for his racial identity, Chang’s only response was, “I want to be seen as a representative for all Asian-Americans.”

Another audience member asked about comedy’s role in undermining prejudice, to which Chang replied, “Comedy is a good way to break down stereotypes. Stereotypes exist because they’re based on some truth, but it’s wrong when you think it’s true across the board.”

In response to one suggestion that comedy is inherently conservative, being based on previous assumptions, Chang said, “I don’t think comedy is inherently conservative. I think people are.”

Chang has previously appeared on Comedy Central, where he came in second place in Comedy’s Central’s Stand-Up Showdown. He tours the U. S. for eight months each year and has performed at over 400 colleges. A native of New York, Chang holds a B. S. in biology and once worked as a stock broker before moving on to stand-up comedy.

“People say you don’t choose your calling, your calling chooses you,” said Chang, when asked how he settled upon this career path. He acknowledged that he “learned a lot” from his former Wall Street job, but did not think he could ever go back.

Issue 17, Submitted 2011-03-02 05:02:19