Listen to Episode #47 here:
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Tidying Up with Will and Keiko
Our guests are Will Choi and Keiko Agena. Will’s an actor, writer and producer based in Los Angeles. He is the host of NBC News’ docu-series, Break Shot With Will Choi, where he interviews up and coming Asian-American comedians. Will’s voice can also be heard as a recurring role in the upcoming season of Netflix’s BoJack Horseman. Keiko is a series regular on Hulu’s The First and has recurred on such shows as Better Call Saul, Shameless, and Scandal. She’s best known for her role on Gilmore Girls and she wrote No Mistakes: A Perfect Workbook for Imperfect Artists. Together, they co-host the Drunk Monk Podcast, the live Upright Citizens Brigade show and Asian AF. Welcome, Keiko and Will.
Thank you for having us.
Will, Keiko, if you weren’t working in comedy, what would you be doing?
I’m going to be creative and think of a different option than what I said before.
What was your first option so that people know?
The first thing that I said was that I would be an executive assistant to a high-powered badass woman.
Like the woman from The Devil Wears Prada or Anna Wintour type?
Yes or Meryl Streep. Wouldn’t that be fun? No, I don’t. Will has been a personal assistant.
I still am, technically. Not for the same person.
How do you have time for that?
I have to make money somehow, so I have to work. I don’t work as much as I did from my previous boss, but I still have to work a decent amount as an assistant.
Your original answer was as an executive assistant, behind the scenes supporting this powerful woman.
I love power but not the attention or the criticism or the scrutiny or any of that. Do you know who excites me? I’m going to get political even though this wasn’t part of the show. Do you guys know who AOC is? Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I’m excited about her. Feinstein and Pelosi scare me. I like Warren. Warren’s running around the country. She’s drumming up support for 2020. It’s an exciting time to be an executive assistant.
You can’t be an executive assistant, what are you going to do? What’s your alternative?
A scuba diver.
That’s only funny to us.
I will explain. I’ll go first and I’ll say my previous answer, which was I said I would want to be a scuba diver or a marine biologist because I love the ocean. This was a realization that I had. I wanted to study the ocean a lot when I was a kid because I love the beach and stuff.
I grew up in Hawaii and I never went to the beach. I feel like I squandered. We’re living each other’s dreams.
How do you grow up in Hawaii and not go to the beach? What are you doing?
I was some theater brat probably. I was indoors a lot. My sisters lived the actual Hawaiian reality. One of my sisters did paddling, one of my other sisters worked at a surf shop. She worked at the bar where they served Mai Tai. It’s 50/50. My younger sister and I are not that at all. My younger sister gets stopped and asks where she grew up in Hawaii because she doesn’t have any accent whatsoever. She’s like, “I grew up here.” We’re indoor people.
I’m not surprised to hear this. I think comedians are indoor people.
[bctt tweet=”If everyone’s your enemy, no one is really.” username=””]
Indoor in the dark at 3:00 when they’re tired.
First of all, indoor activities are fun. I live in Colorado where everybody’s like, “The outdoors.” I like indoor activities as much as I like outdoor activities. Comedians are big on indoor activities. While we were waiting for Will, Keiko was telling me about her life in downtown LA. I asked what she liked so much about it. The word coffee shop came out of her mouth four times in the answer. There are your indoor activities. Will, have you ever scuba dived or snorkeled?
Snorkeled I have but I have not scuba dived. Anything National Geographic, Blue Planet all that shit, I love it.
Have you been watching the new Blue Planet?
I have not seen it yet, but it’s literally when I want to go to sleep I will play those videos.
I’ve watched one episode of the new Blue Planet, the one with the lizards and the snakes. Have you seen this?
I’ve been watching some of it here and there. My husband’s been playing it.
It’s these lizards running this gauntlet. It’s incredible.
Is it the one where the snakes are chasing? I have seen that. It’s the most exhilarating, exciting thing I’ve ever experienced. What would you be if you were not the assistant? What’s your other answer?
I will be the manager at a Ralph’s but a big one, maybe the downtown one on 9th Street. Have you guys been watching Superstore? I don’t know why that. I’ve been watching Superstore nonstop that I want to be Glenn, but efficient Glenn. I feel I could do better than Glenn.
You can. He’s not supposed to be good at his job.
Maybe at Trader Joe’s although I would have a hard time with the parking situation. I’m feeling I would have to always be apologetic to people that their lives were so difficult trying to park at the Trader Joe’s.
You could be at Trader Joe’s at some place that has a big parking lot.
That doesn’t exist, Peter.
Trader Joe’s is notorious for their tiny parking lot.
I don’t know if Colorado is different.
I’m sure it’s better. It is interesting you say that. There is a Trader Joe’s in Boulder and the parking lot does seem overrun. I think you’re right.
They’re trying to make the illusion that they’re packed all the time.
The problem is parking lots are expensive and they don’t return as much as produce aisles. You guys are working in comedy and clearly, you’re doing well. I stalked you folks and listened to some of your Drunk Monk Podcast, named aptly because you get drunk and watch episodes of the TV show, Monk, a detective show. It so happened to be the case that the episode I listened to helped answer a question that I was planning to ask you. Do you have a rival? A frenemy? Even an enemy?
What about you, Will?
I said that everyone was my enemy.
If everyone’s your enemy, no one’s really.
That’s a good way to look at life. There are people that pop up in my head. The funny thing is that they’re all my friends. If they were to get something that I thought maybe I could also do that role, there would be a twinge but also like, “Good for you guys for booking it or something.”
I’m speaking for Will, but a lot of my anger and frustration is about making more for all of us to choose from. I’m speaking Asian-Americans because we’re also different. I mentioned this the last time we were talking but when I see someone nail a role, I’m excited for them because that’s their role. I wish that there were more because Will is different from Ken Jeong. There are many different types of my friends that I’m passionate about. I wish that people could work more and we could all be seen more.
That’s an interesting idea that given that the roles for Asians are limited, they’re increasing but still limited. That notion that when someone gets a role that it feels there’s some opportunity cost versus white actors for instance. There are tons of other roles. The idea of trying to grow the pie. One of the things that I like about Asian AF, which is a variety show at UCB in New York and LA, is it’s designed to showcase. It’s a community-building showcase showing the world what talent is out there.
I remember when we first started doing the show, a big thing that was going around in Hollywood was like, “We’re looking for Asian actors and we’re looking for Asian performers. We can’t find them. We don’t know where they are.” I remember Asian AF was like, “You can’t find us, we’re right here. We’re making it easy for you to come and see all of us. We’re all here and it’s a good show.” It was an answer to an excuse that Hollywood was giving.
Hence, the name. Is that part of the origin of the name? It’s like, “It doesn’t get any more Asian than this.”
It all played into it.
Do you remember what the other couple was that you pitched?
I don’t remember. Do you remember?
I don’t but I do remember going, “No, that one.”
What I do remember because there were two that had been done before. It was something like Asian Invasion or whatever. Things have been said and done, gimmicky and stuff. I remember when I landed on Asian AF, I was like, “That’s right to the point.” It’s bold. If you don’t know what AF stands for, it stands for As Fuck. It’s Asian As Fuck. You know what you’re going to get when you come to this show. The funny thing about it is that ironically, the only thing Asian as fuck about it is that we’re all Asian.
I was going to ask about that because I’ve yet to see the show. First of all, what’s the makeup of the audience?
Let’s say it’s half and half. Half Asian, half everything else. It’s grown. In the beginning, it was majority Asian-American, but now white boyfriends and girlfriends have been hearing about it. It’s about a mix. The cool thing is we’re a couple of years into Asian AF LA. Half of the audience is always new. At the beginning of the show we’ll be like, “Who’s first time is it coming to the show?” Usually, it’s half of the audience.
I had on a comedian from LA named Jen O’Donnell and she runs an all-women’s show called The Ladies Room. It’s not technically all-women, but it’s all women. She said something to me that I thought was striking and I’m curious if it exists with Asian AF. She talks about the benefits of Ladies Room allowing women comics to work through new bits with an audience that’s going to be friendlier to those bits. These might be women. She used the example of you make a joke about a sports bra or something like that. If you go to a normal open mic as a woman comic or female comic, it’s mostly other dudes in the audience. If there’s something good to that joke, you might not figure it out with that audience. At Ladies Room, if there’s some potential in that joke, you do figure it out. It encourages you and you get to work that out. You can work it to the next level where it can land with both females and males in the audience. Do you find a similar dynamic with Asian AF? If you’re an Asian comedian and you have a white audience and you’re working something out that bit might not work, but with that audience you might figure it out better.
What’s definitely true is the support of the audience. People come to Asian AF to support the show. No one’s there to be like, “I’m going to this thing or whatever.” The audience is generally supportive.
People don’t wander into that show.
Not so much because we sell out our shows in a day. People who want to come to the show are buying tickets because they want to be there and not because, “It’s a random thing that I want to check out the day ever something.” Asian AF is not necessarily an open mic working out thing. It’s a showcase of people coming with more polished material. They have more time. We give them a decent amount of time to do their set. They might try out some new stuff that might be more Asian-centric and it usually does well because people get it. In the case for our show, it’s usually more polished acts that are going on.
There was something that some improvisers had mentioned about feeling freer. Maybe this is relating also to your example of not feeling you have to explain everything. There may be a little bit of a common language that you could throw something out in an improv scene and feel semi-confident that the other improvisers will get it and the audience will get it to a certain extent. Maybe you can roll that into something bigger and take it deeper than something surface and gimmicky.
You two co-host and you do it well.
We’re not good hosts. We’re bad hosts.
We’re terrible hosts.
I’ve seen some clips. You’re not terrible hosts. I know you’re not terrible hosts because you are enthusiastic. It’s clear you’re happy to be there. You are excited about this. You are encouraging. You make this about the artists.
We’re always focused on showcasing everyone else. We’re not the reason why people are coming to the show. We’re there to facilitate it and to move on smoothly and stuff. The audience isn’t going to be like, “I’ve got to go to this comedy show to see Will and Keiko do bits.” That’s not why people are coming. It comes down to how much time and effort were able to put into hosting. A lot of times we don’t have it.
My favorite bit that we did was when Ed Skrein turned down the role of Hellboy. We gave him a parade and we sang him a song. Will sang a song. It was silly.
This is a bit you guys worked out in advance and practiced it.
It was enjoyable. It was cathartic because I don’t know if everyone knows the story.
I don’t think people know it.
Whitewashing has been building up this pressure over the whole year. It launched on Twitter that Ed Skrein had taken this role that was originally supposed to be an Asian role. To everyone’s surprise, because people were starting to bag on him. His name was going to be associated with another whitewashing incident along with many others. He turned it down. It was such big news, I say big news but it’s all relative. A lot of people in the Asian-American community we’re getting phone calls. I got a phone call from BBC to be on air to talk about this incident because it had not happened before for such a big role for someone to consciously step away from it. We were so happy that we threw him a parade. I was screaming and yelling and we had noisemakers and hats. It was silly and lovely.
Do you have top three whitewashing incidents? What are they?
Scarlett Johansson is number one. That’s the reason why Asian AF started. We were making fun of that.
We make fun of Matt Damon a lot. It’s not really whitewashing. It’s the image of Matt Damon as the White Savior.
Whitewashing is you put a white actor into a role that was meant to be for a non-white actor, so people know.
White Savior is like Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai and Matt Damon in The Great Wall, where there’s a white guy that comes to Asia and saves Asians. The white character is the central character and the backdrop is all Asian, that’s White Savior.
Tilda Swinton was The Ancient One?
It’s all nuanced and weird because that one was like, “We didn’t want to portray this Asian character as a stereotype, so we’re going to get Tilda Swinton to play this character.” It gets messy and weird and it’s like, “You’re not honoring the source material. The source material was racist.” It’s all messy and stuff.
You have Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, which I never watched. It’s not great. If it was good, I would’ve heard it was good. What are some others?
There was Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange. Emma Stone in Aloha, she played a half-Asian character. Matt Damon in The Great Wall, which was different.
There was Death Note that came in and then Iron Fist, also not a whitewashing thing.
Not whitewashing but there would have been a cool way to tell the story through an Asian-American lens that you missed out on. Also, it was not a good show.
To me, this is the most blatant and as a result the most upsetting element of this. It strikes me that there’s an even more pervasive thing which is that there are roles that could be given to any race, but the default is to put a white person and those you don’t even know. You don’t go, “You know who’d be great for that would be to have an Asian guy or gal in that role.” That’s the even more pervasive element, which is the default is to put a white person.
It makes sense. That’s how things have always been. Things are slowly changing now. I want to think that things are getting better.
In 2018, especially the very end of 2018 with Crazy Rich Asians has changed a lot of things. 2019 is going to be fun.
One thing that seems to me that’s pretty clear about Hollywood is how risk-averse it is. When someone does something that’s outside the norm and it does well. At the same time that Hollywood is risk-averse, it also cares a lot about making money. If you can show that this isn’t as risky as you thought it was and then people will follow. It’s either there are people who wanted to follow and didn’t have a reason and now they have a reason. There are people who are greedy. They didn’t care about it before and like, “It’s time to cash in. It can create opportunities.” I want to know what you folks want to talk about.
Will said he was getting high all the time.
I live in Colorado. The green rush is full effect. California has legalized marijuana. You had mentioned off mic that the day disappeared. I want the beats of the day. Did you get up at what time?
The night before that I was smoking as well. I smoked at 6:00 PM or something. I bought a new cartridge on my vape. It’s my first time trying this one. I was up until 6:00 in the morning because I was so high.
Most people talk about how it makes them sleepy and tired and relaxed.
It makes me relaxed, but it makes me aware of my body. I was noticing a lot of areas where I was having pain and tension. I was stretching for ten hours. I fell asleep, I woke up again and then I was like, “What do I have to do now?” I looked at my calendar, “Nothing, great.” I smoked at 10:00 in the morning. I woke up at 10:00 and then the next thing I know it was 7:00 PM and I was like, “What happened? Where did my day go?”
Both of us are noob as far as smoking those. I feel like we’re fifteen.
The great thing is I feel like a kid again. I’m like, “This is how my arm felt when I was a kid?”
Marijuana has this psychedelic property so you can have these unusual cognitions besides the other emotions.
For me, it’s been introspective. I’ve been looking back a lot of memories and stuff like that, which for me the reason why the scuba diving thing came into my mind was I was like, “I remember when I was a kid, I wanted to be a scuba diver.” Things like that are opening up in my mind.
What are you puzzling over these days?
I’ll tell you a couple things on my plate. One, I’m going to run a marathon because my grandma passed away and I want to honor her because she did marathons.
My uncle passed away as well. We’re like the same person.
I read a lot of Twitter and I’m excited about the house and all the women and the progressives there. I’m obsessed with Marie Kondo. I’m super KonMari-ing. I already KonMari-ed. I’m going to be stereotypical. I’m fucking ninja level KonMari-ing my house.
That winter break, there’s a lot of tidying up that happens in the world.
It was planned for them to release it on New Year’s Day. They knew exactly what they’re doing.
Did you watch it?
[bctt tweet=”We love improvements as people. It gives us hope and it is fulfilling.” username=””]
I haven’t watched it yet.
You know about it.
I know the book. I haven’t used the technique per se, but I know that Spark Joy technique and the idea of taking everything out of the closet and all that kind of stuff. I heard about it via Twitter. I wasn’t surprised that a show came of it. There’s something that’s incredibly compelling about makeover shows in general. What’s surprising is that even mundane makeover shows can be compelled. You don’t need to have extreme plastic surgery for a viewer to feel satisfied with a makeover that you can makeover someone’s closet, house, and so on. Give me the beats of the show. I assume they profile someone then Marie shows up.
They’ll talk about why they need to tidy up. Every episode has a different angle to why they need to clear out a loved one’s stuff. They have kids that they’re expecting on the way, so they need more space. They’ll do that and then she’ll come in. She has five-step areas that they need to target. It’s clothing and books and sentimental stuff, papers, miscellaneous.
For our audience who are not familiar with the technique, I’m going to speak as a psychologist for a moment. One of the reasons that people don’t make changes in their life is because of something called loss aversion. That is that for the average person, the potential loss of a change looms larger than the benefits of the change. If you’re contemplating a change in order to pursue it, you either have to find a way to minimize the losses or find a way to maximize the gains. Marie, in addition to having these steps, she recognizes that it’s hard to throw things out, donate them or find another home for them because the problem with them is they’re taking up space, they’re not being used, etc. She has the saying and I’ve heard it’s not as big a deal anymore but like, “Does this spark joy?” Joy being broadly defined, but when the standard becomes, “Does this spark joy?” It then leads you to be focused on only keeping the most important things. It’s a nice technique to try to overcome this loss aversion.
You focus on the good for why you need it. If there’s not a lot of good for why you need it, it has to go. I want to ask you about this because I haven’t seen the show. I saw something on Twitter and it was clickbait and I would not click on it. Maybe it was on the internet about the book part of the show has been controversial to some people. It has to do with this idea that books for some feel like this sacred thing and getting rid of books is “bad.” I don’t believe that to be the case. I am a voracious reader and my house has almost no books in it. I don’t need a wall of books to show people that I’ve read a lot of books. I donate to Goodwill and to libraries and I borrow books a lot and so on. I’m curious. Did you notice anything about this book part of the show?
I heard about that mostly because I saw someone’s response to that. I’m curious about why people attached to that one part of it?
I didn’t click on it that’s why I can’t answer that question. My guess is this notion that books for some, clearly not all because most people don’t read books. I should check the stats. Someone told me some crazy statistic like 50% of Americans has not read a book since high school. It sounds right. It sounds terrifying. There are people who clearly are passionate and love books and feel that they are these special items. The idea that you would be encouraging people to get rid of books seems sacrilegious as a result.
I suspect that it’s the easiest item to defend of the five different objects.
There are clothes, books, miscellaneous, papers and sentimental.
The interesting thing is that there’s an order that you want to go in. You go from easiest to hardest. With clothes, it’s the easiest for people to get rid of. By the time you hit the sentimental, which is the last thing, your mind is in a mindset of being able to let go of things.
If you watch them, people have attachments to different things. For some people, it’s books. For some people, this one guy, it was paper. He was a writer and there was something about the scraps of paper that he had difficulty there. Some people have it with clothes. Some people have it with the sentimental. I would suspect that whoever initially wrote that is someone who is very attached to books and the idea of getting rid of them clicked something with that person that was maybe challenging.
I keep a tidy house and I’m one of these messy bed, messy head people. When the world feels a little out of control and when I feel a little stress, I’d like to put things in their place and it helps to have that sense. There is something oddly satisfying about that before and after either for you or even witnessing it that is compelling. We love improvements as people. It gives us hope. It’s fulfilling. It makes for good TV.
Less clutter physically and emotionally and mentally and stuff like that, which helps I’m sure.
This is a great segue. This idea of tidying up, you tidy up your space, the notion of tidying up your career or tidying up your thoughts. I’m curious about your process in terms of getting rid of jokes. The things you’re saying yes versus no to. You two strike me as you’re at the point in your career where you don’t have to say yes to everything that comes your way. Let’s take this idea of tidying up and let’s apply it to your professional lives and tell me are you doing it? How are you doing it? Do you have a system? If you were going to Marie Kondo your professional life, what would it look like or are you doing it?
For me, it’s being efficient with your time and your energy. I’m the type of person that I spread myself thin a lot and I’ve done that my entire life. Now, it’s a matter of pinpointing the things that exactly what I want to work on and I want to excel in. That’s what I’ve been thinking about a lot for 2019 is learning to be like, “This thing that I’ve been doing for a while, it’s either getting harder for me or it’s getting busier. Either I need to let it go or I need to find someone else to help me with it or something like that,” because you only have so much energy.
Give me an example. You guys were joking earlier, you tell Keiko to do some things sometimes.
Sometimes I do them.
She doesn’t do all of that. I wish I had a good example for you but I don’t.
First of all, I’m glad you didn’t say no to this. This could have been one of those things, let’s be honest.
Sometimes it’s timing too because when you initially emailed us, the holidays were starting. I couldn’t even think of anything else.
You had a show that day.
When I finally caught up to my emails and I was like, “Peter emailed two weeks ago and I completely forgot to respond back.” It was like, “Yeah, I want to do something like this,” but the time was off when I got the initial email.
It sounds to me what you’re saying is when you’re in this tidying mindset, it’s usually when you’re a little overwhelmed. It’s not constant. When you have space, you say yes to lots of things. When you don’t have space, you say no.
That’s a good way to put it because sometimes there’s too much going on and I cannot focus on these couple of things. For example, I got asked to do a show and it’s a pretty big show. I got asked to do this show at Sketchfest, which is in San Francisco. I was like, “I want to do it. I want to do this show but I know where my headspace is going to be when I’m up there and I know that I’m not going to be in the right mindset for it. I have to turn it down.” Stuff like that where it’s like, “I want to do, it sounds fun,” but I know that it’s not going to be the right call for me. Normally I would be like, “That sounds great.” Two years ago, any chance to do it, I’ll do it.
I remember we would have conversations about that thing because Will does say yes to a lot of things. He knows a lot of people. He goes to see a lot of things. He’s also producing a lot of things and performing a lot of things. There was a time where I would say, “Don’t do a show this month. Take the holidays off or don’t do this particular theater thing.” He would say, “Yeah, Keiko,” and then do it anyway. A couple of years later and you’ve decided you’re going to take some time to have your weed days when you need it.
I’m fascinated by this idea of stress and recovery. We know it’s important in fitness athletics. You’re about to run marathons and if you went out every day and ran ten miles, your body would break down. You need to sometimes run ten miles and sometimes do a shakeout run and some days do something else. It’s clearly the case for creative work that you can’t be successful without running hard metaphorically, but you also need to take a break from it. I had Billy Merritt on here and he was talking about the advice he gives his students if they want to get good at improv. I might not get it exactly right, but I’ll try to explain it. He’s like, “Day one, take a class. Day two, watch shows. Day three, practice with your mates, put together a team. Day four, do an improv jam. Day five, read about improv.”
Every day those five days of the week you are working on a particular set of skills and practicing and developing. Day six and seven he says, “Go to Europe.” The idea being you need to step away from it. You have to give yourself a break. It’s not Europe per se, but the idea is to go do something else that’s interesting that then indirectly informs being a good improviser, which might be something historical might come up in a sketch or whatever. For you two as comedians, if you only do comedy all the time you can’t be paying attention to what’s going on in the world, which is the source material for doing good comedy in a sense. That’s fun ideas. Stress yourself and then release yourself in that way.
I used to be the person where I would say that my saving grace was that I called myself bouncy as resilient. I would push and have heartbreak and fail and all of that, but at least I was resilient and I was bouncy in acting work. I didn’t give up.
Tell me if I am right. You seem like that in life in general, a little bouncy.
Probably, yeah. One of the newest things that I thought about is at least for me. My new standards for 2019 are two things. Is it joyful? Is it kind? That’s for me.
When you say it, do you mean the thing you’re doing?
What you were saying about if you’re making choices about things. When Will asked me about this thing after we stop the sketches or any opportunity or any question of should I do this thing or should I not do this thing. In the past, there will be all kinds of machinations that would go cerebrally, “Is it good for my career? Why should I do it? It’s because it’s with this producer. I need to do it because if I don’t do it, something else bad will happen.” It’s cranking almost in your brain. I’m used to that and you push. You’re like, “I have to,” so I’m going to push and then I’ll recover afterward.
Now you’re like, “Does it spark joy?”
Yes, we’re bringing her around. How far can I get if I go through the whole year and not worry about the machinations of it? I say, “Is this joyful?” If I doubled down on that thing and see how much fun it could be, what naturally comes out of that?
You two are at a level where you can afford to do that. That’s hard. If you’re a brand-new comedian and you’re like, “Does this spark joy?” You’re finished because it’s a grind to get good enough. You can’t be picky at the beginning. To me, the interesting juxtaposition in comedy is Bill Murray versus Joan Rivers. Joan was to the very end working all the time. If she had an empty space on her calendar, she was fraught with uncertainty and anxiety and so on. She had to be working all of the time. I understand that’s part of the reason why she always viewed herself as an underdog. She sees herself as born to perform and so on. This is in her biopic.
The juxtaposition of this is Bill Murray who is almost impossible to wrangle and to get him into a movie. He works when he wants to work, as he wants to work with whom he wants to work. Even though both of them were at the pinnacle of their success, he strikes me more of the, “Does this spark joy to do?” Wes Anderson calls, he says yes because he knows it’s going to be a magical experience. Joan never moved to that place because she always had this scarcity mindset around it. It didn’t matter what it was. If she’s got to take a red-eye to Reno, she would take a red-eye to Reno to do the work. I’m not suggesting that either is wrong. These are people living their full lives, but there is something that happens as you become a veteran you get good. You are allowed and able to say no. You have a license in such a way.
What’s interesting is it increases your value. When you start saying no to things, then people maybe will pay more. It’s great that you are thinking this way. There’s this saying in these tech folks. There’s a guy who talks about hell yes or no or fuck yes or no. If it’s not a hell yes, then it’s a no, which is a very similar idea to what you’re describing in that way. I want to do some more personal type stuff. Will, you’re doing voiceover work. I’ve only had one guest who does it before. I’m curious about that world. Do you like the work?
For me, I’m so new to it. As a kid, I loved cartoons. I would get in trouble with my mom for watching too much TV and too many cartoons. Another thing I remembered as a kid is that my mom would pick me up from school. She drops me off at home and then she’d be like, “I’m going to go out and get groceries for dinner or whatever. Go do your homework.” I would go to my room, listen for the garage door to open and close. As soon as it closed, I run to the TV and watch whatever cartoon was on. I would be half paying attention to TV, half pay attention to the garage door. When I would hear it open, I turn it off and run to my room and pretend I was doing my homework. Sometimes I got caught, sometimes I didn’t. The days I got caught were not great. That for me was remembering how much I loved cartoons. How as a kid I was like, “I want to do that,” but I had no idea how to be a voice actor.
To even be an actor, I had no idea what that would take. Now that I’m in this industry and doing what I enjoy doing, that voiceover fell into my hands a little bit. When I signed with my first agency and it was a small boutique agency, they happened to have a small voiceover department. They must have been like, “He has an interesting voice, send him out for some voiceover stuff.” Within a month of signing with them, I booked my first video game. I had no idea. No training, no nothing. I auditioned as everyone else did and I got in. That was my first experience being in the booth and seeing all the gameplay of what the game was going to look like and stuff like that. It was exciting for me and I was like, “I’ve got to do this.” This was back in 2014 and I never booked a single voiceover thing after that. Nothing came my way. I might have done one commercial or something.
[bctt tweet=”If you only do comedy all the time, then you can’t pay attention to what’s going on in the world.” username=””]
I started to slowly book a few things here and there. I did a commercial spot and stuff. Now I am somewhat in it. Keiko has experienced doing voiceover as well. It’s been fun because what I love about voiceover as opposed to live acting is that you have to use your entire body to get certain sounds out and certain emotions out. Where on camera, you’re limited to the frame. In a voiceover, I was working with a director and he said, “Don’t be afraid to look stupid. You have to.” To me, to find the certain voice of a character, I have to position myself a certain way. I have to stand a certain way. I have to crank my neck up or down or whatever. That is the way to find a character in the way that you cannot do on camera.
Are you wearing a headset that allows you to move around?
There’s a mic in front and then I’m wearing headphones. That’s all it is in my experience. I haven’t done motion capture or anything like that. It’s interesting having to use your physicality to find a character. That to me has been the most enjoyable part about doing voice acting.
You’re doing this for BoJack Horseman, which you’re a fan of the show.
I’m a fan of the show. I’m excited to be in a show that I love.
It certainly beats being in a show you don’t love.
It’s great. It’s such a fun experience.
Is voiceover work hard?
It’s easier than being an actor.
Each of you does many things. What’s the hardest of those things that you do professionally?
Hosting Asian AF.
Hosting is low on our caring meter.
What’s the most difficult thing?
Hosting is definitely hard. I don’t do it a lot. If I had to host the Golden Globe or something, that would be a nightmare for me because I would be like, “I don’t know how to do that.” What would be the hardest aspect? Producing to me is not hard. I think for Keiko, it’s a hard thing for you to do.
I love that you keep calling me a comedian. I’m not a comedian, but I love that you keep calling me that. To me, comedy is much harder than drama. I was talking to my husband about that it’s fascinating to me to think that there are people who know that they can nail a piece of comedy in the same way. There are certain areas of drama where I know that I can nail something. I can attack it and have confidence in that. I’ve never had confidence in comedy. I love comedy. I do it as much as I can and there are times when I get lucky and there’s fire. I’m yearning for that feeling of knowing you could nail certain types of characters.
Sometimes I’ll watch a TV show or whatever and their comedy is on point. I’m like, “I could never do that.” There’s no way to have that. There’s a science behind it that some people can tap into it. For me, I would never think to do that or whatever.
Keiko, I want to ask you about your book. As someone who’s a visual-auditory person, you’re up on stage, on screen and so on. You wrote a book. What prompted it?
Originally, it was going to be an adult coloring book. I had started drawing about a few years ago for my own mental unwinding. They’re pretty detailed because I use a pretty fine pen and I started posting them a lot. I’ve got a lot of comments about you should make a coloring book. Through certain channels, I was able to get a literary manager and we went to pitch it. The feedback was, “We like this, but can it be broadened out that we don’t want it just to be a coloring book?” What it became ultimately was a toolset that I use myself. All the things that I need to get myself over difficult challenges are times when I feel stuck as an artist. All of those thoughts and exercises, I put in one place and that ended up becoming this. Now it’s a workbook. There are places where you can draw but a lot of it is journaling and a lot of it is answering certain questions and visualizing things for yourself.
What’s cool about the book too is that you could rip out the page. That’s all perforated on the side. If you liked something that you did, you could rip it out and do whatever.
I have a quick follow-up question for you. A previous guest, Jeremy Sender, he gave me your names and encouraged me to reach out to you. I met his girlfriend. Jeremy and I went to a UCB show and then she happened to be next-door with a friend and they said, “Ask Keiko about her wedding,” but I have no idea what that means.
I’ll give you a precursor to my wedding. My husband and I were friends for six years. We were roommates for six months. We dated for a month. We were engaged for a month and now we’ve been married for several years. When we got married, we got married in a helicopter over the Vegas Strip we eloped. Nobody knew that we were getting married until we got back.
I’ve never heard of a helicopter wedding before.
Not the helicopter thing that’s whoever wants to do that it was super fun. I will send this out into the airwaves. All young people or old people should elope. Your family will forgive you. Buy your respective moms something great with the money you saved, and then spend it on your honeymoon or down payment on your house. Spend it however you want.
What are you reading, watching or listening to that’s really good that stands out?
We were talking about Marie Kondo.
I mentioned Bob’s Burgers.
You mentioned Rick And Morty.
Those are the things you’re watching. What about listening to or reading?
When my husband and I went to Vegas for our anniversary, we decided to try the audiobook for the first time. We got Michelle Obama’s Becoming. It’s lovely. It made the trip go by like nothing, like butter. She reads it herself and she’s a wonderful reader.
When you say you guys got it and you were listening to it separately on headphones or in the car?
We drove to Vegas and it was nice.
I picked up a book which I’ve had in my room for years. It feels like years, but it’s been calling to me. It’s a book called Plan B by Jonathan Tropper. He’s an author that I’ve read a couple of his other books and I liked them a lot. He wrote a book called This Is Where I Leave You, which turned into a movie with Tina Fey and Jason Bateman and stuff like that. This book is called Plan B. I don’t know what it’s about. I read the first ten pages. That’s what I’m reading right now. The funny thing is I haven’t picked up a book in a while. It’d be nice to get into that rhythm again of reading because it’s been a while.
I like 2019 Will. He’s getting high. He’s reading books. You look not as sleepy. You look less sleepy. Normally you look dead to the world.
I’m reading that right now. I don’t know what I’m listening to.
Other TV shows I want to throw out there are Superstore and The Good Place.
There was a Netflix cartoon called Voltron, which I watched all eight seasons. It’s a remake of the ‘80s cartoon.
I watched every single competition cooking show ever made. The best, and I can say this because I’ve watched everyone, is Master Chef Junior. Here’s the reason why Master Chef Junior is amazing. The kids are from eight until twelve or thirteen. They’re extremely talented. They cook better than the adults in Master Chef and I’m not making that up. The wonderful thing about the way that they shoot the kids is that they’re sweet to each other. Gordon Ramsay and all the judges, it’s hard to watch sometimes. They are as hard on these eight-year-olds as they are on adults. I don’t know what these kids are made of. They don’t crack and they perform under pressure and they are kind to each other. They’re supportive like, “You did great.” They cry when they leave. It’s the sweetest and it makes me believe in talent and perseverance and humanity.
This sounds a lot like it’s on your theme too, which is, “Is it good? Is it kind?”
I can’t believe I didn’t say the best show ever. Derek is my favorite show ever, besides Monk. It’s Ricky Gervais’ show. I would cry every episode. The whole theme is kindness. Probably, you can still find it on Netflix.
I know there are two of you, so there is double the number of things to stand out, but you guys have set a record for the number of things.
We still got more. I still got tons of stuff that I’m watching. Keiko watches every single show. I’m trying to keep up with her to try to watch as much.
I professionally absorb content. That’s my job. I act sometimes, but my job is to observe content.
This is my last question because you guys are LA-based. I find it striking when I’m here, how many people go, “Have you seen this?” I’m not in the business so I don’t have to make it seem like I know everything. I’m like, “No.” If you’re in Hollywood, there’s a lot of pressure to be like, “Yeah.” I don’t understand how people do it because generally if you are working in Hollywood, you’re busting your ass. There is so much content to be consumed. It’s impossible for everybody to be watching everything and doing their jobs at a high level.
As actors, we don’t have regular jobs. There are a lot of downtimes to disengage and turn off your brain for a while and binge a show.
It is part of your work. When I read books, it is benefiting my work even if I’m reading the book largely for pleasure because I’m observing how you tell a story. How do you put together words? I’m adding to my vocabulary and my worldview less so when I watch a movie. For you guys, it might be the opposite, which is watching a movie is a night’s work because you’re observing this technique. How do you do this camera shot? These directorial choices, etc.
A lot of people in LA love movies and television. That’s also why we love to be in them, but we also love them.
I love it. I love TV.
You guys were theater nerds. You started early.
I haven’t seen as much theater.
It’s the same principle. You guys are great. I knew you would be great and I appreciate you doing this.
Thanks for having us.
You’re welcome. Cheers.
- Will Choi
- Keiko Agena
- No Mistakes: A Perfect Workbook For Imperfect Artists
- Drunk Monk Podcast
- Upright Citizens Brigade
- Asian AF
- Jen O’Donnell – previous episode
- The Ladies Room
- Marie Kondo
- Billy Merritt
- Jeremy Sender – previous episode
- Plan B
- This Is Where I Leave You
About Will Choi
Will Choi is an actor, writer, & producer. Currently, he is the host of NBC News’ docu-series Break Shot with Will Choi, where he interviews up & coming Asian American comedians. Will’s voice can also be heard as a recurring role in the upcoming season of Netflix’s BoJack Horseman.
About Keiko Agena
Keiko Agena is a series regular on Hulu’s The First and has recurred on such shows as Better Call Saul, Shameless and Scandal. She is best known for her role on Gilmore Girls. More recently, wrote No Mistakes: A Perfect Workbook for Imperfect Artists.