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Comedy Is The Best Relief For Sorrow

With Judy Kwon

Published on: May 10, 2019

One of the great things about comedy is it gives us the relief from whatever it is we are going through in life. Judy Jean Kwon is someone who has found that as comfort from her sorrows. Also known as YoMamaRice, Judy is a talented Korean-American actress and comedian and the creator and star of the fresh new comedy, MILFriend. She takes us through her journey as she talks about compassion and forgiveness, having had a strained relationship with her parents, as well as the struggles of life as an immigrant. She shares how comedy became an outlet for her to tell her stories while also highlighting the importance of diversity in storytelling and having people from different backgrounds behind the scenes in the media.

Comedy Is the Best Relief For Sorrow with Judy Kwon

I like to read one review from our audience. This one is from LaniK with the title, “Empowering.” “Asian Women of Power is a catalyst for healing and getting rid of stereotypes, which Asian women continue to endure. Kimchi and her guests candidly discussed thought-provoking challenges which Asian women and their families face, which affects our self-esteem, dreams, aspirations, career, family life and more. Bravo, Kimchi, for teaching us how to live life loud. You are inspiring.” Those are very kind words. Thank you, LaniK. Please keep tuning in and sharing this. We appreciate your support and review. Join me in welcoming our guest.

We have a very special guest, Judy Jean Kwon. She is a talented Korean-American actress and comedian born and raised in Koreatown, Los Angeles, California. She has a standup comedy show called YoMamaRice. She is the Creator and Star of MILFriend, a fresh new comedy. The plots are based on her experience as a Korean-American immigrant, always on the outside trying to fit in. Judy is working with her partner and husband, Richard Henkels, to create multiple projects which are in development and they are hoping to have MILFriend picked up by a platform for a full season order. Judy’s mission is to tell stories about the underdogs that are mostly ignored. Her big break came when she landed the lead role in the Philips Flat TV commercial and has since appeared in over 100 commercials and she was featured in Making the Rules. She continues to break barriers for ethnic actors. Please help me welcome, Judy Jean Kwon.

Thank you for having me. I’m happy to be on your show and be part of the strong and powerful Asian women.

I appreciate that and you are one too. 

Thank you. I try to be.

Tell us a little bit about yourself growing up. Are you the only child? 

No, I have a sister. My childhood has not been the happiest of childhoods. I was raised by my grandmother and my dad and my mom did not have a steady marriage. I ended up going back and forth from Korea and America because my mom was a second-generation Korean-American. She was in the US military and then my dad met her here in America. I was sent back and forth. I even, at one point in my life, lived in a trailer park for the military base in South Carolina. Then I went back to Korea and I did the first and second grade there. Then I came back to America in LA with my grandmother to live here permanently.

We had a video store called Kwon’s Video. It was my dad’s video store and I was the help. The child labor help, that’s what I was. I was dubbing a lot of movies because we had Korean movies and also American Hollywood blockbusters, and also the Korean soaps and all the drama so I had two cultures going at the same time. That’s how I was raised a lot by the TV screen and that’s how I learned English. I was born here but when I went back to Korea, I didn’t speak any English. When I came back here, I had to learn English and a lot of it was watching a lot of cartoons.

Do you speak Korean? 

I do speak Korean because I was raised by my grandmother and she didn’t speak any English. In order to communicate with her, I had to speak Korean. As I got older and as you’re in America longer, it gets harder and harder to keep your Korean. A lot of Korean people that I know that’s been based here or came here as I did at my age, they ended up losing it. I ended up keeping some of it because I still have to speak to my grandma.

Can you write too? 

I can write up to second-grade level but when I listened to Korean news, I’m like, “What are they talking about?” Because it’s like Shakespeare the way they use the words, I have no idea. I could go to a restaurant and order food or ask, “Where’s the bathroom?” I could have general conversations but when it comes to the fancy-schmancy stuff, it doesn’t happen.

What are the events or moments that shaped you from your childhood? 

I’ve had so many events. I feel like I lived a thousand lives. A lot of the events in my childhood was not the happiest of moments. I grew up not having a mom or a dad with me when I was being raised by my grandmother in Korea. Back in the ‘80s when I was growing up there, there was no other family in my town that was divorced. Divorce was the thing that women did not do. Now, it’s common probably. I haven’t been to Korea for a while but now it’s more accepted. Back in the days when I was growing up in Korea, there were zero divorces. I will be the kid that other parents would talk about. I came from a very prestigious family. As one of my Korean friends told me, her mom told her the Kwons are like the Kennedys of Korea.

We owned most of the land in Korea before the Korean War. Korea was separated and then they changed it to democracy. This is what my uncle told me because you can’t find this in any history book in America. The history was just about the Korea War from the American soldiers’ point of view. My uncle told me that we owned all the land and overnight everything was taken from us. Korea was going to be a democratic country so they passed a law overnight that said if you don’t live in your property, that’s going back to the government. We own most of the properties but then overnight, we lost it pretty much.

This was in South Korea?

South Korea before the 1900s, if you look at the history, we’ve progressed so fast. In the 1900s, we had a king and a queen. The Japanese came and tried to erase Korean culture. You don’t know about that whole event that went on and the murder of the queen and the king. That’s all history. I don’t know how it is in China or anywhere else in Asia, but I do know it progressed from the 1900s to now. It’s totally different. Women didn’t have the rights as they have now. We had a Korean president that’s a female. She got ousted but we did have a female president. In the 1900s, women didn’t even have rights. You need a husband’s permission to do everything. I don’t know, I’m not a historian. I’m just a storyteller-comedian so don’t quote me on any of this.

You said there are many moments or events that impacted your life. Just pick out one big event that shaped you to be the person you are now.

I don’t think there’s one single event that shaped me the way I am. The thing is every time something happens, you learn and grow from it. That’s what brought me to who I am. It was all those steps that brought me to where I am. There’s not one single thing, but not having a mom was a big thing for me. My mother and my dad didn’t have a good marriage. Unlike most people where when your parents get divorced, you go with your mom. I ended up with my dad and then my grandmother because my grandmother was on my dad’s side. My mom took off. That was traumatic for me. It was hard to deal with because everybody I knew had a mom.

They might not have a dad because the dad’s missing, but nobody didn’t have a mom. That shaped me in a way that I’m not influenced by how the traditions were brought down by women to women like a mother to a daughter. I didn’t have any of that. I had to define who I am as a woman. I didn’t have somebody telling me, “To be a woman, you have to be this way or that way.” The only thing I got was my grandmother where she would have those old 1920s values. She would tell me like, “You’re not supposed to be affectionate or kiss.” That stuff is all weird like, “That’s gross.” I feel the same when I see people kissing on the street, “Go get a hotel for God’s sake. That’s private. I don’t want to see you doing it.” That defines me as far as what I think a woman is.

What is it? 

I feel strongly about the immigrant cause, the female cause and about being a woman because of all this and because I also had an immigrant experience. Being a woman, I don’t have to define myself by looks. I’ve noticed that a lot of even mothers that I talked to, they are putting this story and they keep on the tradition of the story of how you look as a woman is going to take you far in life. I noticed it with moms. They will focus on their daughters in the way they look, not how they’re educated. They are concerned about education but they’re more concerned about how beautiful they are versus you’re on your own two feet and can take care of yourself and not depend on a guy. I always feel that women try to define themselves by how they’re going to be with a man like a part of a puzzle. It’s like, “I have to be beautiful and I have to have these qualities so that I can present myself in a better light to a man who’s going to take care of me.” Why don’t we get women to stand on their own two feet and take care of themselves? Then they could be like, “I’ll take whatever I want.” You have more freedom. You have choices in life. That’s one thing definitely.

You are now a parent, you have a son. You probably realized that being a parent is not easy.

Being a parent is not easy but it’s way easier than having to put up with my parents and their BS.

Have you gained more compassion towards other parents, especially your parents?

I don’t know if it’s so much more compassion because my parents are not normal in the sense that they’ve put me through so much. Not really, it’s the other way for me because they could have done this. Why didn’t they do it? I’m doing it. I’m putting my son number one on my list and I’m trying to take care of him the best I can. I’m sure I’m going to screw him up some way. There have to be some ways the parents screw their kids up. At least I’m here and making an effort versus my mom was MIA. She wasn’t even there and my dad was a nightmare.

Actually, I think it’s the opposite. I love my dad and my mom because they are my parents. When you have parents, no matter how messed up they are, you still have that parents to bond and you still love them no matter what. Even if my dad or my mom was a serial killer, I would still love them because that’s your parent. That still doesn’t mean that what they did was right. As far as compassion with their parenting, no. I have compassion as far as them as a human being. I understand that as a person, nobody’s perfect and everybody has faults. I have compassion in the sense that I understand my dad was a bit lost and maybe my mom was a bit lost and they made the choices that they did at the time. That kind of compassion but as a parent, no. They did not come close to being a decent parent. My grandma did that. That’s why I love my grandma. My grandma filled in for both of their lack of being able to be an adult and responsible.

I’ve learned that compassion means to be able to relate to the other person. Because you are a parent now, when you look back, the decision that your mom or your dad made at that time, they did the best they could. It doesn’t mean that they know what’s the right thing to do. You mentioned that you love your parents no matter what. When you love somebody, you would be able to forgive the person but forgiving doesn’t mean that you approve of their action.

I forgive them. It took me a long time to get there. I forgave them but I don’t approve of what they did, in a sense that they didn’t try their best to be a good parent. They were trying to survive in their mode of survival and themselves. They didn’t make the right choices or do their best to be a parent. In that sense, no. It took me a long time to forgive my dad.

This is a very painful experience for you. For most of us who did not have a good relationship with their parents, some people would take them maybe 40 to 50 years.

Maybe never. I was able to forgive my dad after he passed away, which is painful because I wish I had that last moment where we had a bonding of forgiveness or something like this. My dad passed away totally like giving you the finger by passing away before we could make amends. He passed away in the most awful way. It took me a long time even after that dealing with it spiritually and mentally. I don’t think I could have forgiven him if he was still alive though.

You’ll never know.

I don’t know. You don’t know. It would have been hard to forgive him if he was still alive. Maybe that was part of it.

Nothing is hard. I agree that there are a lot of things that are hard. If you are determined that you want to create the life and you are the creator of that, then you will do whatever it takes to remove all the obstacles in your life.

To make a choice and to go forward with your lifetime and to make something happen, you can’t have anger holding you down. When you’re so angry at a parent and it’s so blinding that you can’t move on and that was a problem. I was so angry at him, I had a hard time functioning even as a human being. I couldn’t focus on anything I had to do. Once my dad passed away, I was able to forgive him somewhat, but I couldn’t move on with my life until my grandmother passed away. My grandmother stayed around for another ten years but I was still debilitated and I couldn’t function. I feel like my life hasn’t started until I hit 40 because that’s when my grandmother mother passed away a few years before that. The whole reason behind my grandmother, as I was saying, this is going to get into not the women thing but the immigrant thing that I’m very passionate about. My grandma was an illegal immigrant here in America. She came here to raise me because my mom and dad left.

How did she come here?

She came here as a vacationer on a trip. What she thought was she was going to come and escort me, drop me and my sister off, and that all of a sudden my messed-up dad and my mom was going to get together and I’m going to have a family. When she came here, she realized that’s never going to happen. My mom was not here in the picture. My dad was never going to get my mom back. She stayed and she filled in the position of being my mother. She’s like, “Somebody’s got to take care of these kids,” because my dad was a mess. He cannot take care of anything. Once we’re here, she stayed and she always thought in her mind that she was going to go back to Korea. I know that she did think that because after my dad passed away, she asked me to send her back. At that point, it was impossible because we don’t have anybody in Korea. Our family is just me, my sister, my dad and my grandmother. We don’t have a big extended family. I don’t have a family.

What about relatives?

My dad was the only son. My grandmother had a daughter and she passed away during the war. The only kid she had was my dad, who was her son. My dad was not the best of a son but that was the only family she has. Then my grandmother came here and what is she going to do? That’s her only son. Also, I was the substitute for her daughter that passed away. It was going to be hard for her to leave us anyway. She came here and she was an illegal immigrant and so the State of California or the United States never recognized her as a human being here. I was in the court system with the immigration courts going back and forth. It was a joke. I’ve talked to all the lawyers. The whole immigration system in America is so messed up. I don’t think a lot of people that are not having to deal with the immigration system in America understand how messed up it is. This is what they told me and this was before the whole situation that’s happening now. It’s probably worse now because my grandmother passed away for a long time now. This was before the whole Trump thing and all this stuff that’s going on now.

It was probably a little bit better than it is now. They told me that unless you are petitioned by your immediate family, you cannot stay in the United States. For my grandmother, that will be her mom or dad, which my great grandparents are not around. They’re all dead. They are old or her son or daughter. The only person that could petition my grandmother was my dad. My dad was a Green Card holder so you have to be a citizen. He has to pass the citizenship test in order to make my grandmother legal here or at least petition her to be legal here and be recognized. I couldn’t do it even though I was born here and my mom served in the US Army and my sister was born in the US Army base in Korea. Even though I’m American, I cannot have my grandmother be recognized as a human being in America. My grandmother and I went to the courts but they told us that she’s never going to be recognized, she’s never going to be a human being here. They’re never going to kick her out either because she’s too old. They’re afraid of the liability of her dying on a plane or something.

Comedy: When you have parents, no matter how messed up they are, you still love them no matter what.

I had to deal with that for ten years after my dad passed away because that’s how long my grandmother stayed. I was doing that even before my dad passed away. The whole immigration system and the whole American system was such taxing on me. There was such a drain. It was so heavy. It was such a heavy burden. For me mentally and spiritually, I had my grandmother who gave up everything. She sacrificed everything to come and raise me here in America and I couldn’t even get her to be recognized as a human. If you’re not recognized and if you’re not a legal resident here, the worry all the time of getting caught, getting found out, you can’t go travel anywhere, you can’t do anything. It’s like your legs are taken from you. A tremendous amount of guilt is what I felt. I had so much guilty feeling because I couldn’t take care of her the way that I wanted to. I couldn’t function. It was overwhelming. Even though I love her so much, I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t even live my life and be who I could be as a person until she passed away, which is sad and very regretful. I wish I could be who I am now and be able to think straight and be able to be like, “Forget the government, forget all this stuff, forget the guilt.” It’s easier said than done.

You were young and it’s very hard to be clear and to be able to come up with a solution when we are in it. It’s easy to look back and look at somebody else so that you can see what needs to be done. Because you are in it, you’re too emotional and you thought that you did the best you could.

I did do the best that I could with the circumstances I was given. I didn’t have any support. I have no family, I had nobody, I had no mentor. Nobody’s guiding me and nobody’s giving me any assistance. It was me by myself trying to hold up my whole family. That was a big burden on my back.

Did you receive any assistance from the government or did you have to work to pay for the food and living?

The government, no. For my grandmother, I got the Emergency Medi-Cal account. That’s what they call it for immigrants that are illegal. You have this emergency account in case of an emergency, if you go to the emergency room, you’re covered. This is all part of the storyline on my show, MILFriend. Even though it’s a comedy and I’m being a big downer and drag, I promise you the show is funny. This whole theme that I’m talking about is in my show. My grandmother even has a role in it.

Let’s move on with something that you’re excited about. How and when did you start with comedy?

My dad has always been funny. That was a comic relief because of all this heavy stuff that we were going through in our lives. The comedy was always a thing. He was gregarious and I think I got part of that, the whole comedy and the gregarious thing. I started acting when I was seventeen. I’ve always been comical and I’ve done about 100 commercials and usually a lot of those are funny bits.

Can you share with us some of the commercials that you did that’s funny?

I did so many. I don’t have any coming because I’ve been out of the loop with the whole commercial world.

Which is the funny one that you did that you remember?

The Philips Flat TV was uplifting. That was when the flat TV first came out. When people didn’t even know what a flat TV was, I did the first ad. It was me with two fine-looking white gentlemen on the beach and we’re going up these little, tiny, shack-like thing and they put the TV up. I was in the center clicking and I had the remote control by the way. I was the one in control there, then I click on the TV and the Beatles song comes up. That one was a good funny bit. That was one of the first jobs that I did that got me started into the whole commercial business.

At the time, I didn’t think it was stereotype because when I started in the whole commercial world, Asians usually have long hair, submissive and demure, that was the stereotype. Then I was like, “I’m not going to do that. I’m going to do the total opposite.” I cut my hair off. I put these big giant glasses on and I was like, “I’m going to be me.” I think me doing that got me noticed then I started doing all these ads and I thought I was breaking the stereotype. I was doing all the fitness stuff, all the tech stuff, anything that’s smarter Asian. I did all the banking and financial institutions. Then I realized later on after years of doing it, I thought I broke the stereotype but I created another one. I created a whole other set of stereotype, the smart American-Asian. Now, I have to go in and do that but it was fun.

Did you remember any experience of discrimination in your industry?

Can you be more specific? There’s a lot of discrimination.

You mentioned about stereotype, but let’s say if they have a job opening or a role opening and you are equal to the other person, a white female, and maybe they did not pick you because you are Asian.

That’s the thing. It’s not like a normal business where you’d go in with a set of resume and what you could do, then they could go on with who’s the better type or who’s more efficient. It’s advertising, it’s film, it’s an entertainment, it’s on visual. They have their own thing about, “We need to hit this market or that market.” I understand how they will put the white female as the lead because they’re targeting a certain market, which is maybe a white audience. I get that but then after years and years of just playing the sidekick or the friends, you start going, “When is the Asian ever a lead?” I’m sure that’s part of how society is. It reflects what society is, what people are willing to see. I have to tell you that although I know I took a bunch of jobs away from other Asian women, my whole mission was to not take jobs from other Asian women because I knew that the roles for Asian women were limited. My mission was to take jobs from white girls and then I know it will be really good when I did that.

I know for that Philips flat TV I was telling you about, I beat out over 300 white girls that I’m on. That was also because everything lined up for me and the universe was on my side in the sense that the director was not white. It was Tarsem, who was Indian. I think he was born in India. I’m not sure if he was born in America. I’m not quite sure of his history but he wasn’t white. That was basically what I’m saying. I’m sure he petitioned for me and he’s like, “I want a non-white chick to be the lead in this spot.” That’s why we need to have more diversity and more ethnic people behind the scenes.

The thing is, even as a storyteller, when you’re writing stories, if you’re a white person telling stories, you’re going to be writing white stories. That’s what you know and people are going to write about what they know. They’re not going to go off and write about some Korean girl that grows up in K-Town because they don’t know that world. Unless we have more people writing stories and more people behind the scenes that are ethnic and minorities and diversities, you’re not going to get those other stories. I think that’s a big problem in Hollywood. Did you know that most of the writers in Korea are women? Do you ever watch K-Pop and Korean drama and they have a very different way of story writing? It’s because they’re all women writing.

I did not know that. I can tell that Korean drama is so good. 

It’s more emotional. It’s a lot of shades of gray. Once you started, I’m up for days then I have to literally tell myself, “You’ve been up for three days, you need to shut that off.” The American films here and the stuff that you see, a lot of it is men. Over 50% for sure are men. I would say probably even higher than that, it’s all men. The writing style is very different because women and men are different. How we tell stories are different. It’s funny how in America they have soap opera, especially on TV. I don’t know if it’s true but the soap opera started because it was women doing housework with soap and there were selling soap to women. That’s why it was called a soap opera. TV, most of the viewers were women. That’s what the TV is, it’s a women’s media but then they have all these guys writing for it, which doesn’t make any sense to me. You would think you would have women writing for women because then they know and they can relate.

Comedy: It’s easier to look back at somebody else so that you can see what needs to be done.

You said that you are a storyteller. Do you have any goal that someday you’re going to write a book or a memoir about your life?

I’ve tried to write a memoir a bunch of times. I have probably a bunch of thousands of different memoirs going at different programs. I’ll write little bits here and there. When I have more time and I could sit down and lay it all out, that would be a project that I would like to do if I’m still alive. I can’t predict the future, but I have so many other projects, scripted stuff that I’m in development for. If I had the chance and a bag of money fell on me, I would love to do these stories. I feel like there are many stories out there that are not being told because it’s the same that keep recycling over and over again. The whole Marvel thing and all this stuff that’s happening, it’s the same story over and over again. If a dump truck came with money, I would be like, “I want to do this story, this story, this story.” Those are going to be all scripted. They’re all fabricated and made up. It’s not going to be like a biography. Maybe somebody else could come in and interview me and then write a biography.

That is another way to do it, to get your book published. Once you have the book and if it is interesting like Crazy Rich Asians, people will be interested to make it a movie.

The thing is time’s limited. I don’t have that much time. I’m not young anymore and I’m not dying either, but I have to pick what I want to work on because to write something, even a script, takes years. To write a novel or a book or anything like that probably will take even longer. To plant the seed and do something I wanted and be like, “For sure, that’s what I want to do.”

I talked to quite a few people and I’m also talking to a writing coach. If you are the one who writes the whole thing, then it could take you years. If you have an idea, if you had the stories and you can hire somebody to interview you and get the nugget out of you, then they create a story, that could be less than one year so that you can see that. That’s another option for you to take a look at. 

Then again, I need a dump truck to come and dump money on me so I can hire these people.

Not necessarily. I believe that everything is negotiable. You don’t have to have a lot of money to pay somebody to write a story for you. What about a partnership? You can hire somebody who is able to do the story for you and you split, 50/50 or something. That’s between you and that person. If that person sees, “This story is great. We’re going to make a lot of money in creating a book,” they will work with you and your name will be on it, “By Judy Kwon.”

Whoever is out there, reach out.

This is an opportunity for them. I’m calling them out. I don’t know the name yet, but I hope that they’re reading. I know that Judy has a lot of juicy stories to tell. Reach out to her to help her get these stories out of her head while she’s still young.

Also, the thing is I’m developing a bunch of scripts and it’s different genres. My story and my past are so heavy. I don’t want to be contributing to this thing that’s been going on in the film business where heavy Asian movies and Asian stories are like, “Poor me,” and then you hear the violin playing. I don’t want to do that. That’s why I created MILFriend, which is a comedy. It’s so crazy. It’s not anything like the whole stereotypical Asian movie. When I think of the stereotypical Asian movie, I think of almost black and white, maybe dark colors and a little Chinese violin, that little two string thing playing in the background. I don’t want that.

Maybe one day I’ll do it, but because there’s already enough of it, I want to create diversity. I want to show that there are different kinds of stories that Asians could do. The other stuff that I’m in development with is not big, giant and sappy like my past. If I did that, I’m contributing to what’s already out there and I don’t want to keep doing the same thing. The other stuff that I’m in development is entertaining. I want it to be first, entertaining. I grew up in a video store. I watched a bunch of movies and I want to entertain. To entertain with the message would be a great thing. I don’t want to keep doing the same, not at this point in my life. Maybe once I get that out of my system, then later I’ll do the big, sappy drama.

The first script that I wrote is a big, giant, sappy drama. My first script was about my dad and this whole heavy stuff. That’s why I steered away from it and wrote MILFriend because I was like, “This is so hard to write.” Every time I went to write it, I wanted to kill myself. I’m like, “This is so heavy. I didn’t get to shoot my brains out.” I’m like, “Let me write something that I want to watch whatever I want to watch as an exercise. I don’t care. Let me write something that I’m going to have fun with and that I want to watch,” then MILFriend came out.

Tell us what that show is about, MILFriend?

It’s an acronym for Mother I Like To Friend.

Tell us what’s behind it? What’s the story here? 

The whole thing is a joke because it was to make me laugh and have fun with it. I’m going to give you a little education here and the naughty and the debauchery of I don’t know if it’s American culture, but it’s definitely part of the American culture. When you say MILF, everybody knows what that is and that is Mother I Like To F. All the men know what that is. It’s a section on a porno where it’s women that are moms that they find hot. There’s a whole category of moms that they want to do. Originally, the show was called Hecho in Venice, which in Spanish translates to English means, “Made in Venice.” It’s about a woman that’s being reborn when she has a kid. You know how when you have a kid, you start rethinking your life and you start reassessing everything. Hecho in Venice has two meanings to it, which is you’re made in Venice, like you’ve made a baby in Venice beach here in Venice, California and also that you were being reborn, you’re being remade because now you have to be thinking of everything.

Originally, that was the title. Every time I said that title, I got the same look I’m getting from you which was like, “What is that?” I had to explain it. I had to go through this whole spiel. I was like, “I need to change the title.” Then it came to me. Everything was for fun and as a joke. I’m like, “When guys are up at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and they’re on the internet putting in MILF, my show is going to come up with them. They’re going to see this pretty, strong, hot but funny women that are talented.” They’re going to come at you. It’s a joke. It also has double meaning where it’s MILFriend, Mother I Like To Friend because it’s about a punk who doesn’t fit in. She doesn’t get along with other women. When she gets pregnant and now she has to reassess everything and then now she has a baby. She’s going to have to friend women, which she avoided like the plague because she never got along with them. As a mom, she can’t avoid other women. You have to friend other women. I thought that would be a great title for it like Mother I Like To Friend because now she has friends. There’s a double meaning to that.

The show was created out of my depth of depression writing a story about my dad. I was like, “Let’s do something fun.” The whole show is fun. It’s very entertaining and it’s a comedy where you laugh. People laugh out loud. It’s not like a comedy where you’re like, “That was a comedy?” It’s a funny comedy and it’s fast-paced and it’s very focused on characters. I’ve got multiple diverse characters and they are signifying where I grew up in, which is LA. I don’t see it depicted very much in Hollywood, this LA that I grew up in, which is diverse and it’s not insular. Pepper is a punk trying to find her way. She visits all these different social economic groups, different race groups. It’s not one show with just the Asian family. It’s not a show just with the black family. It’s not a show with just a white family. You get to see different things. You never know in the next episode what you’re going to see.

I want to introduce the characters. I want to expound on the characters that I already have and expound on their stories. The characters are interesting. Pepper’s best friends who are like the family that she made throughout her time is a Chicano family. They’re Mexican-American, but they’ve been living in Los Angeles even before Los Angeles was in America. It’s like, “Go back to where you came from,” then it’s like, “I was born here and my ancestors are from here. This is my land.” It’s the Chicano cast. His name is Cuete Yeska and he plays the character, Jesus, and Yelyna De Leon plays Fernanda who loves men. It talks about Venice gentrification happening. They’re the old family that’s been here forever, that’s starting to get squeezed out because of the real estate prices and all this stuff. Then you see all these better socioeconomic groups moving in, which happens to be sometimes white. Not all the time but sometimes. In the pilot episode that we shot, it’s a mixture of moms.


Comedy: The stereotypical Asian movie is almost black and white, maybe dark colors with a little Chinese violin playing in the background.

I’m trying to find a home for it. I’m trying to find a platform for it. We have what’s called a premise pilot where you shoot, you lay out the tone and everything with the show and it’s the first 30 minutes. Whenever you ever watch a TV show, especially the Korean one, when you watch the first episode, you know what all the rest of the show is going to be. It lays it all down and hopefully, it hooks you and then you’re going to want to watch more. I hope I end it with the hook where you want to watch more, which I’ve heard a lot of people say that they want to see more. I’m like, “Come with me with the dump truck of money,” because it costs a lot to go to production and do all this stuff. It’s been just myself and my partner, Richard, that’s been doing everything and it is so time-consuming.

Do you pay those actors and actresses?

Yeah, everybody’s paid. I did my part. I need a dump truck to come if you need more episodes. I have people saying, “I want to see more.” I’m like, “I’m not investing my money anymore.”

Show me the poster.

It says, “Mama do play that,” because that’s the tag word. I thought it was funny. She’s a stoner and she’s a punk and then she gets into a lot of trouble, but she also eats a lot of it. What’s funny about this poster is that when I was shooting this in Venice Boardwalk, people kept coming out to me and they were like, “You can’t be smoking when you’re pregnant.”

You’re not pregnant at the time, you’re just wearing something?

Yeah. It wasn’t real. I’m like, “Thank you very much.” I thought it’s fun. We are going through a period in our culture where everybody is oversensitive. They can’t take a joke anymore but I’m like, “Whatever, you can have a little fun.”

Who are your role models in life? This is in general in life and then also in your industry as well.

As far as comedians, I love Dave Chappelle.

Tell me all. Who are your role models?

As far as in the film industry and the arts, the ones that I grew up admiring for the film is Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick, Camille Claudel, Isabelle Adjani. There’s also a great director, Lee Chang-dong. He has a movie called Burning. He’s really good. He’s like today’s poet masterpiece director. He also did Oasis and he did Poetry, it’s amazing. These are more dramas. As far as comedy, I love Dave Chappelle. I don’t know anybody that I’m aware of that is as good as Dave Chappelle.

Those are in your industry. What about your life like a role model for a family?

My grandmother, hands down like nobody is like my grandma. She’s sacrificed everything. She was the most hardworking, honest, anything that you could think of as far as morals and good person, that’s my grandmother.

Are you going to pass those values down to your children?

Yeah. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, if you’re not happy and it doesn’t matter how much money you have and how much power you have if you sold your soul.

Was your grandma happy when she’s alive?

She was definitely positive and she tried to look at the positive side of life. I wouldn’t say she was 100% happy because of all the stuff with my dad. That’s a whole other drama. You don’t want me to be a big downer again. My dad was a narcissist. If you could imagine Trump as Asian, I think Trump will be a nicer version than my dad.

Thank you so much for sharing from your heart.

I’m sorry, I was a downer at first but when you talk about my past, there’s no comedy in it. I tried to find comedy in it but it helped me to grow as a person and it makes me who I am now. Don’t judge my comedy or for the first part of this interview. I am super funny.

If our readers want to become a comedian like you, what are the steps or path that you would recommend them to follow?

Comedy: It doesn’t matter how much money you have and how much power you have if you sold your soul.

Everybody has their own paths, especially in the art field. You’ve got to follow your instincts. You’ve got to follow that little voice that talks to you when you know you’re making a mistake. It’s like, “What are you doing?” and you didn’t listen to it. You’ve got to follow that voice, especially since I’m assuming if it’s an Asian audience, probably they don’t have family in Hollywood. It’s letting you in. That’s a good way like you know somebody, but if you’re not connected in that way, then any path in this art world as an artist, you’ve got to follow your instincts. Go up on stage and do as much as you can. You’ve got to be honest with yourself and you’ve got to know what your strengths are, what your weaknesses are. It’s like anything.

Can anybody become a comedian?

No, don’t do it if you’re not funny. Like how I was the first part of this interview, if you’re like that your whole life, don’t do it.

I noticed that sometimes people who are suffering the most, they become comedians.

They do say that. Maybe that’s why I was meant to suffer, so I could be a comedian. Maybe the whole beginning of my life was training, I don’t know.

You have to laugh through the sorrow, otherwise you would not be able to survive. You have to find something that’s funny and laugh at it. 

It releases endorphins.

Where can our audience follow you on social media?

I go by YoMamaRice for my standup comedy and some of the comedy stuff. You could go to YoMamaRice.com where I write some crazy stuff. I have words of wisdom in there that you’ll find entertaining. You could also follow me on MILFriendTV.com. That’s for my actual TV show because that’s separate from my comedy and my comedy persona, which is YoMamaRice. I have words of wisdom. I do a little bit of what you’re doing, but not as well as you and in that sense that it’s all serious. It’s more like jokes. I have one that goes, “It won’t work out if you freak out.” That’s one and then, “Stupid is dangerous because it is.” That one is not that funny but here’s, “If you’re brown-nosed, you get crap on your face.” Here’s another one, “A life with no regrets is a life unenlightened.” That was more profound. Here’s a good one, “If life went as planned, life would be predictable.”

I like that one. Is that yours? Did you create those?

Yes. I like to pick the old sayings and change it a little. Here’s one that I think your audience will like, “Creme de la creme best rises to the top where it’s full of fluff.”

That’s profound. That’s wonderful. Thank you so much for your wisdom, for your laughter, for your stories, although some of them are sad. I hope that the audience got something from it.

Hopefully, they didn’t shoot their brains out while reading this and they’re like, “What kind of comedian is this?”

To our readers, what’s your takeaway from this conversation? Let me know your thoughts. Until next time, live life loud. 

 Links Mentioned:

Episode Quotes :

"Every time something happens, you learn and grow from it."

"As a person, nobody's perfect and everybody has faults."

"If you're a white person telling stories, you're going to be writing white stories."

"It doesn't matter how much money you have if you're not happy"

About Judy Jean Kwon

Judy Jean Kwon is a talented Korean-American, Actress, and Comedian, born and raised in Koreatown, Los Angeles, California. She has a stand-up comedy show called Yo-Mama Rice; she is the creator and star of MILFriend, a Fresh New Comedy. The plots are based on her experience as a Korean-American immigrant, always on the outside trying to fit in.

Judy is working with her partner and husband, Richard Henkels, to create multiple projects which are in development right now, and they are hoping to have MILFriend picked up by a platform for a full season order.

Judy’s mission is to tell stories about the underdogs that are mostly ignored. Her big break came when she landed the lead role in the “Philip’s flat TV” commercial and has since appeared in over 100 commercials and the feature of Making the Rules. She continues to break barriers for ethnic actors.

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