Meet Bowen Yang — First Chinese-American Cast Member To Join 'Saturday Night Live'

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Who Is Bowen Yang? Meet First Chinese-American Cast Member Joins 'Saturday Night Live'

For 45 seasons, Saturday Night Live has made us laugh, poke fun at the current state of affairs, and enjoy a weekend night in glued to the TV. The program has launched the careers of several comedians, including Bill Murray, Kristen Wiig, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Tracy Morgan, and so many more. And that’s just the tip of the talent iceberg.

Because behind closed doors, we don’t get to see the sketches as they are written. Many hilarious comedians began as sketch writers for the show: Conan O’Brien, Larry David, and Stephen Colbert. Even Tina Fey began as a writer! And with the announcement of new talent for the show, another writer is joining the cast.

 

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Who is Bowen Yang? At just 29 years old, he’s making history as the first Chinese-American and third openly gay cast member. But there’s so much more to his career and talent. Get to know Bowen Yang:

1. His parents are immigrants.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

A post shared by Bowen Yang  (@fayedunaway) on Jul 17, 2018 at 11:24am PDT

Yang grew up in Denver, Colorado and is the son of Chinese immigrants. He also has a sister named Yang Yang, who joked on her social media “girl so nice they named her twice.” Yang is also the uncle of his sister’s daughter, Ellie.

2. He holds a degree.

After high school, Yang attended New York University where he earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He explained in an interview with NPR that his sister also attended the university and he would visit her on campus, asking about improve groups. But when he began his freshman year, he decided he wanted to major in chemistry. His inspiration? Watching Grey’s Anatomy; he wanted to be like Sandra Oh’s character, Cristina Yang.

3. He grew up watching Saturday Night Live.

When he was a kid, he visited the studio. “I was the kid who at 12 years old went to NBC studio tours, and I would just answer all these trivia questions on the tour that the pages would ask about SNL. I was that kid. The show was just this incredible fixture in my life that I had to know everything about,” Yang said.

But though he loved watching the show, he never imagined he could be part of it due to the lack of diversity and never seeing anyone on the show who looked like him.

4. Since then, he’s had a career in comedy.

Yang has a podcast, Las Culturistas, with Matt Rogers. The show discusses gay topics and pop culture, and is the primary way Yang gained a following. He also performs stand-up in New York and Los Angeles, and has acted on Broad City, High Maintenance, and The Outs

Yang is also recognizable for his lip-synching videos uploaded to social media. He’s posted videos from pop culture like Tyra Banks yelling at a contestant on America’s Next Top Model, Cardi B talking about the government shutdown, and Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada

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5. He’s a former writer for the show.

In September 2018, he joined the writing staff of Saturday Night Live! He did, however, make an on-camera appearance as Kim Jong-Un, and Sandra Oh played his translator. Some of his sketches also made the cut, including the “Cheques” sketch with Sandra Oh and the “GP Yass” sketch with Steve Carell.

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6. There’s been backlash against the network.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

A post shared by Bowen Yang (@fayedunaway) on Aug 5, 2019 at 7:27am PDT

Though Yang is the first Chinese-American cast member, the announcement of being added to the cast was highly overshadowed by Shane Gillis, who performed anti-Asian, racist, and homophobic “jokes” throughout his career. Gillis was eventually dropped from the new cast. As Rolling Stone put it, “The celebration over Yang’s hiring had been hijacked by news of Gillis’ bigotry.”

Many Asian-American professionals spoke out about Saturday Night Live executives staying mum after the videos surfaced. Said Peter Ash Lee, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Asian-American arts and culture magazine Burdock, “It’s frustrating that every time we make progress, we’re reminded that we still have a long way to go. My hope is that SNL will have enough respect for the Asian community to do the right thing.”

Actor and stand-up comedian Hank Chen echoed that sentiment, adding, “As Asian actors, we want to be given a chance to succeed, but we also want to be able to fail without retaliation. When All-American Girl was cancelled, [Asian-Pacific Islander] talent were relegated to supporting roles and working behind-the-scenes for two decades, because networks and studios were afraid to take a chance on Asian-led projects. It makes me sad thinking of all the great stories and ideas that were suppressed and lost during that time. No doubt some would have been award-worthy and brilliant, but some might have just been mediocre, barely profitable, and that should be OK, too. Please give us the opportunity to try and try again.”

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Samantha Maffucci is an editor for YourTango who focuses on writing trending news and entertainment pieces. In her free time, you can find her obsessing about cats, wine, and all things Vanderpump Rules.​