It is really easy to make fun of bad poetry, especially the kind of spoken-word stuff that can fill up an urban café with loudly terrible metaphors and confrontational redundancy. If you’re only interested in the jab, the jokes write themselves. On the other hand, it is much harder to poke fun at artists and other character types while simultaneously creating something new. YouTube is full of parodies that do nothing more than point and laugh. Samantha Chanse and Yasmine Gomez are interested in something more. Asian American Jesus is not just a funny satire of awful poetry, but also manages to combine laughter with genuinely witty social commentary.
Based on characters from Chanse’s one woman show, the short takes the form of student Suzette Law’s final project for an Ethnic Studies class on Asian American artists. She follows around Truth Is Real, a local poet whose work is almost impossibly awful. We get to see bits of performances, as well as interviews with everyone from the local artistic establishment to a barista at the cafe where Truth Is Real drives away customers. Everyone is played by Chanse herself, who plays around with voices and mannerisms to really bring these characters to life. It’s like a miniature “A Mighty Wind” set in the Bay Area.
Yet beneath all of the great one-liners, “Asian American Jesus” has at its core a witty interrogation of Asian American identity. Truth Is Real isn’t just a terrible poet. She’s a great way for Chanse to poke fun at the things Asian American artists are expected to address. One poem, “Refugee Song,” goes off the rails when Truth Is Real admits that her mother wasn’t a refugee: “she was born in Daly City, actually.” In another performance she takes a break to let the audience know that “another” is spelled “an\Other,” because – “That’s right, I’m fuckin’ with language.”
Everything from the cultural and academic establishments to local art is lampooned here, but it’s a lampooning with wit and intent. It also keeps the humor going, mostly due to Chanse’s uncanny skill with delivery and Gomez’s very effective pacing. The characters are well-conceived, the jokes mostly hit home, and on the whole it’s great to see this kind of work from two emerging artists. Have a look: