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Arts and Entertainment

Asian American Sketch Troupe Pushes To Expand OC Comedy Scene

Eleven Asian people are spread out across a small, colorful stage, in various poses, some standing, some sitting on the ground.
The Orange County-based No MSG Added sketch comedy troupe rehearses for a show at the Chance Theater in Anaheim, Dec. 14, 2022
(Jill Replogle
/
LAist)
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One of the sketches in the new holiday show from Asian American comedy troupe No MSG Added features two musicians in the parking lot of Lee's Sandwiches, a Vietnamese bánh mì chain, in Garden Grove, singing "I'm dreaming of a yellow Christmas."

"...where my parents listen and never question the college or major that I chose," the group's co-founder and head writer Eric Vue sings.

The show, Holiday Family Dinner, runs this weekend at the Chance Theater in Anaheim. It pokes fun at Asian American stereotypes as well as the universally awkward traditions of the season, like relatives asking probing questions about girlfriends and life choices.

Vue grew up in Fresno's large Hmong American community, where the lengthy New Year's celebration revolves around family and looking for love. "So it's always anxiety inducing," Vue said.

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OC’s Asian American Sketch Comedy Troupe
  • Group name: No MSG Added

    Founded by: Eric Vue and Shinshin Yuder Tsai

    How they started: Vue noticed there were a lot of good Asian American improv performers in O.C. "I was brave enough to ask them if they wanted to be my friends and do this crazy thing that I'm trying to put together and they all agreed."

    About the group: No MSG Added’s cast members include a radiologist, a statistician, a librarian and a school psychologist.

But, Vue said, those same situations — and his funny family — are a source of comedic inspiration.

"I love being in those moments and falling into that place where, even though it's uncomfortable, it's like tragically funny to me," Vue said.

The Roots Of No MSG Added

The sketch troupe No MSG Added was co-founded by Vue and Shinshin Yuder Tsai four years ago.

Vue was galvanized after he saw the group Asian AF perform at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles.

"It was so cool just to see what they were doing and the energy that they brought, and like, all these different Asian Americans coming to watch their show and celebrating the fact that they were all Asian," he said.

In 2015, Vue moved to Orange County from L.A. for a day job at the University of California Irvine. He was still commuting to L.A. to do comedy but was starting to question the drive.

Two Asian men appear on stage, one in a sleeveless T-shirt and sunglasses and the other in a green long-sleeve novelty shirt carrying a guitar
Jonathan Vu (left) and Eric Vue (right) play a musical duo performing in the parking lot of a Lee's Sandwiches fast food restaurant.
(Jill Replogle
/
LAist)
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"Obviously Los Angeles is where the money is going to kind of stay," he said, "[but] everybody's fighting for noise and stage time…. In Orange County, there's opportunities that don't exist out there."

O.C. has an ample standup comedy scene, Vue and others said, but there aren't many groups doing sketch comedy. "The fact that No MSG is Asian American makes us really unique, but I think even the fact that we're sketch comedy makes us unique."

O.C. did have an Asian American sketch comedy group in the 1990s, called Cup O' Noodles, but its members have moved on.

The Cast

The 15-person cast performing in Holiday Family Dinner at Anaheim's Chance Theater came to the sketch group from a wide range of backgrounds and acting experience — the group includes a radiologist, a statistician, a librarian and a school psychologist.

One of the newer members, Jennifer Choy, performs regularly at the Improv Collective in Costa Mesa but, during a rehearsal this week, she said sketch comedy is a "different realm" for her.

"Improv, you work with somebody else and then if you guys build a rapport, you work together, it's very supportive. Sketch is just you and your brain and that's terrible," she said with a frozen smile.

On a stage, three people hold hands, smiling, while surrounding a woman in a white long sleeved shirt, white pants scarf and top hat.
One of the sketches in Family Holiday Dinner stars a salty Frosty the Snowman.
(Jill Replogle
/
LAist)

Choy joked that she joined the group because her dad wanted her to do something that relates to being Chinese. Does performing with an Asian American sketch comedy troupe count? "Uh, yeah. I mean, he went to my improv show and fell asleep so this will keep him engaged, hopefully," she said.

Jhemon Lee, the radiologist, has been part of No MSG Added since its start in late 2018, after taking a free sketch comedy class in Santa Ana. Lee said he likes exercising both sides of his brain. "My work is very technical, it's a lot of thinking and so forth. But then this is very the opposite," he said.

Lee also said he appreciates having a forum for Asian Americans to express themselves in O.C. "There's a lot of acting and a lot of Asian American activity going on in L.A. County, but Orange County is just like a different place. … It almost might as well be a universe away," he said. "So I think it's cool that we're able to bring this here."

The Chance Theater

No MSG Added first performed at the Chance Theater, a cozy venue in a strip mall off the 91 Freeway, during the 2022 annual "Chance-a-thon" festival when the theater invites community groups to perform. "I laughed so hard sitting through their show," said Oanh Nguyen, the theater's artistic director. "And so I just asked them, 'How do we make you part of the Chance?'"

A few months later, both nights of the group's Family Holiday Dinner show (Dec. 16 and 17) are sold out. It's great news for Nguyen and the nonprofit theater which, like many live art venues, is struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Nguyen plans to have the group back for additional shows at the Chance Theater in 2023.

Nguyen said pandemic relief funds had kept the theater afloat so far but those funds have dried up.

"Next year is just going to be a really challenging year because we've got all the extra costs that have come back and the softening audiences. So it's really about trying to fundraise and trying to convince the audiences to come back," Nguyen said.

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