The word "chink" still makes me cringe, and that's exactly the effect Kate Riggis going for in her biting sendup of Asian stereotypes, Kate's Chink-O-Rama. The bawdy comic brings to life a dozen characters -- Indonesian sweatshop workers and Japanese tourists, among them -- to address "the mistaken idea that all Asian people look the same," she says during a recent conversation. But while Chink-O-Ramais unapologetically confrontational, politics take a back seat to the laughs in Rigg's sketches and musical parodies.
Together with her sidekick, MC Chink Daddy (the chameleonlike David Jung), and her posse of dancers who bop to such distasteful tunes as the Vapors' "Turning Japanese" and Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting," Rigg makes up for the absence of Asians from American pop culture, belting out her own unique rendition of Gloria Gaynor's feminist anthem "I Will Survive," sung from the perspective of a Vietnam War bride who rejects the "round-eye" who has returned: "First I was afraid, I was petrified/ Kept thinking I could never live without American GI/ But then I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong/ And I grew strong, I learned to be a single mom."
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After graduating from New York's prestigious Juilliard School, Rigg was repeatedly typecast as the token Asian: "There's not a lot of roles for an Indonesian-Australian-Canadian out there," she jokes, so she started making the rounds at comedy clubs, where her brand of in-your-face humor hit a nerve with audiences of all persuasions. Rigg purposely appropriated the racial slur in her title to "reinvent language and semiotics" and to mock those who use the term with racist intentions. In spite of concerns that her use of the epithet will do more harm than good, Rigg stands by her choice. "The problem is not the word, it's the intent behind the word," she insists. "If [people] are offended, I'm glad because at least they're talking about the usage of this word. If you discuss it, suddenly a lot of power is taken away from those who use it as a weapon."