Silicon Valley’s Jimmy O. Yang Embraces Immigrant Accents

The TV star talks roots and an upcoming comedy special ahead of his appearance at Outside Lands.

For a Bay Area forever marked by the technology boom, HBO’s Silicon Valley has been an invaluable source of comic relief. But come October, the show will begin airing its final season — though your guess is as good as cast member Jimmy O. Yang’s as to whether it’ll offer any clues about how this all ends for us. 

But it could still warn us of the silly apps to come, like giving us a sneak peek of Not Hotdog that later turned out real. The final scripts are still being written and Yang, who plays character Jian-Yang, is waiting to be surprised at a table read, à la Kit Harrington for Game of Thrones

At least he has plenty of projects to distract himself from the waiting game. Yang, who was also in Crazy Rich Asians, will perform at Outside Lands’ The Barbary stage on Friday, Aug. 9 and Saturday, Aug. 10 alongside The Daily Show’s Dulce Sloan and the Bay Area’s own Nori Reed. Between filming the HBO show and appearing at the San Francisco festival, he’s also on a book tour for How to American: An Immigrant’s Guide to Disappointing Your Parents.

Audience members at his Seattle show in November will be in for a special treat — it’s scheduled to be filmed as a comedy special and released on Amazon early next year, Yang tells SF Weekly

Yang says it wasn’t until he appeared on TV that his dad understood what a career in comedy meant beyond talk shows. As more Asian American actors have spoken up about refusing to put on a stereotypical accent they don’t otherwise have, Yang is rooting for realistic depictions of immigrant accents — especially now that the one he does for Jian- Yang is backed up by a developed character. 

“I had an accent myself,” Yang says. “It’s not too far-fetched for somebody like me. I just pulled from my own experience”

His performed accent mirrors the one he has heard from his family, who emigrated from Hong Kong when he was a teenager. When he got to the United States, it was the Asian American kids whose jabs hurt the most. But exposing mainstream audiences to accents that everyday people use, he hopes to normalize it so it can be as revered as British or Spanish accents.

“When I was on the playground, people were calling me Jackie Chan,” Yang says. “As you get older, you realize Jackie Chan was a fucking hero. It comes from within to not be ashamed of our brothers and sisters who have accents.”

That exposure to varied representation has helped. The world now has several works centering Asian American stories to choose from, including: Crazy Rich Asians, Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, Always Be My Maybe starring San Francisco native Ali Wong, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and Marvel’s upcoming Shang-Chi.

The writers, directors, actors, and other creatives to emerge from these projects have formed the comedy variety group Asian AF, which Yang has appeared on.

“I thought, man, if I were to see this movie myself, I would feel some kind of way,” Yang says. “That’s how everyone approached us afterward. Hopefully, it opens the door for more moves that tell an authentic story and we don’t need a white lead. It’s exciting, the projects coming out these days.”

Jimmy O. Yang, Friday, Aug. 9, 5:50-6:50 p.m., and Saturday, Aug. 10, 2:40-3:40 p.m. at The Barbary, and Saturday, Aug. 10, 5:45-6:15 p.m. at GastroMagic.

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