“‘Show business is like fine dining,’ he said. ‘You start with a white plate. You put the protein on it, and the protein is the black people, but at a fine dining restaurant, you barely get any meat, and it’s on a very, very big white plate. Occasionally, you have a garnish or a drizzle of sauce, and that’s your Chinese, your Japanese, your Koreans, your Southeast Asians, your Indians, your Arabs or whatever. What’s important is that the plate is white and the meat is black.’” So one network executive tells Hor Lee, the protagonist and narrator of Leland Cheuk’s newest novel, No Good Very Bad Asian.
Cheuk’s latest literary comedic set tells the story of Hor and his rise to fame as a Chinese-American comedian under the stage name Sirius. Hampering the fruition of his talents are the racist attitudes of show-business and Hor’s drug-fueled narcissism that grows with his success. Hor’s alienation from his heritage and traditional parents and grandparents likewise stymies his ability to find happiness.
No Good Very Bad Asian is Cheuk’s third book and follows his well-received debut novel, The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong and his collection of short stories, Letter from Dinosaurs. Cheuk graduated from Lesley University’s MFA program in 2011 after transitioning from a career in marketing. He now teaches at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College and serves as an editor at 7.13 Books, the independent press he founded.
Hor Lee is acerbic, honest, and frustrated. His narration is as un-PC as any set from Dave Chappelle or Bill Burr, but his scathing jokes assumes a supportive role behind his heartfelt efforts to remake himself and reconnect with his family. No Good Very Bad Asian balances the touching with the irreverent, but beware, as Hor warns the reader: You’ll be getting him live and uncensored.
Andy Shi: According to your interview with Lithub, to write No Good Very Bad Asian you spent three years doing standup comedy. What are the differences between delivering comedy on stage and in written form?