“‘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?
Read the rest at Bloom.
“One of the funnest parts of writing my novel about a fictive famed standup comic was the creation of a parallel pop culture that mirrored and coexisted with the pop culture we knew and loved from the decade of the aughts. My protagonist Sirius Lee, a Chinese American, attends a predominantly white high school in Los Angeles that’s featured on a reality show similar to MTV’s Laguna Beach, which ran from 2004 to 2006 and was later spun off into The Hills, which would run for the rest of the decade. In this high school in “Guernica Beach,” Sirius meets the daughter of his eventual comedy mentor Johnny Razzmatazz, who I imagine as a cross between Andrew “Dice” Clay and Ozzy Osbourne. The show Johnny’s on is entitled The Family Razzmatazz, an obvious allusion to The Osbournes, which was a hit on MTV from 2002 to 2005.
Looking back on Laguna Beach and The Osbournes, it’s hard to believe that we watched these silly shows in large numbers.”
Read the rest at Necessary Fiction.
Writers of literary fiction are supposed to disdain celebrity memoirs. They’re sucking up all the big advances and lowering the bar of what’s supposed to be Literature, right?
But I’ve got a dirty reading secret. I love celebrity memoirs, particularly by standup comedians (and not just because I was doing research for No Good Very Bad Asian, my novel about a fictive famed standup comedian named Sirius Lee). The best standup memoirs can be so raw and honest, revealing uncomfortable truths about life that even the best fiction rarely addresses.
Here are some of my favorites, a mix of books that I read while researching No Good Very Bad Asian and recent entrees into the genre.
Read the rest of the list at Electric Literature.
“Whenever the topic of Asian Americans in the entertainment industry comes up, for a few moments, I mentally include Sirius Lee. And then I remember that he is only a fictional standup comedian, the protagonist of Leland Cheuk’s intimate novel No Good, Very Bad Asian. It’s such a vivid and engrossing portrait of a lovable, modern-day schmuck—a character who feels immediately iconic, like Holden Caulfield—that I was almost disappointed when I learned that Cheuk is not at all like Sirius Lee, although he did perform standup in bars while researching for this novel.
While Sirius Lee finds fame as a teenager and struggles with the fallout from that, Cheuk’s fiction didn’t get picked up by publishers until he was in his late 30s. His debut novel, The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong, was published by the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography in 2015; a story collection, Letters From Dinosaurs, followed soon after in 2016 from Thought Catalog Books. Before all that had happened, Cheuk survived a life-threatening diagnosis of MDS, receiving chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. Over coffee in Brooklyn recently, Cheuk revealed how his manuscript-in-progress for No Good, Very Bad Asian took a different turn after his recovery. But it’s still funny as hell.
Cathy Erway: I don’t think I’ve encountered in literature an Asian American character who’s overweight, struggles with substance abuse, and is constantly screwing up in life. Have you?
Read the rest of the interview at Electric Literature.