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Musical sketch comedy group AzN PoP explains Asian Culture

There are many different types of rice out there, so never group them into the same category.

Or at least that’s what NYC-based sketch comedy group, AzN PoP, will school you on if you dare speak about grains to them in that way.

Inspired by the likes of Spice Girls, ‘N Sync, and K-pop groups fused with parody and sketch comedy, AzN PoP describe themselves as “an oki-dokie, fun, flower, summer, love girl band”. Their debut music video “Rice to Meet You” which premiered in April has garnered over 1,000 views on YouTube.

Their video starts off innocently enough with two “clueless dudes” (played by James Coker and Will Martinez) shopping for rice at their local grocery store. When one of dudes can’t decide which rice to buy and the other states “It doesn’t matter, man. They’re all the same.”—it summons the girls to teach them a lesson. On the surface, it seems like a light-hearted and catchy sing-along, but ultimately harbors a much deeper meaning about how society perceives certain things and people.

AzN PoP is comprised of Anna Suzuki, Iliana Inocencio, Ann Marie Yoo, Angel Yau, and Maya Deshmukh— each of whom represent the countries of Japan, Philippines, Korea, China, and India to highlight a different culture within the Asian community.

KNY had the opportunity to speak with the girls about what inspired their comedic careers, their thoughts on how Asian Americans are represented in the media, and what the future holds for AzN PoP.


How did you all meet and how did the idea for AzN PoP come forth?

Anna: We were all performing comedy independently and knew each other vaguely through the NY comedy scene. When I wanted to bring this “fake Asian girl group” idea to fruition, I first spoke to Iliana, and we contacted three other Asian comedian ladies we loved. It was definitely a coincidence that we were all from different Asian countries, but also proves our thought behind “Rice to Meet You.” Maya is Indian but that’s actually part of Asia, NOT the Middle East, did you know?

IIiana: I knew all of the girls somewhat peripherally except for Maya (but now I luh that woman) because of comedy. I met Anna a few times and really wanted to work with her. When Anna and I met, I was really into the idea of doing more musical comedy because I missed singing since getting into the comedy scene after being a part of the musical theater world. When Anna brought up the Asian comedy girl pop idea my brain EXPLODED. It hadn’t been done before! Or at least that I knew of. And it really combined everything I love: raising Asian American awareness, music, and LAUGHS! So after Anna and I met, it was really easy to come up with awesome and talented Asian ladies we wanted to work with. It kind of all fell into place. Feels like family now!

Ann Marie: For years I had always wanted to incorporate my Asian American voice into my comedy because it’s not something you see at all here (on the East coast at least). I had met Anna through friends and at industry events before in passing and Maya through friends at the Upright Citizens Brigade’s huge Del Close Marathon improv festival, while Iliana and Angel were comediennes I certainly knew of well, but never dreamed they would know me! When some of them approached me about this all-girl Asian comedy group/mock K-pop group, well, this will sound so cliché but it’s true, I literally thought “YES, this is what I have finally been waiting for!” and I couldn’t get on board fast enough!

Angel: Iliana sent me a formal email asking to collaborate. I knew her from a web series I edited for her. I knew Anna from a stand-up show I did with her where I pretended to be Beyoncé. And I vaguely knew the other girls.  I always wanted to be a rock star so I said yes.

Maya: Anna and I have known each other for years, and we initially met doing musical improv. I was obsessed with collaborating with her, and she finally caved in to the harassment.  I also knew Ann Marie when we met at DCM. We were like “HEY MINORITY GURL” and I knew I wanted more. I met the other ladies through social media stalking, and finally really met them when we all started working together. THEY ARE MY GIRLS, and LEGIT my friends.

How did you each of you get started in comedy and what interested you to get into it?

Anna: I went to school for musical theater so I trained in singing and dancing, but every time I had a “performance” class, my classmates laughed at (with?) me even if my song wasn’t meant to be a funny. So after I finished school I ditched musical theater and went into comedy. Now with Azn Pop, I get to do both music and comedy!

Iliana: I went to school for musical theater too. I got into comedy because a commercial agent told me that improv is important to have on your resume— and I will do whatever society tells me. LOL JK. Also, one of my good friends, Elise told me about ASSSCAT at UCB and she’d bring me along and eventually we watched the shows every Sunday one summer. I was terrified of improv (still kinda am!) but was so inspired by the awesome stuff happening on stage and in the community. There’s honestly no harder working group of people in the arts than comedy people— or at least it feels like that. Everyone’s always writing something or filming something or producing a show. From improv, I got into writing my own comedy characters and co-wrote a comedic web series with my friend— the series Angel edited, and even just got my first paid writing gig for MTV! I found that comedy opened so many new doors and cool collaborations, so I’ve stuck around and it’s let me!

Ann Marie: I was raised in every typical Korean-American fashion you can think of: I played the violin and piano, I graduated from an Ivy League school with an engineering degree, and I was applying for medical school— but I was becoming more and more depressed of having to live out some arbitrary Korean “success story” of a life that I really didn’t want. Some friends of mine were getting into this weird thing I had never heard of called “improv at the UCB”, so I thought “if my friends are into it, I probably would be too— at least it’s worth trying out”. I also always loved expressing myself in stupid and goofy ways, but I was historically and culturally taught that that wasn’t appropriate. So when I later learned that it was okay to embrace that, well, that just made my soul soar!

Angel: I was a very shy, quiet, and reserved girl. Towards the end of high school, I started venting on my online blog. It was the first time people were interested in what I had to say and the first time people thought I was funny.  Then there was an end-of-the-year talent show, I jokingly said, “I’ll do stand-up…and then I thought about it…and then I was like…yes!” I want to show people that anyone can do comedy, even if you’re not a loud, talkative person. I used my shyness and awkwardness to make my brand of comedy.

Maya: I was always a musical theater gal and I would always get cast as comic relief aka the old woman/witch/ho. I was never the chaste basic princess character and I always incorporated comedy with my performances. I am also a huge sketch comedy nerd and I performed sketch comedy at Rutgers University (YEAH, I’M A JERSEY INDIAN).  When I finally made it to the city, I started taking improv and sketch writing classes at UCB and the Magnet Theater. I love to sing, so naturally musical comedy is a great fit.

From left to right: Anna Suzuki, Maya Deshmukh, Ann Marie Yoo, Angel Yau, Iliana Inocencio (Credit: AzN PoP)

From left to right: Anna Suzuki, Maya Deshmukh, Ann Marie Yoo, Angel Yau, Iliana Inocencio (Credit: Ian Stroud)

“Rice to Meet You” is such a fun video with a lot of iterations for the different types of rice out there. However, the video seems to have a deeper meaning behind it which tackles issues about diversity and celebrating people’s differences. Can you elaborate more on that and what inspired the video?

Anna: The other day I was on the subway and this guy sat next to me and said “Ni hao!” and I was like “Wrong country.” So, that happened. Also, as performers, we’re used to getting thrown into a specific “type.” For example, I’ll go to an audition and I’ll be surrounded by other “Asian women in their 20s-30s” like they need to fill that quota by making the “therapist” Asian, but not the lead character, of course. Much like how the hashtag #StarringJohnCho raises awareness of this lack of diversity in the media by doing something creative and fun, we wanted to say through this music video that we’re not “just Asian”!!! We are (funny) people!!!

Iliana: I’m not sure if it was one specific thing, but more YEARS of being confused as the “wrong Asian.” I can’t even say how many times people have asked me “What are you?” (um, human, duh!) Or how many times people find it fun to guess what kind of Asian I am— it’s usually a long drawn out awkward interaction that results in me being annoyed. So with this video, I think we all agreed on the fact that we want people to see there are different types of Asian people with lots of different backgrounds because we all encounter that so often, despite the fact we are all so different and have our own unique personalities. It’s what I love about our group.

Ann Marie: Our working thesis was that rice is mostly synonymous with Asia, yet there are many different types of rice and Asian cultures/people— not all are the same!

Angel: I think we all wanted to address how Hollywood keeps casting certain “Asian” characters with anyone Asian— it seems like we are interchangeable.  And now of course they are casting non-Asian people to play Asian parts.  Their argument is that we will not make ticket sales, but it’s a catch-22.

Maya: I hate when people say “All ASIANS ARE THE SAME”. I’m like, uhhh nah boo, they ain’t. There are different ethnic groups who have different languages, cultures, FOOD, FASHUN, MUSIC, and that’s within one country. Being an immigrant, I feel like we constantly have to dumb down our culture, for example, in India there are 29 different states, with seven union territories, but each state is super different from the other. Gujarati culture is way different from Punjabi culture and the assumption that we are just bindis, naan, and chicken tikka masala is wrong and infuriating!  We just wanted to school everyone in a light-hearted way.

In the video, each of you have your own nicknames such as Edgy Rice, Baby Rice, Competitive Rice, Quirky Rice, and Brown Rice. How did you all come about deciding which one of you got which name?

Anna: We took a look at stock characters in girl groups and boy bands (Spice Girls, ‘N Sync), like “the sensitive one,” “the rebel,” and so on. Once we decided on our “characters”, we realized they were pretty similar to who we are as real people, which made it funnier.

Iliana: Pretty much what Anna said, but we essentially took our real personalities and heightened it ten-fold to be ridiculous versions of ourselves.

Ann Marie: We looked at successful pop bands and their tropes that we wanted to emulate to structure our group. Members always seem to have a label to mark their individuality, as these labels also help inform our character POVs comedically too.

Angel: Anna is edgy, Ann Marie is competitive, Maya is brown, Illy is a baby, and I am funny…looking.

Maya: Yeah, I’m brown, and what the others said.

Do you have any future plans to shoot any more music videos or any upcoming performances that people should be on the look out for?

Anna: Yes, we will be coming out with many more music videos. Our next video will be a ballad about white men, obviously.

Iliana: Yes, a bunch more. We are also working on rewrites for a live show we did last year.

Ann Marie: Absolutely, there are so many aspects on being Asian American, and it’s less-discussed and often overshadowed material to capitalize on! We try to touch upon a lot of this in our live comedy show that should be going up at the famed UCB theater this summer (where diversity there is also an on-going issue).

Angel:  We want to address all the issues minorities are going through especially Asian Americans… ALL.

Maya: OMG YASSSS WE ARE JUST GETTING STARTED.

From led to right: Angel Yau, Maya Deshmukh, Iliana Inocencio, Ann Marie Yoo, and Anna Suzuki (Credit: AzN PoP)

From led to right: Angel Yau, Maya Deshmukh, Iliana Inocencio, Ann Marie Yoo, and Anna Suzuki (Credit: Ian Stroud)

What is a fun fact about yourself you want to share with the world?

Anna: 2 equally important facts— I use to compete in bowling in Japan as a child (bowling IS A SPORT). I am a Japanese-Jew, which makes me a Jap Jap.

Iliana: My pinkies are crooked. They look like they’re broken. They’re not. Don’t worry! Also, I am obsessed with my dog, Maybe. If I didn’t mention her once in this, it’d be uncharacteristic of me.

Ann Marie: Other than hitting every bullet point on the Korean-American stereotype? I can burp on command, and my husband hates it.

Angel: I was looking through my clothing the other day and I definitely have oil stains on everything I own.

Maya: I KNOW EVERYTHING HOUSEWIVES— NJ, NY, OC, HOTLANTA, BEV HILLS.

To keep up with AzN PoP, you can “like” them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter and Instagram. Keep a look out for a new music from them coming soon as well as a half hour sketch comedy show this summer!