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Bowen Yang invited Tina Fey onto his podcast. He's still dwelling on what she said

Bowen Yang talks to <em>Wild Card</em> about his proudest moment as a kid, hard truths from Tina Fey and why he thinks there's more to reality than we can see or touch?
Frazer Harrison
Getty Images
Bowen Yang talks to Wild Card about his proudest moment as a kid, hard truths from Tina Fey and why he thinks there's more to reality than we can see or touch?

A note from Wild Card host Rachel Martin: So, I gotta tell you, I take research very seriously. My team and I spend hours digging through articles and profiles of our guests, trying to understand them. This is serious work. And of course this is what I did to prepare for my conversation with Bowen Yang.

A lot of it I already knew – like the fact that he's the first Chinese American cast member on Saturday Night Live. And I knew the inside jokes from his podcast Las Culturistas, which he hosts with his best friend Matt Rogers.

But I also have to cop to the fact that the research for this interview was just a good time. Because I had an excuse to watch a lot of SNL clips. The iceberg that sank the Titanic, the Chinese spy balloon, the intern at the Tiny Desk Concert – Bowen Yang classics all.

But as much as I love him on SNL, it was the 2022 rom-com Fire Island that made me fall in love with him. He turned what could have been a light and easy role as the best friend who never gets the guy into something heartbreakingly real and joyful. So it was my very great pleasure to get to talk to Bowen on Wild Card.

This Wild Card interview has been edited for length and clarity. Host Rachel Martin asks guests randomly-selected questions from a deck of cards. Tap play above to listen to the full podcast, or read an excerpt below.

Question 1: What was a moment when you felt proud of yourself as a kid?

Bowen Yang: In the first grade — or year one as we called it in Canada, I was in Montreal at the time — there was just a class one day in school where we drew. I had pastels and then there was just unstructured drawing time, right? First-grade classic. I drew a clown with blue hair, a flower in his shirt, standing outside the circus, and then there was a speech bubble on the clown and he was saying, “Allô,” your French Quebecois greeting, “Allô.” 

Pretty simple stuff, right? But apparently, the teacher at the time thought it was so sophisticated that she submitted it to this art contest and then I won a full 20 Canadian dollars. And I think it was a pretty vital moment of creative validation for me growing up, and my parents were very excited. 

Martin: Did your parents think you were going to be an artist, or you just moved on from that? 

Yang: No, they really pushed that, and for some reason, art was acceptable creative outlets for an Asian child of immigrants. 

Martin: Those are the high arts! The high arts. 

Yang: It was the high arts! And so I think they were very confused when I pivoted years later to improv comedy and, like, telling jokes on stage because they were like, “This is completely crude.” 

Question 2: What have you learned to be careful about?

Yang: Ugh. This is really something that I've dwelled on for the past, oh, two, three months? Tina Fey came on my podcast, and she — in a very playful, so brilliant way — was railing against me for sharing my real opinions on movies on the podcast and just my real opinions in general. 

Basically, what Tina was saying was, this is a permanent record. It's like that thing of like, the internet is written in permanent marker. And the phrase that kind of went a little viral from that was her saying, “Authenticity is dangerous and expensive.”

And I really am still reckoning with that idea where I've always been an open book. I've always shared my thoughts pretty extemporaneously on things and haven't really regretted them too much. But now I think I'm reevaluating what it means or like, how worth it it is to be honest about everything. But then at the same time like, if you kind of start to self-censor a bit, then what does that do to your idea of yourself? 

Question 3: Do you think there's more to reality than we can see or touch?

Yang: Yeah, definitely, definitely. I am generally a skeptic with things. I read too many Carl Sagan books in college. But I feel like there is this meta-reality or something that exists that people can tap into because – I know the question is not necessarily implying anything supernatural – but we had on a medium for the [Las Culturistas] podcast, Tyler Henry. He's also known to some people as the Hollywood Medium. And, again, it invites skepticism because you're like, how much did he know beforehand? And he said things to me that were really conceptual and not necessarily, “Oh, this person is in this other dimension and they're trying to communicate this to you.” 

For me, it was just like, “Oh, what I'm picking up from you is that you have this legacy of people who were not able to share their lives or the legacy is a little bit blurred.” My dad grew up in a rural part of China where most of his relatives are not really documented. There was just no family tree or history to go off of, and no one could read, and no one went to school, and he was the first in his family to even go to college. 

And so what Tyler Henry was basically saying was like, you are able to end this cycle of one, shame, and two, record in a weird way. Like, you get to – through being yourself and being like a citizen of this world now where people are constantly tracking things and things are easily recorded for posterity – that gets to sort of be one of your motivating forces in life. And that's something that I kind of loved hearing. It was very meaningful to hear because it was borrowed from this metaphysical space but at the same time it applies to something that I can do now and it is from a reality that is unobservable which I kind of love.

Want to hear this whole conversation? Listen to the full Wild Card episode with Rachel and Bowen Yang.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.