Meet Jonathan Cho, a HFF19 scholarship recipient (and recipient of the 2019 Freak Award for Best Solo Show) representing The Hollywood Fringe Festival as a part of Sydney Fringe’s brand new program: Global Fringe
What is your show about?
Mr. Yunioshi is a solo show that follows Mickey Rooney as he develops his infamous character for the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The show is written for an Asian actor to perform.
What inspired you to write this story?
I first had the idea for the show when I was doing theatre in Tampa. I’m so grateful to have been a part of the theatre community there and I still consider Tampa my hometown in a lot of ways. That being said, I was one of maybe three Asian performers that I knew of that were auditioning and getting stage time. At the time, there was this one sort of problematic director that had directed a show featuring a pretty rough caricature of a Chinese person by a performer that was not Asian. There was a facebook thread where the director defended his choice calling it “satire.” So a friend of mine posted a picture of Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi with the caption “SATIRE,” and as a joke I wrote that I would be doing a one man show as Mickey Rooney showing his process in developing that character. The response was largely, “you know that’s not a bad idea.”
What do you think the most important takeaway from your show is?
My hope is that the show gets people fired up to more actively support Asian artists. I tried to make the point that Hollywood likes to cast “household” names so it sure would help if more people were talking about Asian performers in their houses (or in their virtual houses! on their virtual walls!). Coming from a close-knit and supportive theatre community, I learned how uplifting and helpful the act of championing your fellow artists can be. One thing that’s blown my mind about being in Los Angeles is how instead of only plugging plays, I’m now celebrating friends in movies, TV shows, and video games. If you feel so inclined, please check out and support these Asian artists: Joy Regullano (Supportive White Parents), Brandon Raman (I Can’t Indian Good), Paul Yen (EWP’s Vietgone), Olivia Cheng (Warrior), Jake Choi (Single Parents), Anzu Lawson (Dear Yoko), Feodor Chin (Bulge Bracket), Leonard Wu (Ghosts of Tsushima), and I always feel bad about starting one of these lists because I start to think about who else I could have mentioned.. Oh! There’s also an all-Asian comedy team named Miss Golightly at UCB that I found out about during the run of this show!
Tell us about the journey you have been on with this show?
After I had the initial idea, I didn’t actually start writing until right around the time they revealed the first picture of Scarlett Johannson in Ghost in the Shell. I saw a lot of people calling for a boycott of the movie (which I can certainly understand people wanting to do), but I also felt the problem was bigger than Scar Jo and I started writing the show as a way to unpack my feelings and opinions about the subject. I finished the first version just in time for the New York Fringe Festival. I was happy with the version that I did in New York, but for the Hollywood Fringe I had grown a bit and was better able to articulate my thoughts. I also had a terrific comedy director named Joe Wagner who helped me talk through a lot of the jokes I was hesitant to make. And a huge thank you to the Hollywood Fringe Diversity Scholarship for helping me on the production side of things! I was very wrapped up with writing and performing and it was nice having a team of people checking in to see if I needed any help (and I did!). I suppose the next step of the journey is figuring out a way for other Asian actors to be able to do the show in their communities. I hope the show can be a showcase for actors like me when I was starting out, a way of saying “Hello! I’m here! Look what I can do!”
What are you most excited about in sharing your show with a global audience?
I’m honestly really hoping I get to hear the response to the show and whether this is a topic and subject matter that resonates with an international audience. I’m rather keenly aware of the conversations being had about whitewashing and yellowface here in the U.S. and from friends in the U.K. and I’m curious whether this is a conversation that people everywhere want to be having. I think this show does a good job of introducing and dissecting those issues while disguised as a comedy. I just don’t know if people will think the show is as clever and/or funny as I think it is. I sincerely hope so. But I’m mostly just excited for people to see the show and hopefully enjoy it!
Do you have a favorite HFF memory?
I have to say that winning an award with my Mom sitting next to me in the audience was a very lovely experience! That would be my favorite memory followed closely by a thousand smaller memories of meeting so many talented artists and being welcomed so warmly by the Hollywood Fringe community.
Check our Mr. Yunioshi and so many more amazing shows from around the world in Sydney’s Global Fringe !