Bay Area comic Irene Tu clashes with the image most people call to mind when they think of a stand-up comedian. As a Chinese-American lesbian in slacks and a button-up, she explains that her “first step on stage is to make people comfortable.” Tu often starts her set by joking about how easy it is to confuse her with a teenage boy. “The general concept of a stand-up comedian is a straight white dude,” she points out, “Though that’s slowly getting better.”
One project aiming to diversify the stand-up sphere is this month’s Out on Stage, the first ever all queer stand-up comedy series. Tu is featured in the series with a set that skews faintly political, exploring everything from gender policing in the bathroom to queer sex.
While Tu doesn’t consider herself a political comic—”I can’t name everyone in the white house right now”—she finds herself skimming socio-political issues on stage fairly often. “I talk about what bothers me,” she explains. “If it happens to me a lot, I think about it, and I want to talk about it on stage.” It’s the old adage of the personal being political, and in this instance, it’s hilarious. Tu even squeezes in a nod to the lesbian joke of getting a toaster for recruiting straight women.
It’s a joke almost exclusively told by individuals within the LGBTQ community and one that entered the mainstream queer lexicon when it appeared on Ellen in the infamous Puppy Episode. Tu explains that Ellen Degeneres is her main comedy role-model. In fact, when I ask what success in her career would look like, Tu explains that it would be getting an invitation from Ellen to sit across from her on The Ellen Show. “I try to put it into the universe,” Tu admits, “that’s why I bring it up in every interview. But I want to make sure I earn it.”
Apart from Ellen’s chair, Tu says in 2019 she wants to work on getting even better on stage and would love to have a sitcom one day. As one of The San Francisco Chronicle’s 2017 “artists on the brink of fame,” Tu clearly isn’t afraid of the work required to earn her way to the top. She regularly hosts Man Haters while maintaining her weekly show at Starline Social Club. Currently, she’s in the midst of SF Sketchfest and the multitude of performances she has booked for the occasion.
I asked Tu if she made any resolutions for the new year and she responds somewhat seriously, “I want to be able to survive the apocalypse.” She continues with talk of lifting cars into the air and I can’t help but burst into laughter. “My goal is to get ripped, like really jacked,” she clarifies. Hopefully, the apocalypse won’t be any time soon, but if it does, take solace in knowing Irene Tu will be there to keep you laughing long after it hits.