Comedian Atsuko Okatsuka thinks there is a stealth member of “the resistance” in President Donald Trump’s inner circle: his spray tan guy.
“I just like picturing that he keeps giving him bigger goggles, and Donald’s like, ‘Do you have any smaller goggles?’” she tells Variety. “He’s like, ‘No, actually, I’m so sorry. This is the only size we have.’ That sort of lets me sleep at night easier, you know?”
The president’s potential spray tan saboteur, the challenge of explaining what an “influencer” is in Chinese to her grandmother and the joys of “free bleeding” (the practice of not using menstrual products) are just a few of the topics Okatsuka tackles in her comedy album “But I Control Me.” The title comes from what she calls her head space, navigating the chaotic news cycle and current events.
The set was recorded at Dynasty Typewriter at the Hayworth Theatre in Los Angeles, where she also hosts “Let’s Go, Atsuko!,” described as a “woke” Japanese game show. The show was recently picked up by short-form streaming platform Quibi.
Doing comedy in the age of Trump has its challenges, though.
“Comedians — we really want to talk about ourselves, and he’s made it about him. I just want to talk about my day,” she says, with a laugh.
Although she obviously isn’t afraid to roast the current occupants of the White House. In one bit, titled “Pent up Men,” Okatsuka theorizes about vice president Mike Pence: “He wears a face that looks like when he was a kid, he put on a dress and was yelled at for it by his parents.”
The Taiwanese-Japanese American moved to the U.S. with her mother and grandmother from Japan at age 10 and lived undocumented for seven years. Her family are generally non-laughers, so any time she earned a chuckle from them as a child, she says she would clock it.
Okatsuka says her experience as an immigrant frequently influences how she sees things, sometimes trickling down to the idiosyncrasies of how she talks, which, she says, she refuses to edit out.
“Because I’m just like, ‘This is my true self,’” she says. “My perspective of absurdism and optimism — I definitely think that’s still the immigrant in me.”
But she hesitates to call her brand of comedy strictly observational, political or that all-too-nebulous “alternative.” Perhaps Margaret Cho put it best: Okatsuka says the veteran comedian once likened Okatsuka performing to leading the audience on a tour of space from inside of a spaceship.
“And the audience has no idea where you’re going with it, but you still land safely whatever planet you end up on,” says Okatsuka.
Which, she thinks, is an upgrade from how Cho — whom Okatsuka calls an inspiration — previously described her comedy: a slow, silent fart that everyone starts noticing and eventually knows is hers.
“The spaceship is an upgrade. It doesn’t come with a foul smell,” says Okatsuka. “I do like that a little better, too.”