SAM SANDERS, HOST:
Comedy is hard. But comedy on a Zoom meeting - that is even harder. My guest today, he can fully attest to that.
BOWEN YANG: I would be - they'd tell you to get in costume. So I was in this, like, Spirit Halloween-level Kim Jong Un costume.
YANG: And I was, like, mounting this gigantic green screen that's bigger than my living room in this costume on a Zoom, putting a light panel, like, 3 feet away, setting a chair - like, framing myself, just, like - just doing all these technical things and being guided very well by these experts and professionals. But like, it - I'm just going to be pretty hard-line and say that it was bad. Like, the comedy suffered.
SANDERS: (Laughter) OK.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SANDERS: Hey, y'all. You are listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Sam Sanders. And my guest today is Bowen Yang. Yes, that Bowen Yang, cast member on "Saturday Night Live," podcaster extraordinaire and overall lovely human being. Bowen first came to "SNL" in 2018 as a writer. But if you know anything about Bowen Yang, you also know it was only a matter of time before he went onstage. So it only made sense when "SNL" made Bowen a cast member the following year.
In this chat, we'll talk more with Bowen about "SNL" and what it's been like for him to be the first Chinese American on the show in front of the camera. We'll also discuss his podcast with his friend Matt Rogers. It's called "Las Culturistas." And because we can, we'll talk about our shared love of HBO's "Insecure." But first, I had a very important confession for Bowen about a shared love for something else.
So Bowen, I - gosh, I have so many questions for you. But I think I have to start with just a confession.
SANDERS: We don't have to go there if you don't want to. But I feel like I wouldn't be honest with you if I didn't tell you that I am currently in the midst of binge-watching "Grey's Anatomy."
YANG: Oh, my goodness.
SANDERS: I know. I know.
YANG: And what was the entry point for you? Like, how far along has this journey - are you in this journey? I feel like I'm, like, really - I'm really close to just jumping back in and starting from the beginning.
SANDERS: Yes. Yeah. There's so much there. So I was an undergrad when it was first happening. And I recall watching maybe the first two seasons, and I was a RA in my dorm. And me and the guys in my dorm would watch it together, and it was very, like, modern man. But then I stopped watching after Izzie saved the deer. I was like, I'm out. I'm done.
YANG: Season 4.
YANG: Premiere of Season 4 - yes.
SANDERS: Yeah. But then a few weeks ago in the quarantine, Netflix was like, maybe you want to watch "Grey's." And I was like, OK, yeah. And I'm currently in Season 6 now. I'm, like, moving through it.
YANG: Wow. So six is the merger. Is that what's going on maybe?
SANDERS: I keep hearing that's coming. It hasn't happened yet.
YANG: OK. OK.
SANDERS: I just saw the episode - spoilers ahead, listeners - where George dies.
YANG: Yeah, yeah. That's a crazy one.
SANDERS: I know.
YANG: That felt like - it did feel like a reset even though they were killing off a character.
YANG: Yeah, spoiler - sorry. Sorry. We're spoiling this for anybody...
SANDERS: It's OK.
YANG: ...Who hasn't - who's waited 10 years to watch Season 6.
YANG: But yeah, I fell off after, I think - I fell off after seven. Oh, no. But you - no, I fell off, like, right as you are about to approach the merger.
YANG: So this is interesting.
YANG: We're sort of like - you're picking up where I left off.
SANDERS: So I bring all this up for a reason. From my understanding, one of the characters on "Grey's" - an actress who's on "Grey's" - was a big part of you finding your, like, path.
YANG: Yeah. It was Sandra Oh, who's Cristina Yang.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GREY'S ANATOMY")
CHYLER LEIGH: (As Lexie Grey) Are you OK?
SANDRA OH: (As Cristina Yang) Don't ask me if I'm OK.
LEIGH: (As Lexie Grey) OK.
OH: (As Cristina Yang) Ugh, you make me sick. Have some fire. Be unstoppable. Be a force of nature. Be better than anyone here, and don't give a damn what anyone thinks. There are new teams here, no buddies. You're on your own. Be on your own.
SANDERS: It should have been "Yang's Anatomy," if I'm being real.
YANG: It should have been "Yang's Anatomy." It should've been "Yang's Anatomy." She was someone who - I mean, I like - I didn't identify with someone on TV that strongly and probably still haven't. I mean, like, I was admiring her, like, ambition that was paired with, like, an unapologetic sort of stance on that ambition. Like, she was never, like, quiet. She was never, like, submissive or passive in her desire to succeed. I thought of myself as a very goal-oriented person. The more I've aged, the more I'm like, well, maybe I'm not that ambitious. But at the time, like, she really sort of, yeah, imprinted on me in this very powerful way.
SANDERS: Yeah. And, like, people, I don't think, give her enough credit. Like, "Grey's" is, like, a soap opera.
SANDERS: But she is acting the whole way through...
YANG: Oh, my God.
SANDERS: ...The whole way through.
YANG: And giving you comedy, too.
YANG: Sandra Oh was giving you comedy on that show. But yeah, I mean, she was giving you, like, single teardrop on, you know, network television post-scripted revival once "Desperate Housewives" came on the scene in 2004. Like, Sandra Oh was, like, giving you the first sort of tasting menu of, like, what prestige television would become.
SANDERS: Yes, yes. It's like I'll see, like, Laura Dern having her moment now. And I'm like, I think Sandra Oh wrote that blueprint. I think she did (laughter).
YANG: Oh, my God. And now we've said it. Wow.
SANDERS: Yes, It's out there. It's out loud. Anyways, (laughter) we could do this all day. But...
YANG: We could.
SANDERS: ...To Bowen. And let's talk about the now and where you are in "SNL." Y'all are getting ready for a new season. And I'm so curious about how y'all pull this off in the midst of a pandemic. How much can you tell us about how it's going to work?
YANG: I'm curious, too.
YANG: I mean, I'm like, it's all going to be like a Schrodinger's cat...
YANG: ...Situation, even for me, where it's like, we won't know if the cat's alive or dead until we open the box.
YANG: But, no, I think it'll be great. I think it'll be great. And that's not, like, a morbid analogy. I'm just saying, like, I don't know...
SANDERS: It is what it is.
YANG: ...What it's going to be.
YANG: You know, I feel some confidence with the way that the show and the network are making sure everybody's safe. Everybody is taking every precautionary thing...
SANDERS: So y'all can go in, though?
YANG: What do you mean? Oh, yeah. Yeah. We can go in. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
SANDERS: OK. OK - because the last episodes of the last season, everyone was at home...
YANG: Everyone was at home...
SANDERS: ...But y'all are going into...
YANG: And it was nice because, you know, they're testing everybody pretty frequently. And it's been nice to just sort of go in and sort of gradually, like, reintroduce yourself to people, be like, hi. Yeah. It's been so long. And, like everyone just does...
SANDERS: They're like, don't hug me yet (laughter).
YANG: Well, everyone's just doing like a this, like, you know, - I'm - for people who are listening at home, I'm just, like, doing, like, an air hug from afar.
SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So I want to talk about - how much do you think of the comedy that y'all will be doing this season has to totally just speak to the pandemic? Or how much of it can feel like previous seasons? I think probably a lot of your audience wants "SNL" to help all of us feel more normal right now. But I also know that part of the work of your show is always speaking to the absurdity of the moment. Like...
SANDERS: ...How are you thinking about the ratio of, like, COVID stuff and everything else?
YANG: Yeah. Yeah. I feel like "SNL" is this kind of fixed, refractive prism. And whatever comes through it is just whatever - is just the absurdity of what's going on in the world or what people are saying or what's not being said. I think we all sort of take that seriously. And I think we're all in a place where we're excited to write. I mean, even in April during, like, the true depths of the pandemic - and, like, I was in New York where it just felt so, so, so dark and scary...
YANG: ...Even then we were, you know, trying to find ways to circumvent the darkness or speak directly to the darkness. And it still felt decent. It felt like - it felt meaningful in some way. And I feel like that...
YANG: If we were able to do that then under these, like, impossible circumstances, which was everyone's in their own houses, you're being directed over Zoom, you're being - you know, there's a gaffer on the Zoom telling you where to put your light, you know, how to wire your stuff from your own, like, living room. I'm in, like, this kind of shoeboxy (ph) place. Like, you know, if I - if we were able to do that back then and sort of come together and have our amazing postproduction team, like, put that show on in spite of all of these obstacles, I feel like it'll be...
SANDERS: This will be a walk in the park (laughter).
SANDERS: All right. Coming up, the duality of Bowen Yang.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SANDERS: So in thinking about the show, "SNL," being this, like, mirror that refracts and it's going to just have to show some of the absurdity of life right now, like, what, for you, personally, as you, like, live your life the last few months, has been, like, the most absurd thing? Like, for me, it's just, like, I've found that, living alone, I just have full-on conversations with myself now. I will talk to myself. I will yell at myself.
SANDERS: I will sing to myself. And my dog is just like, who are you? What has been your most absurd thing to happen?
YANG: Oh, but - so you have a dog there.
SANDERS: I do.
YANG: That's nice.
SANDERS: I would let her in but she's a busybody (laughter).
YANG: That's OK. She's a busybody. The most absurd thing is that I used to be - this is another hard line thing. I used to be very anti-bath.
YANG: But it's - I take a bath, like, four times a week now, which feels excessive.
SANDERS: No, it's not excessive. You treat yourself.
SANDERS: You treat yourself.
YANG: Well, yeah. And I'm, like, really, like, researching, like, the right - first of all, so what I have now is this eczema honey bath bomb...
YANG: ...That helps with, like, irritated skin. And then I have, you know, the Jessica Alba bubble bath Honest thing.
SANDERS: Yes. Yes.
YANG: And it's like, that's, like, my - those are my sort of tentpole things that I need for the bath. It's not absurd. But it's just, like, I'm really splurging on bath stuff. And then I'm splurging on, like - like, this morning, I woke up at, like - I set an alarm for, like, the Telfar drop. I was like, I'm going to wake up at 9. And I'm going to, like, buy, like, the new Telfair earrings. Like, I'm going to buy - Like, I've never been, like, this sort of...
YANG: ...Mission-driven in my shopping. And so I don't know if that's absurd. I'm just, like - I am, like - I'm just - I'm in a mode to consume as much as I can.
SANDERS: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You know, you can't bring up baths and have me not, like, really go down a long list of questions because I've heard from several other creatives, when I interview them, about their bath process. Like, Yvonne Orji loves her baths. She says that she talks to God in the bathtub.
SANDERS: Like, what is the average length of your bath?
YANG: OK. It's interesting because I'll perch my iPad...
YANG: ...On the rim of the bathtub. There's plenty of surface area. It's not too dangerous.
SANDERS: Dangerous. OK.
YANG: It's not too dangerous...
SANDERS: OK, OK.
YANG: ...Because there's - I've got a large sort of, you know, bar of area where I can just tilt my iPad towards me. And I'll put on - speaking of Yvonne, I was - like, I've been catching up on "Insecure." I'll put on "Insecure."
SANDERS: Oh, yeah.
YANG: And then once I'm, like, 20 minutes into the episode, I'll be like, OK, time for me - you know, like, once Issa and Molly are fighting at the grocery store, I'm, like, OK, great.
SANDERS: (Laughter) Yeah, I got it.
YANG: Like, I can - oh - and, yes, of course, now I'm getting pruny, and so I'm going to leave it. So yeah. So it's, like, 15 minutes. The upper bound is, like, 20.
SANDERS: OK. Now my goal for you is to, like, next time you're taking a long bath, you've got to FaceTime with Yvonne, and y'all got to have a bathtub kiki.
YANG: I would...
SANDERS: I'm speaking it right now into existence.
YANG: Thank you so much, Sam. I am purely a supplicant when it comes to Yvonne Orji. I don't get too, like, you know, freaked out or nervous around famous people. But for some reason, Yvonne Orji is just one of those people where I'm like, I'm too - I would be too nervous to meet her.
SANDERS: Yeah. Well, there's something about what Issa has done with that whole show. She has created these characters that are equal parts, like, fumbling through their late 20s, early 30s but also incredibly majestic and regal.
SANDERS: Like, they're always dressed above their circumstance (laughter). They always look so great. And you're just like, oh, if I saw you at a party, I'd be afraid to say hi.
YANG: Exactly. They're all hanging out at, like, the nicest, you know, co-working spaces I've ever seen in my life.
SANDERS: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
YANG: God, like, Condola is just like this, like, crazy, ravishing beauty. I'm just, like, all of these people are like - I would be too afraid to talk to you, which I think is how it should be, you know?
YANG: "Insecure" has been really - has been the best escape. I watched the Coachella episode again the other night just to, like, feel like...
SANDERS: Oh, my God. Natasha Rothwell was on another level.
YANG: Can we just say - can we just give props to Natasha?
SANDERS: Right there, right there, right there.
YANG: I mean, incredible.
SANDERS: Oh, yeah.
YANG: And Natasha was someone who - she wrote at "SNL" for a season. And I was - when I got the job offer to write, I reached out to her. And I was like, I really want - you know, we're obviously - it's not the same experience, of course, that you are a Black woman and I'm a gay, Asian man. But what was it like working for you there? And she was like, you know, it was really nice. But, like, of course, like, you know, it was really intense. And these are the things that you should sort of be aware of going in. And I was like, great. Like, she downloaded me on all like the things that, like - that people should know. And I'm just forever grateful for Natasha as, like, a performer, an actor, a writer but also grateful for her as, like, a person who like, you know...
SANDERS: Yeah. She was generous. Yeah.
YANG: ...Was kind, generous - kind enough to, like, let me know, you know, how to, like, emotionally prepare for this really intense, demanding job. And gosh, I owe a lot to her. I love her.
SANDERS: Yeah. She's great. You know, hearing you talk about her helping you out when you came on, there has been so much discussed about that show and diversity. And to hear you say that...
YANG: Discussed - D-I-S-C-U-S-S-E-D, not disgust, D-I-S-G-U-S-T.
SANDERS: Oh, discussed. Yes, yes. Sorry. Yes, yes.
YANG: Yes, yes.
SANDERS: Good catch (laughter).
SANDERS: But like...
YANG: It's been disgusting.
SANDERS: It's been disgusting. I guess what I'm getting at is, like - there was still a need for you to ask another person of color, what's it going to be like? What should I prepare for? And so like, what does that say about where you think the show is in terms of just being, you know, a more welcoming environment for people who aren't, you know...
SANDERS: ...The white guys?
YANG: Well, I was just asking her as a way that wasn't even specific to "SNL."
SANDERS: OK. Yeah.
YANG: I mean - and I feel like this is a thing now where in any place of work, it's like you kind of - there is this kind of emotional shorthand amongst people who don't fit into a - whatever, like, mental model of what that job is.
SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah.
YANG: Everyone's being very honest, I think, and transparent about how things work there, which I think is great. I mean, I was kind of surprised to go into "SNL" and sort of be just genuinely surprised and comforted by - internally, like, just going in and seeing like, oh, there are Asians in every department. There are people of color in every department. We've had this, like, legacy of queer writers who've been at the show since its beginning.
SANDERS: Oh, yeah, yeah. I feel like, you know, so much of you moving from writing to being on camera - like, so many of those sketches just popped right away seeing you. But I think a lot of people - a lot of straight people - glommed on to sketches that leaned into you being Asian, you know, you playing Andrew Yang or Kim Jong Un.
SANDERS: But I was most impressed by and what I found to be the most subversive was the gay stuff. And...
YANG: Oh, good.
SANDERS: ...I thought - I mean, like, having Emma Stone play an actress who gets cheated on in gay porn.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
EMMA STONE: (As character) I play the woman who gets cheated on in the gay porn.
BECK BENNETT: (As character) Oh, yeah.
STONE: (As character) I wanted to ask you about my line if you have a moment. I open the door. And I say, Jared, what are you doing? Not with my godson. Like that?
SANDERS: Or the Sara Lee stuff.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
YANG: (As character) Since we flagged some activity on the account that's been a little off message...
HARRY STYLES: (As character) Oh, I don't think so.
CECILY STRONG: (As character) For example, why did Sara Lee comment on this picture of Nick Jonas...
STRONG: ...Saying, wreck me, daddy.
SANDERS: Like, that for me was something that was harder to pull off and even more valuable when it worked.
SANDERS: I mean, like, having a conversation about poppers in a comedic sketch that straight people understand - come on.
SANDERS: That is like - that was really smart. And so - I don't know. Is it - how do you navigate the - is there a - not a competition, but there's a duality of identity that you bring to the show.
SANDERS: And how do you think you navigate that? Or does one take precedence? And does that change over time?
YANG: It's this thing that - I mean, both of those things are - for anyone watching at home, it feels like they've snuck on in some way. Or it feels - there's some novelty aspect to, like, any time there would be - you know, there is, like, an Asian element to a sketch. Or there is a queer element to a sketch. And I feel like - I don't know. Like, I think I'm - I mean, gosh.
And I'm still kind of in this place where I'm like, am I sort of limiting my scope with what I'm capable of doing? But I feel like - I'm a firm believer in just sort of repetition and building reps in the literal sense of, like, the more you see this, the more you'll get used to it. At this point, I'm just like, oh, I would love for there just to be a normal, mid-frequency response to you seeing - an audience that watches "SNL" seeing, like, a queer, Asian person on camera being queer and Asian...
YANG: ...Without digging into the politics behind - well, that's all they can do, like, that's all Bowen does is be queer and Asian or - in the same way that you don't sort of remark on the fact that a straight, white, cis cast member would come on, and that you don't assign those descriptors onto them in their performance.
So it's like, I kind of want to, like - I don't know - volley on as much of this as possible in my short time here just to make it - I was talking to Ego Nwodim about this, my castmate. And she was like, I just want to make this easier for the next Black woman. I was like, oh, my God. Yeah. And I was like, I kind of don't really care about how my tenure on the show is perceived in any particular way other than the fact that I want this to be - I want this to facilitate something better for the next person. Like, that's kind of, like, the only duty I'm bound to...
SANDERS: I love that. I love that.
YANG: ...On the show at this point that.
SANDERS: Listeners, stay with us. We ask and answer a very complex question - what is the culture that made you say culture is for you? It'll make sense later. Trust me. Stay with us.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SANDERS: What's been the biggest difference in the reaction to sketches based on those that lean into being Asian or those that lean into being gay? Like...
SANDERS: ...They're all dealing with difference. But, like, is there generally a certain kind of response to the Asian sketches that is different than that for the gay sketches?
YANG: I would say maybe I haven't had enough turns at bat yet. Is that the right terminology? I don't know sports.
SANDERS: No, that works. Yeah (laughter).
YANG: Yeah. I probably have to, like, you know, gather a little bit more. I have to get a bigger sample size. But I don't know.
SANDERS: I ask that because I'm wondering if there are any, you know, concerned Asian viewers who are like, well, when you played that character, that was bad for us.
YANG: Sure. Sure. Oh, yeah.
SANDERS: Do you hear that?
YANG: Yeah, maybe. Every now and then, yeah. And I completely understand that point of view because...
SANDERS: Do you agree with it?
YANG: Sure, on some level. Yeah. And I sort of go into these moments of reflection where I'm like, what am I upholding about Asianness (ph)? But then that also gets sort of balanced out by this idea that, like, there is no, like, monolith Asian thing.
SANDERS: Billions of people (laughter). Literally billions of people.
YANG: Billions of people. So many American people. And, like, you know, Asian Americans have the widest income gap within a racial group. And it's like, you know, no one person should be saddled with that responsibility to, like, speak for an entire group of people in that way. And then whenever I do sort of receive this feedback that you're not giving a sort of nuanced portrayal of an Asian person, I think, well, it's a sketch show. And like, I hear...
SANDERS: It's literally comedy (laughter). Yeah.
YANG: I mean, that's the thing. It's like, it's going to be this not caricature-ish version of what's real, but a heightened version of what's real in terms of the - some dials being turned all the way up, others turned all the way down.
SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah. I do think you know, it's like when you think of scrutiny from other Asians on you doing Asian things on the show, I'm guessing part of the scrutiny from that group, if it comes, is also this, like - what I find happens is when there's anything of marginalized status it feels like a first, everyone from that group, we unload all of our hopes and our dreams onto that first.
SANDERS: And all of a sudden, that first has to do so much more than just their job. It's, is Bowen doing this, this, this, this, this, that for the entire industry, for the entire group, for the entire this, for the entire that?
YANG: Sure, sure.
SANDERS: Do you feel that kind of pressure? And if so, how do you fight it?
YANG: I feel like I felt it less and less. I did feel it very much so in the beginning. And that was something that, yeah, was just literally mentally overwhelming. I feel like there's this discussion now amongst Asian people, especially after the release of this book called "Minor Feelings" by Cathy Park Hong. I recommend everyone read it - "Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning." She talks about how there is this, like, sense that, like, you would be in a space that is supposedly, like, egalitarian in terms of, like, your identities.
SANDERS: I see you.
YANG: Then you would clock the other Asian people in the room and be like, hmm. I see you but in a way that is for some reason adversarial. Like, for some reason...
SANDERS: Oh, this is - oh, girl, I know. I know.
YANG: ...I know, right?
SANDERS: There have been so many spaces...
YANG: Yeah, yeah.
SANDERS: ...Where you walk into the room thinking you're going to be the only Black and accepting wholeheartedly the benefits, privileges and deficits that brings. Then you see another one and you're like, this screws up my calculus.
SANDERS: I have prepared for how to be in this room as the only...
YANG: Sure, sure. Sure.
SANDERS: ...It's weird now. I get it. Anyways, go ahead. Go ahead.
YANG: Totally. Well, then because - so then, like, you know, you realize that, like, that person becomes a reference point. You're, like, aware that you've become this new sort of reference point for them in their - yeah, in their calculation. But I feel like, you know, like, where does that come from? And, like, there's this - and this is just the extreme sort of way to put this. But she talks about how we have been programmed to very easily succumb to racial self-hatred, which is to see yourself the way that white people see you, which is to be like...
SANDERS: Oh, my God. Yes, yes, yes.
YANG: ...You know? It's to be like, oh, that Asian person is checking these stereotypical boxes, and isn't that so disappointing? But it's like - but wait a minute. You're just kind of framing this in some oppressive frame, you know? And so I feel like - I'm not saying that I'm, like - I'm victim to that or that's, like, what people are sort of putting on me because I - for the most part, I do feel very sort of lucky and understood. But I think we're starting to work our way out of that default mode of thinking.
SANDERS: Yes. Oh, yeah. And I think part of it comes out of this, like, innate sense of scarcity and scarce resources.
YANG: Yes, yes.
SANDERS: So if I'm in this space that's majority white and I've carved out this space for me as the Black or the Asian or the gay, I better be really careful if another one of those steps up because they might get my slice of the pie.
YANG: Oh, yeah.
SANDERS: Because it took me so long to get my slice, and I'll be damned if I lose my slice.
SANDERS: I think what has to happen in our careers and in our hearts is this reset.
SANDERS: Like, it's not just about a pie.
SANDERS: It's about the kitchen.
YANG: Yeah. Oh, my god.
SANDERS: It is about, you know, the farm-to-table pipeline. There's a whole universe, you know?
YANG: (Laughter). Yeah, yeah.
SANDERS: And it's like, how do we as creators of color, you know, say, OK, I see you other Asian, I see you other Black, I see you other whatever. Come on. Let's go farm some food together.
YANG: Oh, yeah.
SANDERS: Let's go make more food. This is a horribly realized metaphor analogy - whatever. but you see what I'm saying.
YANG: No, no, no. This is an even worse realized metaphor, which is it used to be that you'd see a gay - for me, you would see another gay person at a wedding and you'd be like, damn it.
SANDERS: Yes (laughter).
YANG: Now, I've evolved to a place where I'm like - I see another gay guy at a wedding, I'm like, great. Like, there's at least two, like, moderately skilled dancers here at this wedding.
SANDERS: Yes, yes.
YANG: So there you go. Yeah.
SANDERS: Yes. How can we come together? How can we come together?
YANG: (Laughter) Yes. At the wedding.
YANG: In the kitchen. Yeah.
SANDERS: In the kitchen. So Bowen, I want to talk a little bit about your podcast, if that's cool, just because I love it.
YANG: Yes. Thanks.
SANDERS: And, like, you know, like, I had this long period where it's like when you make a podcast, you can't listen to any other ones. But in the midst of quarantine, I had to listen...
SANDERS: ...You know what I'm saying?
SANDERS: I know now - something about this quarantine moment, it's like I need it. And so my three every week are "Las Culturistas"...
YANG: No way.
SANDERS: ..."The Read"...
YANG: "The Read."
SANDERS: ...And "Who? Weekly."
YANG: Oh, my God. I'm honored to be among those.
SANDERS: Those are my three.
YANG: Wow, that's really nice, Sam.
SANDERS: Well, you know, my secret dream is all of y'all just get together for like a freaking "Avengers: Endgame" podcast event one day.
YANG: I love that. I feel like Crissle and Kid Fury are, like, just, like, too cool for school. And I'm just like, I...
SANDERS: Well, they have that whole "Insecure" majestic vibe. I'm just like, am I cool enough to hang around y'all? I don't know (laughter).
YANG: Yes. Totally, totally. And then - oh, my God, yeah, and "Who? Weekly." I love "Who? Weekly."
SANDERS: Yeah, yeah. I want to unpack a little bit of the conceit of the show for those who haven't heard it yet so they can start listening, too.
SANDERS: But I also want to just - I keep squatting and I just kicked out another leg.
YANG: No, that's OK.
SANDERS: My legs are so asleep.
SANDERS: Gay men can't just sit straight. We can't just sit still.
SANDERS: You know, you've got to move. You've got to fidget.
YANG: You've got to lean. Your center of gravity is in your ankle sometimes.
SANDERS: (Laughter) Exactly. You get it.
YANG: Yeah. I get it.
SANDERS: I love the way that y'all unpack culture - capital C - rules of culture, the moment culture was culture for you. Like, how do we explain to non-listeners what you're doing with the idea of big C culture?
YANG: Sure. Totally. With big C culture, we're just kind of making it just aggressively frivolous. It's just - I mean, there's nothing too important. There's nothing not important enough. There's - which is not to say that, like, if everything is culture, then nothing is. But it's just to say that there's no, like, concern for what's highbrow, what's lowbrow. It's all part of the conversation.
SANDERS: Well, y'all also do this thing that I love where y'all just be talking and y'all talk across a thing that you like and all of a sudden, Matt or you are like, and that's a rule of culture. And all of a sudden, it's a rule of culture. And I'm like, yeah, that's a rule of culture.
(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "LAS CULTURISTAS")
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: You have a little bit done over the years so you look like yourself always.
MATT ROGERS: Absolutely.
YANG: There you go. There you go.
ROGERS: And that's how you get the cast of "Real Housewives Of Insert City Here."
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes, exactly. Also if you look like you've had work done, it didn't work.
ROGERS: That didn't work. Honestly, though...
YANG: That's a rule of culture.
ROGERS: That's a rule of culture number...
YANG: No. 4.
ROGERS: No. 4.
BOWEN YANG AND MATT ROGERS: And if you look like you've had work done, it didn't work.
SANDERS: It is this very determined - not a labeling but you're saying that, like, all of this can be respected. All of this can be important. Here it is, baby. Lick it up.
YANG: Sure, sure, sure. Lick it up. Lick it up. Yeah, it's just - again, I'll say the word. It's frivolous. It's silly. And then we bring on guests. We bring on guests and then we ask them, like, what are the culturally impactful moments from your life, from your upbringing?
SANDERS: But you don't say it like that. Y'all say, when did you know that - what was the culture that made you know that culture was for you? Or how do you do it?
YANG: Yes. Yes. What is the - you got it. That's perfect. What is the culture that made you say culture is for you? Yeah. Which just kind of asks, like, what was something that put you into a culturally minded direction? And so, I mean, the answers are always so interesting. They reveal so much about the person. You know, the way that people invite us in is so, so, so, so nice. And I can't believe - that's - I kind of feel like that's the luckiest thing that I, like, "fallen into," quote-unquote, in my life is that, like, these people just, like, think that what I have to say is, like, fun. I don't know.
SANDERS: Well, you know what it is. You always finish the bit. Y'all commit. Like, I'm thinking back to, like, the top 200 moments of a culture that y'all did. When I began to listen, I was like, they're not going to finish this. They're not going to finish this.
YANG: (Laughter) And then six hours later...
SANDERS: Yeah. And you did. And it took me half of a cross-country road trip to finish those episodes, but I did. And I was like, they did it. What was the No. 1? What was the No. 1? What was the No. 1?
YANG: It was Adele Dazeem.
YANG: Adele Dazeem was the No. 1 moment in culture history - all of culture history because - and it beat out Jonas Salk inventing the polio vaccine. It beat out everything.
SANDERS: It beat out everything. How much in advance did y'all say No. 1 was going to be Adele Dazeem? Or was it, like, on the fly?
YANG: It was - we knew from the jump the No. 1 was Adele Dazeem.
SANDERS: Stop (laughter).
YANG: And then what's dumb is that we worked our way backwards. I mean, there's so much that's happened since we've published that list in - what? - like, two months ago that we're like, maybe we have to come out with a new one because, like, we missed, like, you know, "WAP" and we missed, you know, Gaga's performance at the VMAs. We've missed so many things.
SANDERS: I missed that performance, too. It's fine.
SANDERS: I will say Normani in "WAP..."
YANG: Oh, my God.
SANDERS: ...Is the real culture moment of "WAP." We forget that, like, Normani was the only one actually doing choreo in that video.
YANG: Thank you. Because - oh, 'cause Cardi and Megan weren't.
SANDERS: They're like a little, you know, Tina for "Bob Burgers" twerking but, like, Normani is getting it. And like...
YANG: Yes, in the houndstooth in the beret. Such a good look.
SANDERS: In this vein, I have to ask you, what is the culture that made you know that culture was for you? And this answer - you've answered it before, but it could be whatever you want it to be today.
YANG: Right. Because it's very dynamic, and the answer always changes for me and for a lot of - for everyone I think. But for me right now to answer your question, the culture that made me say culture is for me is - I mean, I could say "Grey's Anatomy" to make it full circle, but I could also say - I could also say - I mean, it's Celine Dion probably. Growing up in Montreal, like, you know, Celine just, like, kind of, like, lit something up in me. And then Celine was also - like, she did this concert special on TV one year when I was a kid. She brought in Elton John, and then that was when I was introduced to Elton John. And, like, he was this man on the piano with all these kooky glasses. And it was like, when I grew up, I want to have a lot of glasses. You know, like it was - she was, like, the door - the portal that opened. She was the gateway drug into this other stuff. And so kind of (unintelligible).
SANDERS: Celine Dion is probably the gateway drug for a lot of gay men.
YANG: Oh, yeah.
SANDERS: Gosh. Love her.
YANG: Love her.
SANDERS: Celine to end this chat, Sandra Oh to open it - what a beautiful conversation.
YANG: Beautiful, Sam, and you facilitated the whole thing.
SANDERS: Thanks again to Bowen Yang. You can catch him on "SNL." The premiere of "SNL's" newest season is this weekend. Also trying a new thing with the interviews these days - y'all, if you want to see me talk to Bowen and see Bowen talk to me, there is an extended video cut of this conversation. It is on our YouTube page, the NPR YouTube page, youtube.com/npr. You can see all of Bowen Yang's cool wall art. And you can also see how my wall in this video is totally blank - no art, no nothing. Listeners, send me suggestions and hyperlinks for wall art. Thank you. Last thing - we're back Friday with another episode. And those Friday episodes, they usually include you. We always every week want to hear from our listeners sharing the best things that have happened to them all week. Just record yourself on your phone and send the file to me via email to email@example.com. All right. Thank you for listening. Till next time, stay safe. We will talk soon.
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