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Meet Julie Kim: All-Star Comedian, Host, and Speaker

Meet Julie Kim: All-Star Comedian, Host, and Speaker

Having written for the hit television shows Kim’s Convenience and Run the Burbs; performed at all major Canadian comedy festivals, including Just for Laughs Montreal and Vancouver, the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, and the Halifax Comedy Festival; and recently finished a North American tour with Ronny Chieng of Crazy Rich Asians and The Daily Show fame, Julie Kim is one of Canada’s top stand-up comedians.

As a new host and speaker on our roster, we spoke with Julie about her winding path to comedy, the secret sauce to her success, and, as one of VIBE’s 2023 Power 60 “Inspiring Asian-Canadians of influence”, how she’s helping to disrupt stereotypes and diversify mainstream media.

Speakers Spotlight: Prior to becoming a comedian, you were a doctoral student, management consultant, part-time professor, and more. What prompted you to make the switch to comedy, and now to speaking and hosting at events?

Julie Kim: There is no quick switch to comedy. Every comedian I know started out doing something else, unless they started as a teenager (and I know a few of those!). I tried stand-up comedy as a dare to myself (because it’s considered to be so difficult) and to become better at speaking and presenting in professional settings.

So it was supposed to be a one-night stand, and then I pursued it alongside other things (like friends with benefits) and now me and comedy are in a long-term relationship. I love to be creative, to entertain, and make people laugh. Writing jokes and telling them on stage are my favourite things in the world. I also love connecting with groups of people and helping them make their days more fun, so I’m also really happy when I’m hosting and speaking at events.

SpSp: You self-described yourself as a “mouthy, second-generation Korean Canadian with an attitude” in a feature with Represent Asian Project — how has your upbringing and heritage influenced your comedy?

JK: Did I call myself that? Hahaha… well, it’s not inaccurate. My parents ran a convenience store and we lived on top of it for our whole childhoods. I was always around all sorts of people and quickly learned how to act and talk with adults.

My parents worked all the time, and us kids watched a LOT of television — pretty much every waking hour until we slept — and we mostly watched sitcoms. The most common sound in our home was a laugh track coming from the TV. J

SpSp: Being a public figure almost automatically puts you in a role model position, especially when you represent a traditionally under-represented community. What does being a role model mean to you?

JK: It is strange to consider myself a role model. The part of me that wants to back away from that label and related responsibility have to do with two things: 1) a bit of humility and realism as I’m not a household name or a big star, and 2) my distaste of the notion that some people are more or better than others.

I do get that when people see you more (on the screen, in media, on the stage, etc.) that you are inadvertently signaling things to them about yourself and people who look like you.

In the past couple of years, I have become more appreciative and aware of the collective responsibility we all have to be respectful and good to each other. I have a small child now, and I need and want to show her how to contribute to a good society where we are all model citizens. Beyond that, I’d like to be free to be myself with the flaws and shortcomings that all people should be allowed to have. We all have good days and bad days. And women, especially women of colour, have to deal with all types of micro-aggressions and blatant discrimination. We should not at the same time bear the responsibility of having to smile and act nicely all the time. In fact, I think we should be allowed three cancel-free, recording-free fits of rage in public every year.

As an Asian woman, I’m part of a demographic that is often under-estimated, overlooked, hyper-sexualized, and harassed. If how I present my loud and sometimes aggressive self ends up changing perceptions of Asian women in a way that is contrary to unfair and damaging stereotypes, I’m cool with that.

SpSp: You’ve done some writing on TV shows including Kim’s Convenience and Run the Burbs, co-created by Andrew Phung, and have also written for Simu Liu when he hosted the 2022 and 2023 Juno Awards. Adding the success of Everything Everywhere All at Once at the 2023 Oscars on top of this, what has it been like being a part of this boom of Asian representation in mainstream media finally?

JK: I love Simu and Andrew and am grateful to have worked with them each multiple times. They are talented, kind, and generous. They inspire me to help create opportunities for others and spread the good will. The increased representation of Asian people on the screen has been inspiring to me as a person, not even someone in the industry. Even as a grown adult, I feel more visible and validated in society, the way that everybody should feel.

I think the increased representation towards what society actually looks and sounds like overall (whether it pertains to culture, race, gender, sexual orientation, body type, etc.) is a great thing. Some progress is being made! I’m glad to hopefully have fewer barriers to pursuing my goals and doing the work that I want to do than I had years ago.

My primary goal is to entertain and make people laugh. With increased representation and diversity overall, I hope that we can get to a point soon where we all realize that people are people and funny is funny.  

SpSp: You credit grit and perseverance as your two main success factors in your career. Why is this? How have they helped you find success in not only a highly competitive industry but also one where few people look or sound like you?

JK: I think grit and perseverance are critical to success in any industry, and in one’s personal life. Things don’t just happen most of the time, for most of us.

There’s no standard journey or set of milestones to achieve in comedy, so you have to keep moving despite rejections and barriers (even if they are in the form of your own negative self-talk). Aside from pushing on year to year, there are concrete examples I share in some of my talks that have resulted in tangible wins. 

Here’s two examples:

When I was a year into comedy, I found an email address for the Festival Director on the website for the Halifax Comedy Festival (one of the major televised Canadian comedy festivals). I wrote to ask how I could be considered to perform in the festival. The Festival Director replied and said I would need one hour of content and three strong references. I wrote back to thank her, let her know that I was new and didn’t have what she required, and sent a clip to one of my sets in case she had time to review and provide feedback to help me grow. She responded immediately and said she originally thought I was asking about the busker festival (also produced by her) and said she loved my video and had passed it on to CBC. A few months later, I was at the festival as a new comedian and that didn’t happen a lot back then. Had I simply read the first email and sat on it or cried, I may have had a very different first few years in comedy.

A number of years ago I wrote to the very nice owners of the Comedy Nest in Montreal. I let them know that I would love to be considered to headline at their club and, since they hadn’t seen me in a while, I asked if I could do an opening spot one weekend. I also let them know that I hoped this would also be a way for them to see me perform so I could headline the next time. They graciously invited me to come to town and open on a weekend, but I was cautioned that their headliners all have late-night TV credits or a Just for Laughs gala under their belts. Having neither, I still booked myself to go out there and I did my best. A few months later, one of their American headliners had to cancel and guess who was asked to come and headline! Jerry Seinfield. Kidding — it was ME! I also want to add that they took care of a room upgrade I had planned to pay out of pocket, that enabled my parents to join my daughter and I in Montreal so that they could enjoy some precious family time.

Contact us to learn more about Julie and how to book her as the host of your next event.

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