by Maruxa Lynd
Tokyo born actress and model Aiko Tanaka is the youngest and apparently the weirdest out of all her siblings. Aiko ‘s passion in becoming a star has led her to pursue her studies in theater and dance in Boston. Being born to a former model meant that Aiko’s love for modelling is innate, and she has modeled for different calendars, car shows and events which then lead her to being the voice of a character in the video game “Street Racing Syndicate” and to her role in ‘The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift’ .
Aiko’s comedic style is often labeled as observational and quirky where she pokes fun at herself and the obvious cultural differences between the Americans and the Japanese. Featured in shows like ‘The Howard Stern Show ‘,‘ Late Night with Jay Leno’ ,NUVO TV’s ‘Stand Up and Deliver’ and Fox’s ‘Laugh’, her performance gives you a point-of-view like no other not just because of her background but also because of how she relates to women everywhere around the world, particularly the Asians. We managed to catch up with Aiko Tanaka briefly during the recent “Stand-Up Asia !” tour by Comedy Central and here’s what she has to say about being herself in the comic scene to having the best of both worlds, culturally.
Maruxa : From a model, to an actress and now to a stand – up comedian , was it a rough transition for you ?
Aiko : Because I started my career as a model, I kind of got type casted as a car show girl. People were like “if she’s doing this cute thing, she shouldn’t be funny“. They think it can’t be both. But actually this weird person is more like who I am than posing in front of the car. So for me I had to show up because I believe I could do it but then I couldn’t. I didn’t really have the skill, few years in, I wasn’t able to do that. I wanted to prove that I am a funny person but it was very hard.
The transition was a big struggle for me but I’m really glad that I experienced that cause in the middle of it, I got bored of it. But if I went through all that, why would I quit? The experience made me who I am. In the beginning I couldn’t talk about myself cause I have a hard time opening up because people still saw me as the car – show girl. But now I am able to talk about things openly.
Maruxa : There are some comics that have a certain persona and they’re different off the stage . But with you, everything we see in your performance is you, right?
Aiko : Haha! I’ve heard that! People always go like “you’re adding in an accent, aren’t you?” but I actually don’t. It’s just my nervousness coming out most of the time, that’s why I sound more robotic but I’m the same person. It’s just me!
Maruxa : Being an Asian , moving directly to the US from Japan , there must be a lot of cultural experience that you went through . How did you manage to adapt to that? Knowing that Asians are much more reserved compared to Westerners.
Aiko : Oh man, it was really difficult. I thought it was language thing but it actually isn’t! Communicating is not hard as long as you have the cadence or attitude, people will understand you. What I didn’t understand in the beginning is that in America, you have to say what’s on your mind but it Japan, we have so many ways of saying one thing. Like we would say “maybe”, “I think it’s difficult” to say “no”. Over there in the US, people would ask me if “I think it’s difficult” would mean “yes” or “no”. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings!
I’m still adjusting, to be honest. When I go back to Japan , people tell me I’m too American but when I’m in the US , they say I’m too Japanese . I love it though. I don’t have to do the best in representing both countries cause I’m being myself.
Maruxa : I like how you connect the Japanese culture and bring it to the limelight with your comedy . You joke about common western things but with a twist of how Japanese it can become and it works! People could relate! In a way, you’re bringing the two countries together through comedy. Have you ever thought to yourself that you’re actually bridging cultural gaps?
Aiko: Oh thank you! Umm…I never thought of it that way but I like hearing it. I just like the attention, being able to say what I want to say, after all these years of gaining so much experiences along the way, I can finally express myself. To express my thoughts through telling jokes and discovering stand – up comedy as an art form.
Maruxa: Female comics have a tendency to come off as either feminists or the opposite when they tell jokes. Do you believe there’s a double standard or do you feel that it is actually a part of empowering other women?
Aiko: Because of the things that are happening around us, women are getting together to fight for the cause. I appreciate women empowerment. It’s not something that we have to close one eye to. But for people to call the jokes offending to feminist, growing up a single mother, I don’t like people doing that, fake feminist. That’s saying things like “hey you can’t joke about that!” but their actions don’t reflect their words. I don’t know why they do that. Using it to get more validation maybe?
Maruxa : Thank you again for giving us your time but before we go,since this is your first time in Malaysia, have you tried our famous fruit, the durian?
Aiko : Oh no, thank you for having me! Umm.. I’ve eaten (frozen) durian before in the US, with my Filipino flat mate in a Filipino market. Haha! We eat fermented beans back in Japan called Nattō and the smell is pretty pungent so I don’t find the durian smell bad. I love it. I was excited and what amazed me though is I have just eaten a fruit that looks like a pear but tastes like an apple (it was actually a guava) and oh the pink fruit with black seeds dragon fruit! People eat these stuff? I’ve never seen or eaten them before until I saw it here!
Catch the lovely Aiko Tanaka in the second season of “Stand up Asia!” on Comedy Central Asia starting on the 14th August,Tuesdays at 9pm (WIB)/10pm (PH/MY/SG/HK/TW).