Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Atsuko Okatsuka: The Intruder’ On HBO Max, A New Voice In Comedy Makes Herself Known To America
In her debut HBO comedy special, Atsuko Okatsuka gets very interactive with the Brooklyn crowd at her taping, while sharing with us how she and her husband dealt with a persistent intruder outside their Los Angeles home.
The Gist: An unknown trespasser appearing in the yard behind the home comedian Atsuko Okatsuka shares with her husband, and how they dealt with the situation, forms the narrative arc for her hour of stand-up and storytelling. She also gets into how her past experiences growing up and current experiences with teenagers can help explain her reaction to the intruder, how she initially bonded with her husband versus how they bond now, and how a trip to see “Magic Mike Live” in Vegas didn’t go exactly as planned.
Born in Taiwan, she spent her childhood in Japan before coming to America at age 10 with her mother and grandmother. If you’re a casual comedy fan who hasn’t seen her stand-up before, you might’ve seen her influence on TikTok, where her videos dancing and twerking in front of her grandmother have gone viral, and where her #DropChallenge to a Beyonce song went VERY viral earlier this year.
What Comedy Specials Will It Remind You Of?: Tig Notaro directed Okatsuka here, while Mike Birbiglia (for whom she toured as his opening act) served as a creative consultant on her debut. She definitely exhibits influences from each, both in terms of having a unique point of view and delivery, as well as in her ability to express herself through storytelling.
Memorable Jokes: Okatsuka describes her husband as a cool character in confronting the unknown man outside their home, even if it’s awkward to find out his description matches that of the intruder when she calls it in to the police. As for her, blending in and not making waves fits right into her character as an immigrant who was initially undocumented during her formative school years in California. Now an adult and fully assimilated into America and its culture, you’d think she fits right in. And yet, she jokes about how an innocuous question from one of today’s teens — “ya skate?” — can cripple her. “I will fall apart if a teenager talks to me.”
Okatsuka’s complicated relationships with her mother, grandmother, and her marriage to a white man all contribute to her sense of identity, and she gets plenty of comedic mileage out of mining what makes her family different while showing us how relatable they all are. Immigrants can get gluten allergies? If we renamed mental illnesses after rides at Disneyland, would we feel more comfortable talking about them? How problematic is it that she wants her husband to dress up like her to film synchronized dance routines? These questions all get properly funny answers.
Our Take: There’s something both mischievous and yet quite innocent at the same time happening with Okatsuka in her stage presence, and a vocally distinct delivery pattern that keeps you hooked on her every quick-witted, fast-paced turn of phrase.
I’d seen Okatsuka do two earlier versions of this show live (in May during the Netflix Is A Joke: The Festival, then in August at the Edinburgh Fringe), and everything feels tighter and cleaner now, especially the ending. That’s despite her adding quite a bit more interaction with the audience at her taping, loosening things up in the middle of her hour. The crowd work, masterfully efficient. She’s not wasting time here, or looking for jokes by probing the front row about what they do for living. She plays off her inability to handle the danger outside her home, seeking advice after-the-fact from the audience and chastising them when they fall short. She even reprimands them at one point for applauding an audience member for finally responding to her call for action, telling them: “Y’all so bad at this.” Then immediately quizzes them to see if they’ve been paying attention to her.
By the time she brings out her husband Ryan and her grandmother at the end, the answer is quite clear: We’re going to be paying attention to Okatsuka for years to come.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Okatsuka brings an exciting new voice and presence to the comedy scene. Will she expand your humor palette beyond the regular mainstream? Or will society pigeonhole her as they once did Margaret Cho, or as Okatsuka jokes: “for those of you who are younger, someone more recent?” That’s up to you to let her in.
Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat for his own digital newspaper, The Comic’s Comic; before that, for actual newspapers. Based in NYC but will travel anywhere for the scoop: Ice cream or news. He also tweets @thecomicscomic and podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.
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