Asian Pacific Student Programs (APSP) welcomed Charlyne Yi, the multi-talented artist of films “Paper Heart” and “Knocked Up” as well as television show “Steven Universe” fame, to UC Riverside this past Tuesday, Feb. 28. Her arrival was greeted by generous applause from fans of her large body of work before she forewarned the crowd, “I ate cold pizza just before this so if I throw up, I’m sorry.”
The “Paper Heart” star’s presentation came in the form of a slideshow consisting of comically drawn Microsoft Paint images to complement narration of her life up until this point in time, punctuated by twee music numbers and a Q-and-A session. Her upbringing, as she described it, was a rough one. The second daughter to Mexican and Filipino parents, Yi grew up happily amidst financial difficulties. “I didn’t know I was poor,” she admitted, “I would brag to all the kids (at school) that I could sleep next to the Christmas tree” in the living room of her parents’ cramped Los Angeles apartment. She paired her storytelling with an eccentric sense of humor and vibrant personality characterized by goofy, mildly self-deprecating jokes that peered on the bright side of her adolescence.
The audience adored her quips, however at her dispense they may have been. From her responses to crude remarks telling her to “Go back to where you came from” in the form of genuine confusion (“How do I go back inside my mom?”) to her first time using a microphone resulting in a bloody nose, the audience was in stitches.
A former UC Riverside student before dropping out to pursue comedy, Yi described the awe that came upon her when she noticed how diverse UCR’s campus is, as well as the “movie moment” epiphany she experienced while attending a class taught by Eric Barr (which she was not enrolled in, funny enough). “People can’t be your cheerleader,” he said during his lecture, which encouraged Yi to face her hardships head on, as steep as they may be. Against the struggles — her car breaking down, unsure if she could make ends meet, the works — she earned her first acting role in Judd Apatow’s 2007 comedy, “Knocked Up.”
While she undoubtedly bears an inspirational tale, Yi never gave any pretense of being a “from rags to riches” exemplar instead favoring a sincere retelling of her life with an abundance of witty observations. The event was signed off with an intimate Q-and-A session during which she revealed the difficulty in her upcoming role in the revival of David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks,” the importance of diversity in media (citing Aziz Ansari’s Netflix series, “Master of None” as an exemplary show with important dialogue on diversity) and ended on a sweet closing track.