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Dylan Adler is probably one of the most hilarious comedians/entertainers of our generation. He also happens to be a mixed Asian Jew! I discovered him when we both had a variety show gig at the Museum of Chinese in America and was absolutely floored by his comedic talent and natural charisma. I approached him with my “mixed Asian radar” and quickly befriended him on Instagram. Ever since that night in 2018, I’ve been following his journey from his humble beginnings to becoming a bonafide TikTok star, writer for The Late Late Show with James Corden, and successful comedian performing for sold-out crowds nightly. I’m proud to call myself a friend and very proud “stage mother” to Adler. I recently got to have an early morning cozy little FaceTime chat with him.
Alison Lea Bender: When did you know that you were funny?
Dylan Adler: I really, really enjoyed putting on shows for my family as a kid. Whenever we had a family gathering, I would get the kids together and make them do a show, and I’d like, direct them. So I think I found that I really like to perform and do funny voices and make my friends laugh and make my brother laugh. Especially when family friends came to visit. I love to put on little skits for them. I think that was the beginning of it.
ALB: Were you a theater kid too?
DA: Well, yes, I loved theater, but I never did musicals ’cause I was really insecure about my voice. So, I loved musical theater and theater, but I never did musicals.
ALB: But you got that reaction from your friends and family early on, so you were like, oh, I’ll keep doing this.
DA: Yes, yes.
ALB: How do you bring your mixed heritage into your comedy?
DA: You know, I feel like in recent years I’ve brought it into my comedy because it’s something that I enjoy talking about. My mixed heritage and Asian identity is something that I think about often. And it was something that really hit me later in life—how I see myself, how that affects me, how other people see me, how that affects me, and how having a Jewish dad and Japanese mom has affected the way I am and have grown up. So that’s kind of why I’ve written those jokes.
ALB: I think so many people can relate to it too. It’s not just for the niche crowd, the mixed kids or Asian and Jewish people. Your audience is so broad. Even when you’re talking about the mixed experience when you do Late Late Show stuff, like people are still howling at it, because they get it. Maybe like 10 years ago, we felt like we couldn’t talk about this in our art (or our lives) because, honestly, non-mixed people weren’t gonna get it.
DA: Yeah, 100 percent.
ALB: You have a lot of material that goes into serious matters, such as fetishizing, but also sexual assault and rape. I was really inspired by “Rape Victims Are Horny Too” because it was vulnerable and real, yet it made something positive out of a very difficult event in your life. Could you tell me how that came into fruition?
DA: Absolutely. In 2019, I had just started trying to make jokes and material from my experience as a rape survivor—and my friend, Kelly Bachman, had seen me do a rape joke, then I saw her do a rape joke…
ALB: She was in standup too, right?
DA: Yeah, and so she had me on her New York comedy show. That was briefly after she called out Harvey Weinstein in that video. So we did that show and then she was like, “What if we did some stuff together?” We did something musical together, and we wrote a song together called “Tell Me I’m Hot, But Don’t Fucking Touch Me.” And we were like, “Oh my God, what if we wrote more songs?” And we just quickly wrote many, many more songs. Then we decided to do a more full-length show, and we’ve been working on it since then. We’re so excited—we’re gonna perform it at Joe’s Pub and it’s kind of a dream.
ALB: Hell yeah. I just love that. I love how you just met, decided let’s create something, and then did it. Sometimes it’s as simple as that.
DA: Yeah. It felt very natural. One of the best parts, I think, was that we just spent a long time sharing our experiences and talking about the sometimes imposter syndrome that we had and that a lot of other survivors of sexual assault and rape have. Like, we talked about weird things therapists have said to us that were kind of fucked up.
ALB: I’m really glad that you two met each other and created this. So many of us have gone through experiences like that, and it becomes such a dark cloud. But when you realize it’s not the end of your life, you really can make something good out of it. Not many people are lucky enough to see it made into art or joy or something that can make you laugh, you know? So I hope you remember that it really does have an impact. I know it’s hard, like, you get the imposter syndrome. I feel like as performers we’re the worst on ourselves, but you really do make an impact.
DA: I appreciate that so much. That really means so much.
ALB: Speaking of tough subject matter, can you tell me about any time your comedy bombed or when your crowd just didn’t get it? Is there one occasion that stands out?
DA: Oh my God, there are so many occasions. There was one time me and Kelly did our show for a bunch of people who were very high. We were just performing and people were openly like, “What the fuck this? Oh my God, this is crazy.”
ALB: Like, no laughter?
DA: No laughter. Just audible, “What the fuck?” So that’s something that me and Kelly laugh about. Also, a year into comedy, I was asked to perform in the middle of a skating rink, if you can even believe that. I was singing a song about wanting to get my ass eaten and—I didn’t realize this—but there was a mom there with her 11-year-old, and she started screaming, “Stop singing this profanity!” while skating around me. Then I had to lug my piano off the scene, dodging all the skaters that hated me.
ALB: I mean, honestly, that’s iconic.
DA: It was the worst. Yeah. That was definitely a horrible show.
ALB: What an experience. OK. I know you do a pretty mean Lin-Manuel Miranda impression. So do you think he’s ever seen your interpretation of him yet? Or has he ever responded to you about it?
DA: So, yes. I did a show at Caroline’s once, and one of the people in the show was an actor, and he came up to me, he’s like, “Oh my God, I’ve seen your Lin stuff. I was in the movie Tick, Tick, Boom.” And he showed Lin one of my impressions, and he said that Lin enjoyed it. He’s never responded online or anything.
ALB: But you know he’s seen you.
DA: Yes. I love him so much and I don’t want him to think I’m being mean or making fun. I just think he’s so brilliant.
ALB: I cannot imagine him ever thinking that, ’cause it’s so spot on. It’s so good. It’s like flattery, babe.
DA: Thank you. I hope, I hope.
ALB: Besides writing on The Late Late Show, writing your own sketches for social media, and your own live shows, what do you find the most joy working on?
DA: One of my favorite things to work on is just—I love standup so much. I love doing it, and I love working on new personal jokes and musical songs. I’m still so excited by the prospect of bringing something new to stage, trying it out, adding things, editing, and trying to make it hit as hard as it can. I love the process of building a joke, so that’s something I really, really love and am excited by.
ALB: What are your favorite things about being a Japanese Jew? ’Cause you know, as Asian Jews, we're the chosen ones.
DA: My favorite part about being a Japanese Jew. Soy vey, soy vey. I wanna say that I’m able to find the things that I really love from both cultures, from both my mom and my dad and take the best of both worlds. My dad is a very funny, also pragmatic, very grounded, very logical, a Jewish doctor. What I sometimes see in myself is that groundedness, the logical brain that I’m grateful for at times. Then for my mom, I feel my Japanese family has that fire, but also humor and fun. I see my mom, like, instilling work ethic in us at times, and I see her work ethic too. So I think that’s something I love about being a mixed kid.
ALB: I’m glad you brought in personality traits. So many people talk about food, which is also great, but I relate so much to what you said about the traits of the Jewish side and the Asian side. What would you say to Little Dylan Adler now if you could speak to him?
DA: Um, and if I could talk to Little Dylan right now, I would say…
ALB: Like, really picture Little Dylan.
DA: Yeah. How little would you say?
ALB: When were you, like, the most confused in your life?
DA: Oh my God. I think as a teenager, probably.
ALB: Yeah, that Little Dylan.
DA: I would say to teenage Dylan that I would try to tell him to come out as soon as possible because after I came out and after my brother came out, life just got better immediately.
But also I’d say…I always felt like when I was a teenager, I always had this feeling of, like, I’m not on the right path. I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do. I think I wanna tell him, you are on the right path. You’re just figuring it out and you’re doing it at your own pace. Maybe things feel uncomfortable and weird right now, but that’s kind of a part of it, and you’ll find what feels right to you.
ALB: Amen. I love that, honey. That’s so universal. I feel like anytime I ask that question to somebody, they say the same thing because that’s what we needed to hear.
DA: Yeah, exactly.
ALB: And when we get to our age, we start to realize none of it fucking matters.
DA: That’s so real though.
ALB: All right, honey. Well thank you for chatting with me.
DA: Thank you so much for talking.
Published on June 5, 2023
Words by Alison Lea Bender
Alison Lea Bender is a multi-hyphenate who defies conventional categorization and refuses to be pigeonholed. She is an avid champion for diversity, representation, inclusion in the arts, and the AAPI & POC communities. Some have called her the voice of a generation, some have called her a dangerous threat to society, but most of us just call her “my friend.” The self-proclaimed “Hello Kitty meets Marilyn Monroe,” Mizz Bender has performed on many a New York City stage as a muse to her many theatre friends and family. She can be followed on Instagram @alisonleehwa.
Photography by Lauren Nakao Winn
Lauren Winn is a pop culture whackjob who works in fashion. She is a sucker for genre-meshed aesthetics, a textbook workaholic, a bonafide digital media queen, and the sum of many rotating hyperfixations. If you want to get on her good side, greet her with a LaCroix or follow her on insta @laurennakaowinn.