HomePop CultureJiaoying Summers is no joke

Jiaoying Summers is no joke

By Jia H. Jung, California Local News Fellow

Comedian Jiaoying Summers, 33, shivered on the Congress Street Bridge and gazed at a museum and ships commemorating the Boston Tea Party that happened almost 250 years ago to the date. 

As fife music trilled in the morning air and men in tricorn hats and leggings stood in waiting, she pondered how colonists threw tea into the harbor to protest British tariffs, catalyzing the American Revolution. Looking down into the water, she mumbled that she would have just pretended to chuck the tea, and then resold it on Alibaba.

Whipping out a selfie stick as Bostonians in basic down shells and blue jeans walked briskly around her to their coffee and lobsters, she stared into her Instagram live broadcast with eyes lined in sparkly green shadow. “The Asians are out – we are having a Boston boba tea party,” she exulted, encouraging fans to catch her remaining standup sets in the city.

As hundreds of likes, comments, and food recommendations sprouted up on her account, she tossed her phone into a Louis Vuitton purse, tightened a borrowed plaid scarf around her head and neck, and walked on. 

This was her first time in the city, straight off of being the first Chinese American woman to headline at the Apollo Theater in Harlem on Nov. 9, filming in Spain for an upcoming movie with a director who found her directly through her comedy, and doing a photo shoot and comedy set for Cosmopolitan China. The editors chopped 10 minutes of video down to under two minutes of rather tame jabs at her mother.

Summers’s mother, the source of an equal number of pains as jokes, was back in Los Angeles, watching over the comedian’s son, 4, and daughter, 2.

Summers has often jested that she wants to be as far from her mother as possible – the woman was her first and greatest heckler, telling her daughter she was too dark, too fat, and too thick-lipped to be beautiful.

Then again, per Summers’s breakout joke, her mother rescued her from being thrown out in the dumpster for being born without a penis in 1990 during China’s One-Child Policy.

Only daughter

The law to control the population in China lasted from 1979 to 2016. In a society that preferred sons, at least 30 million girls fewer than the output science expected from nature’s consistent sex ratio disappeared from the record through selective abortion, infanticide, or abandonment. In 1991, a year after Summers was born and with 15 more years to go for China’s One-Child Policy, The New York Times reported that 60 million baby girls missing across Asia.

In 2016, one study submitted that some of the disappeared girls popped up in the country’s census years later. Either way, the policy left behind generations of trauma and exacerbated an already skewed sex ratio, resulting in a shortage of children to care for China’s aging population and overall social instability due to “a lot of testosterone with nowhere to go,” according to John Kennedy, the University of Kansas researcher who believed that his research accounted for the existence of approximately 25 million previously missing girls. 

TikTok, founded and still partially owned by Chinese company ByteDance, told Summers to take down her one-child digs. When she refused, the site blocked her account without explanation before reinstating it without comment three months later. 

This bout of censorship became her calling card; comedy apparently had a power Summers did not know it had.

She got into comedy in hopes of getting into Hollywood through the side door and realizing her dream of being an actress. The craft has become an outlet for Summers to process trauma, vent anger, talk about things that matter, and put her love of writing to deliver bars that leave people laughing or whistling through their teeth.

When Summers was a little girl growing up in the inland Henan province known as the seat of Chinese civilization, her maternal grandfather made her write passages from the I Ching, a classical divination text, in the snow. She authored and published numerous Chinese poems as a student then and continues to engage in poetry and calligraphy as an adult now, in addition to writing all her own comedy material. But writing on its own did not lead to performance.

Jiaoying Summers, on the Congress Street Bridge in Boston on Dec. 15. Photo by Jia H. Jung

Summers wanted to be an entertainer from her earliest memories but became an introvert once she internalized the harsh reality that she was considered ugly by Chinese standards and could only get positive affirmation by excelling in school.

Her flare came back when she started selling exam answers to cheating peers. This, and limitless access to Hollywood flicks at her older cousin’s video shop rekindled visions of being on stage and screen.

She came to America in 2009 sight unseen to attend the University of Kentucky. She told her Boston audience that a Kentuckian named Billy Bob asked her how dog meat tasted. She retorted that he should learn to respect boundaries – she hadn’t asked him how his cousin’s p-ssy tasted. 

Summers’s culture shock upon arriving in the U.S. was two-sided. She met many nice people and made friends she still holds dear and found out that she was considered attractive in the U.S. On the other extreme, a woman called Summers a “Chinese b-tch” for declining to share answers to a test. A manager at a Thai restaurant spat that she was a “ch-nk” for walking out after not getting paid. These were her first experiences of being hated just for being Asian, or, specifically, Chinese. They were not the last.

Recently, at a playground in Playa Vista near Santa Monica, a boy shoved her son and pulled up the corner of his eyes, singing “ching chong, ching chong,” as the mother did nothing. Summers knows the woman would have intervened if her kid had bullied a black child and said the n-word.

She strengthened her resolve to continue advocating for Asian people with comedy, in podcast conversations, and with her philanthropic and community-based activities. Maybe through this example, her little ones will have the tools they need to stand up to a society full of unchecked violence against Asians.

She cited serial attacks a little over a week ago in Los Angeles, on a young Asian boy walking on a bike trail and an Asian elder pushing his infant granddaughter in a stroller. In the absence of evidence that a racist slur had been uttered, law officials ruled out a hate crime in both cases.

On stage in Boston, Summers scoffed that Americans don’t know how to be effectively racist, though – “ch-nk” just sounds like money in the bank. And she loved money – so much so that joked that she stopped herself from swallowing a bottle of Ambien only when a tenant of a unit she was renting out texted to ask for two more weeks to pay rent.

But for all her kidding around about caring only for the dollar, Summers has put time and resources to raising funds to battle anti-Asian hate. Some of the Asian American comedians around town she asked to perform in her charity events were the ones asking her to show them the money.

The side door of Hollywood

When Summers moved from Lexington, Kentucky to Los Angeles to pursue acting, her accent got in the way. One of her auditions was with late director John Singleton, who was looking for a tough Chinese American Oaklander for his 2017 BET series Rebel.

Singleton told her he couldn’t give her the role because of her accent, either, but to consider going into standup comedy. Once she became a known personality, people would start casting her.

Summers spent hours studying how to become the Bruce Lee of comedy by giving zero shits and being 100% herself. She admired legends like Richard Pryor, and Joan Rivers – the reason she put an “s” after Summer, the English meaning of her ex-husband’s Chinese surname, before making it her stage name.

Jiaoying Summers during a dynamic set at Laugh Boston on Dec. 15, 2023
Jiaoying Summers during a dynamic set at Laugh Boston on Dec. 15, 2023. Photo by Jia H. Jung

She went to Koreatown for her first standup gig – it all came down to this.

She bombed. After someone made a snide comment within earshot, she weaved her way to the bar, slugged some shots of vodka, and ran out to her car to cry. 

She was still breastfeeding at this time and began to leak milk, which she rushed to collect in a cup. Realizing that the milk was poisoned with alcohol, she went to dump it out, then had an epiphany: vodka-infused mother’s milk was the best White Russian in the world. Bottoms up.

The outrageous yet real quality of the White Russian joke and other material got attention. In 2022, she released Hot Girl Summers, a special that streamed on Peacock as a part of the Comedy InvASIAN 2.0 showcase of Asian diasporic comedians. She was also inducted into the global Asian Hall of Fame with the likes of iconic actress and singer Tia Carrere and Olympic snowboarder Chloe Kim. 

Summers expanded her reach with Tiger Milf Podcast, featuring frank discussions about comedy, relationships, sex, parenthood, and career with everyone from her own son to Jim Carrey’s lesbian “daughter” and Kentucky resident Heather Shaw.

Jiaoying Summers with her mother. Courtesy of Jiaoying Summers, comedy, Laugh Boston
Two tigers in a pod, for better or for worse: Jiaoying Summers and mother. Courtesy of Jiaoying Summers

It took a while for Summers to know she could make it.

She used to show up every Tuesday outside the Laugh Factory in L.A. where Jim Carrey, Tiffany Haddish, and Jo Koy had all cut their teeth before her. 

Week after week, she waited in line for four to five hours among L.A.’s aspiring comics and unhoused people to perform for two minutes for a callback that never came.

Summers was performing in Seattle when Laugh Factory finally called her in, for a funniest female comedian event.

It was 2021 – she had just separated from her mentally abusive, career-controlling ex-husband and surrendered all her assets for full custody of her children. She had also survived a suicide attempt from a combination of postpartum depression, a lifetime of emotional trauma, and situational distress.

“I’d been there for a year and nobody cared about me, like literally. So I said, you know what, f-ck it. I’m gonna be myself. I’ll be loud, I’ll be angry, I’ll just do my shit. Then, I’ll leave before they insult me further,” Summers told AsAmNews, in an exclusive interview before her Boston shows.

She did just that and was exiting the building when a manager ran up to her and said, “Welcome to Laugh Factory.”

Jiaoying Summers with comedian Tiffany Haddish, another alum of the Laugh Factory's competitive open mics. Laugh Boston, Comedy,
Jiaoying Summers with comedian Tiffany Haddish, another alum of the Laugh Factory’s competitive open mics. Courtesy of Jiaoying Summers

So this was the reward for not worrying, for once, about her accent, how she looked, or what people would think.

“I knew that I could do this for a living,” she remembered thinking.

Laugh Factory clout allowed Summers to launch a bi-coastal presence, logging in hours in the New York City scene, which placed craft over connections and substance over looks. The rest is an impressively compressed history.

“It’s very early on in my career that momentum hit me, but I’ve been on stage every day for 10 hours a day – my stage time in a year and a half is equivalent to people’s six years and eight years,” reasoned Summers.

From vodka-infused breastmilk to sobriety and self-love

Summers began therapy at the beginning of this year, with a mental health professional who used to be an in-house therapist who works with comedians. She has been speaking out about it, such as on the So Funny It Hurts show with Mikalah Gordon, who plumbs the traumatized histories of comics.

“We never discussed my drinking problem. But it helped me to understand it. Not everything is my fault, from the divorce to my mom’s complaining. I really started to learn to love myself,” Summers told AsAmNews.

She had been a highly functional alcoholic for years, never drinking before performances. Alcoholism had befallen other family members of hers, but this did not stop her from resorting to the substance.

About seven months ago after a fabulous sold-out show in Austin, Summers scurried away from her adoring fans to the greenroom. She alternated between tequila shots and glasses of wine, carried five beers in a backpack to her hotel room, drank four of them, and proceeded to vomit.

“And then I started choking – my face got so red. And I stood there and I said, why would I do this?”

Everything she had ever done was to please other people and prove her value to them. She was a little girl inside, one who felt undeserving of success. 

I drink because I do not love myself, she concluded.

She quit, cold turkey. And bonus was that, with no more hangovers, she could be fully present for her children when they woke her up early on the morning after a show.

Jiaoying Summers discussed sobriety with Korean American rapper Dumbfoundead, who is also sober and guested on her Tiger Milf Podcast later.

Her father, who taught Summers how to drink at age 14 and whom she has publicly described as a nonfunctioning alcoholic, had reduced his intake of alcohol three years prior.

He told a stunned Summers: “You don’t deserve a drunk dad. I was drunk your whole life and I want to be here for you now. I know it’s late, but I don’t want them to find your father passed out on the street and say, ‘that’s Jiaoying Summers’s dad.'”

Still grinding

With her in-person and online hustle, Summers has amassed over a billion views from approximately 3 million followers across her social media platforms.

These fans, plus The Hollywood Comedy, the venue she owns and operates to give diverse people including herself the stage, have fed her rise without her conformation to America’s binary for Asian females that she ran up against after leaving China because of its colorism, sexism, and censorship. 

Jiaoying Summers at The Hollywood Comedy in Los Angeles, a venue she owns and operates. Comedy, Laugh Boston
Jiaoying Summers at The Hollywood Comedy in Los Angeles, a venue she owns and operates. Courtesy of Jiaoying Summers

American managers and producers have told her to dress down and stop trying to be sexy and beautiful if she wants to be taken seriously. Or, keep looking nice, but then stop teasing the audience and talk more about sex.

Summers has no problem talking about sex, usually to deliver searing social commentary.

In Boston, she shared how when she was working at a Japanese restaurant to put herself through college, a Chinese manager said he’d give her a raise if she sucked on his “spring roll.” She told the audience she considered it because she loved money until she decided that she was not going to eat Chinese d-ck in a Japanese restaurant in Kentucky, of all places.

She has also defended the sex appeal of Asian men, demanding a “d-ck census,” wherein surveyors must perform oral sex on an appropriate sample population of Asian men before claiming that they are small.

Summers can’t stand when Asian women in Hollywood sexualize themselves for the industry and pretend to be liberated. At least, she said, “you can’t f-ck your way to the top” in comedy. That’s what she loves about the art, and why she will stay in it even as she manifests her original goal of being a leading actress.

Definitely American, and Chinese A.F.

Summers is not afraid to call out other Asian people, crack Jewish jokes, blast Black artist Lizzo for body shaming her dancers, or expose biracial Meghan Markle as an opportunist. In Boston, she upturned Markle’s insistence that she did not care about Prince Harry’s royal status. “Prince Harry looks like a manager from Home Depot,” Summers hollered, as guests shrieked with laughter.

People who came out to see the show included locals and people from all over the U.S., plus mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, India, Nigeria, Germany, and Jordan, to name some of the homelands represented in the audience.

Contrary to Summers expectations of a state overgrown with Ivies, only one person in the room confessed to being an affiliate of an Ivy League school. 

Summers grilled U.S.-born, half-Chinese, “White like a bleached asshole” skier Eileen Gu, who became naturalized as a citizen of the People’s Republic of China for the competitive edge that made her a multi-medalist at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Before this, the comedian called upon any knowledgeable person in the room to fill everyone in about who Gu was.

A Chinese alum of Northeastern University raised her hand and recited all the factoids she knew about Gu. Widening her eyes, Summers exclaimed, “Harvard sucks Northeastern’s d-ck!” She added, “F-ck Stanford” (Gu’s alma mater), while the crowd laughed merrily.

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon once called Summers to see if she would tone it down for a spot on television. All she would have to do is maybe steer clear of sensitive topics like Asian women getting shoved onto the tracks of the New York City subway system. Summers passed.

She said, “As a comedian, I’m not there to please people. I’m there to basically talk about the things that I believe, and when they laugh, they think about it, and it may change somebody’s opinions. And that’s what I should be aiming for. I’m not trying to get the approval to sell more tickets,” she said.

Yes, she has haters, trolls, people calling her fake and ugly and threatening her with death. She loses some fans wherever she goes, if she talks about abortion in Texas or rips at the senselessness of school shootings while in the Pacific Northwest.

Jiaoying Summers interacting with fans at Laugh Boston on Dec. 15, 2023
Jiaoying Summers interacting with fans at Laugh Boston on Dec. 15, 2023. Photo by Jia H. Jung

Nevertheless, Summers sells tickets and gains fans wherever she goes, too.

The majority of the Boston show’s attendance bought VIP packages and stood in line for a meet-and-greet with the comedian. Audience members born and raised in Massachusetts waited to hang out with her some more after that.

Two of the locals included Thavy, a Cambodian American woman, and Greg, a man of Trinidadian descent with a maternal great grandfather by the surname of LaiChoy who had emigrated from China to Trinidad in the early 1900s. It was the couple’s first time seeing Summers after discovering her online.

At a long, driftwood table, they raised bottles of Heineken 0.0 non-alcoholic beer in solidarity with Summers while she shared stories of her grind.

The age-old question of identity came up before Summers beamed herself upstairs to sleep off an oncoming cold before her double set the next evening.

Did she think of herself as more American or more Chinese now? 

She answered, “In America, I can say what the f-ck I want and I won’t disappear after the show. So, I’m definitely American. At the same time, I’m Chinese as f-ck.”

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.


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