Comedian Joel Kim Booster is busier than ever. What comes next?

“It wasn’t like that once I booked a sitcom, I was going to stop doing stand-up ... Stand-up keeps me sane.”
Image: Joel Kim Booster performs on The Late Late Show with James Corden on Jan. 16, 2019.
Joel Kim Booster performs on "The Late Late Show with James Corden" on Jan. 16, 2019.Terence Patrick / CBS via Getty Images file

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By Ben Kesslen

Joel Kim Booster has a joke about why he thinks gay men shouldn’t have kids.

“I believe that, gay men, we were put here as population control,” Booster joked on a January episode of "The Late Late Show with James Corden." "I think every time God above sees two gorgeous men raising a child, he is like, ‘Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, you have misunderstood the assignment,' and it must be so frustrating for him because we're so much better at it.”

It’s a joke Booster thought a lot about. The 31-year-old said the bit was born from what’s been on his mind. He’s been thinking a lot about parenthood, recently deciding that he is pretty sure he doesn’t want kids.

But as he sees more gay men around him having children, particularly through in vitro fertilization, it got him asking questions such as “Why did my parents want to have kids?” and “Would I care about a biological connection to my child?”

“Those are questions I ask myself both as a gay man and adoptee,” Booster told NBC News.

Then, to finish the joke, he takes “the most extreme version of an idea” and turns it into the punchline.

Booster has been doing comedy for about a decade and has found a new level of success in recent years. He studied musical theater in college, and said he got into comedy mostly through podcasts. He was in Chicago when he started doing stand-up, but moved to New York when his career began to blossom, and now lives in Los Angeles. In the early days in New York, he worked 50-hour weeks at a startup that sold socks, and then did comedy sets at night.

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Now, he tours the country doing stand-up, writes for shows like “Big Mouth” on Netflix, acts in Hulu’s “Shrill,” is working on an hourlong special, and is set to appear in “Sunnyside,” a new comedy scheduled to premiere Sept. 26 on NBC. With the success, Booster said his material has been evolving.

“In my early days, I would get on stage and try to be the most authentic and raw version of myself,” he said.

This meant talking about his identities as a gay, Asian American adoptee.

Booster’s first album, released in 2017, was called “Model Minority.” He talked a lot about being a gay Asian kid with white, Evangelical Christian parents, and racism in the gay community. His line, “I knew I was gay before I knew I was Asian,” is one of his most famous.

He jokes a lot about gay sex too, explicitly and unsparingly.

“The straight people that will take issue with the gay sex jokes will take issue with any part of your gay life. That fact is that when most people think about gay men, they still think about the way we have sex,” Booster said, adding that he feels like there is no point in sanitizing his material though he was warned early on that he should.

At the same time, Booster said jokes about being gay and Asian are “not always where my comedic brain wants to go.”

It wasn’t like that once I booked a sitcom I was going to stop doing stand-up ... Stand-up keeps me sane.

“But gay people and Asian people are showing up to my shows, and I do feel a little bit of a responsibility to speak to our shared experiences,” he added, noting that he’s found balance and now only tells jokes he feels good about.

On stage, Booster likes to be a heightened version of himself. He's not exactly portraying a character, Booster said, but putting more layers between him and the audience than before. “I’m still selling transparency, but there is stuff in between,” he said.

And as he finds success, Booster is taking his prominence more seriously and is thinking more about how to use his voice and platform to affect change.

“What is my responsibility as a semi-prominent gay person?” he said “I don’t know what the answer is.”

For some issues, such as speaking about unionization efforts or fixing L.A.’s homelessness crisis, he feels the line is cut and dry. But, he added, he feels like it often doesn’t matter what he actually says, especially on the internet.

“I get called a hack from people on the left who say I’m ‘shilling for Buttigieg,’ and people constantly say, ‘We get it, you’re in the tank for Bernie,'” he said. “It’s wild to me because I have tweeted more about my own a--hole than any political candidate in this primary race.”

Wading into politics feels necessary, he said, if sometimes futile. “You get everything you wanted, and it’s also a little bit bad,” Booster said about his growing fame.

Stand-up, though, was never a “means to an end.”

“It wasn’t like that once I booked a sitcom, I was going to stop doing stand-up,” Booster said. Amid the chaos, a live audience energizes him and reminds him why he got into comedy. “Stand-up keeps me sane.”

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