When Jimmy O. Yang joined the cast of “Silicon Valley” as the recalcitrant, hilariously deadpan Chinese émigré Jian Yang, he was promised two lines and one scene. Five years later, as the hit HBO show embarks on its final season, he’s been elevated to a starring cast member, stealing every scene with his emotionless, wry take on the impish computer programmer.
Yang has a theory on how he was able to parlay that bit cameo appearance into a lasting spot on a revered TV show.
“For some reason, I was just really good at playing an asshole,” says Yang, who brings his standup act to Cobb’s Comedy Club this weekend. “The writers did a great job of writing to our strengths, and I think they saw something in me from the start.”
Yang’s typecast-smashing approach to the role — laying waste to the traditional take of the docile, shrinking immigrant — should come as no surprise to anyone who’s followed his career. A native of Hong Kong, Yang moved to Los Angeles at 13, immediately embracing the standup comic world he was exposed to on TV shows such as BET’s “ComicView.”
He fell in love with J Anthony Brown and Bruce Bruce before ultimately finding Dave Chappelle, his artistic idol. His standup routine emulates the approach of those African-American artists, although Yang adds his own unique twists.
“I learned a lot about the little nuances of American culture from those programs,” says Yang. “I like to kind of take some of what I learned from those programs and add in my own experiences — observations about representation and what’s it like to be an immigrant today.”
Yang detailed many of those experiences in his book, “How to American: An Immigrant’s Guide to Disappointing Your Parents,” a collection of humorous and poignant autobiographical tales (including a particularly hilarious bit about working as a DJ in a strip club for a biker gang). Yang, who contacted producers about turning the book into a television show, is currently working on the pilot.
Although being on TV and in movies like “Crazy Rich Asians” have made Yang a household name, 2020 could be his real breakout year. Along with his potential TV project, he’s set to star in the Trump-skewering series “Space Force” (with John Malkovich and Steve Carell) and he has a role in the upcoming film “Fantasy Island,” a horror adaptation of the cult 1970s show.
Despite his busy schedule, he’s committed to standup and is particularly excited about coming back to San Francisco.
“San Francisco is the perfect storm of my favorite crowd,” says Yang. “There are going to be plenty of Asian Americans here and we are gonna get the Silicon Valley folks. It should be great.”
IF YOU GO
Jimmy O. Yang
Where: Cobb’s Comedy Club, 915 Columbus Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 and 9:45 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Tickets: $27.50 to $42.50