“My cousin asked, ‘You skate?’, and I just crumbled.”
Atsuko Okatsuka, a Los Angeles-based stand-up comedian, actor and writer who was recently named one of Variety’s “10 Comics to Watch,” came to Stanford on Saturday to regale audiences with “The Intruder,” an hour-long show of entertaining stories and jokes interspersed with details of her own upbringing.
“The Intruder” will be Okatsuka’s first comedy special, and her performance at Bing Studio marked the last time the set would be performed live before airing on HBO and HBO Max later this fall.
Okatsuka’s power lies in her ability to make light of heavier subjects, as exemplified by her story about her mother’s schizophrenia. While most comedians would find joking about the diagnosis difficult, Okatsuka managed to make the crowd break out in laughter when considering whether renaming mental illnesses after Disney rides would help. She tried out “Splash Mountain” for schizophrenia and “The Haunted Mansion” for chlamydia and gonorrhea.
The name of the show centers around a story about a man who intruded into her backyard multiple times. Through whimsical tangents, she fills out the details of the story with her unique life outlook originating from her upbringing and personal relationships.
Okatsuka engaged the crowd well, asking for input about how to approach the intruder — kitchen knife, fire extinguisher or shovel? Audience members called out various answers, although no one said anything about using the knife. Okatsuka poked fun at the crowd’s regard for the intruder (“What if he has a family? What about his loved ones?”), citing Palo Alto’s suburban and safe environment for their leniency. In New York, she claimed, an audience member suggested stabbing the intruder through the left torso because it held all the essential organs.
Okatsuka recalled providing a description of the intruder to the police, only to realize that her husband looks identical — “white man, six feet tall, wearing a navy blue shirt and black pants.” The audience roared in laughter.
Describing how she asked him to change clothing and not be mistaken as the intruder, Okatsuka began reflecting upon how her family always told her to blend in, despite naming her Atsuko Okatsuka. To make matters worse, they themselves took English names. “Thanks, Mom.” she said, ironically. “Or Linda.”
Before launching into the show’s main story, Okatsuka joked about her fear of teenagers. Raised and taught to socialize by her grandmother, Okatsuka found it especially difficult to relate to younger people. As a child, she attempted to tell war stories and trade food recipes with her peers. A few tales, such as those where Okatsuka learned about sex through watching “Titanic,” made the audience break out in laughter.
Okatsuka then gave an example of her comical interactions with own teenage cousin who “has numerous boyfriends … and they all know about each other.”
“You skate?” Her cousin asked.
Okatsuka described how she and her husband Ryan both crumbled under the pressure of the seemingly innocuous question. What kind of skating did her cousin mean — ice skating, roller skating, skateboarding? Gesturing at her clothing, she asked the audience, in an increasingly distressed tone, why someone who looks like they own an art gallery would ever skate. Her husband, Okatsuka added, looked like he walked out of a J. Crew sales catalog.
Okatsuka’s witty one-liners and perfectly timed storytelling were a delight to witness, and her ability to make light of loaded topics was especially impressive. As I made my way over to my skateboard parked against the wall, I made eye contact with a woman who smiled and laughed, remembering the “You skate?” joke. Looking at the crowd milling out, it seemed that Okatsuka’s performance, which discussed topics from mental illness to immigrant upbringings, had touched audiences of all ages and backgrounds who had done nothing more than share an hour of laughter together.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.