‘Silicon Valley’ Star Jimmy O. Yang Talks About Meeting His Girlfriend and Becoming a Leading Man


In 2021, he had his first shot as a romantic lead in Love Hard—the Cyrano de Bergerac of Netflix Christmas rom-coms—opposite Nina Dobrev. Love Hard was anything but typical, and had a somewhat tricky premise: here was a dweeby Asian guy catfishing a white woman from across the country. But the film turned out to be a huge hit. In the tradition of great rom-com parts—Julia Roberts’ scheming saboteur in My Best Friend’s Wedding, Tom Hanks’ double-crossing capitalist in You’ve Got Mail—Yang was able to transform a dubious character into someone you genuinely root for. The high degree of difficulty didn’t ever really phase Yang; through some alchemy of pathos, comedic timing, and charm, he made an online scammer almost forgivable. 

In summer 2021, just as vaccines were rolling out and the world was slowly opening up again, Yang took stock of his life and went full Marie Kondo on the parts that no longer worked. 

The threat of the pandemic, of living on borrowed time, was clarifying. Yang wrote an email to his agents and managers about what he wanted for the next chapter of his career.

“I want to do something that’s meaningful to me, to the community, something that’s subverting expectations,” he said in the email. “I want to kick ass in something without anybody laughing. I want to die in something without it being funny.”

A few months later, an audition for a lead role landed in Yang’s inbox for Interior Chinatown, the series adaptation of Charles Yu’s National Book Award-winning novel about the Asian-American experience, executive produced by Taika Waititi. 

Yang was on the road touring, so he set up cameras in his hotel room for the screen test: “I forgot about standup and got into character for Willis Wu”—Chinatown’s protagonist. 

And? “He honestly blew me away,” says Yu, who was on the video call with Waititi. “We’ve seen Jimmy be really funny. We knew that he’s very talented. But he brought a depth and an emotion to even just a Zoom read.” 

Yang got the part. 

“Sometimes, you’ve got to speak it into existence, even when nobody believes you at that point,” Yang tells me. “You’ve got to believe it in yourself.”

Interior Chinatown represents possibility for Jimmy O. Yang—a chance to be taken seriously, to have the sort of career-redefining role that might dictate how we look at him moving forward. To be a person of color in America is to know that while it’s nice to be liked, to be appreciated, to be laughed at, it’s even better to be understood, to be listened to, and most importantly, to have a seat at the table. “I have the ambition to do all these things,” Yang says. 

Like a lot of comedians, Yang sees his standup comedy as part performance, part therapy. And unsurprisingly, his new Amazon Prime stand-up special Guess How Much? draws heavily from his relationship with Kimmel, using everything from feet hygiene to their differing love languages as material. 

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‘Silicon Valley’ Star Jimmy O. Yang Talks About Meeting His Girlfriend and Becoming a Leading Man

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