Leland Cheuk is the author of the new novel No Good Very Bad Asian. He also has written The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong and Letters from Dinosaurs, and his work has appeared in a variety of publications, including VICE and Electric Literature. He lives in Brooklyn.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for No Good Very Bad Asian and for your character Sirius Lee?
A: I started the book in 2010. Back then standup comedy was breaking into the zeitgeist with popular podcasts like WTF with Marc Maron and The Nerdist and on TV with Louie and others. I’ve always been a bit of comedy geek so I thought why not write a comedy about comedy. I didn’t know what I was getting into.
Q: How much did you base the novel's action on your own experiences doing stand-up comedy?
A: There are definitely scenes based on my experiences, but I had to allow the novel to become its own thing. A memoir of my standup experiences would be pretty dull--lots of mics, bar shows, and dingy clubs. That said, I’ve been there with Sirius, and the feeling of being on stage and getting a big laugh or having a great set is a drug.
Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make changes along the way?
A: The first draft was a completely different book, really. There was a buttoned-up private detective hired to search for a missing comedian’s memoir, and the detective realizes as he investigates that the comedian is the detective’s alter ego. It took me about five years to realize that book wasn’t working. The book that ended up being the book was the book within a book. (I’m not sure if I’m making sense!)
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: I hope readers laugh and are entertained. I also hope that they think about the tentacular way racism pervades America.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on a novel about a quartet of Silicon Valley millennials, who were high school friends and reunite to launch a startup. It’s set in 2017, the year we all figured out that Facebook and the internet were pernicious forces in society. The Valley loses its innocence while these millennials lose theirs.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Thank you for taking the time to read the book.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb