“Slanty Eyed Mama” at UW-Madison AAAGS event
The perfect climax to the annual “Asian American Voices” gathering
George Lopez, Mo’Nique and several others. She performs for a wide range of audiences.
Rigg and Hung have toured coast-to-coast and beyond.They have performed at the Perth International Arts Festival in Australia, Toyota Comedy Festival,
NBC New York, HBO Time Warner-Los Angeles, and New World Theatre in Boston. Rigg and “Slanty Eyed Mama” have been the recipient of many grants
and awards from the New York Foundation for the Arts, National Educators Association, University of Melbourne, Toronto Arts Council and Norma Epstein
Foundation, to name a few. They tour colleges and universities where connecting their messages with students is essential. Rigg was the keynote speaker at
the Smithsonian Institute, 2007 Asian Heritage Month Performance, the Kennedy Center, National Lampoon’s International Comedy DVD and Comedy
They are superb masters of their music, words, thoughts and feelings. “DOLLARS TALK, BS WALKS” is Rigg’s message, as far as supporting Asian artists
is concerned. She talks about the void in Asian role models and believes Asians have been left out of the even playing field. Asian Americans are often
counted as a part of the White population vs Latinos and African Americans, where baseline data is captured in corporate marketing when consumers are
targeted. So the buying power of Asians in the United States is often unknown.
Despite the wide age-range of those in the audience (although mostly an Asian presence), as well as, backgrounds, students, faculty, and the community,
all seemed mesmerized, transfixed by the drive, life and energy of their performance ... kind of zen experience. Rigg’s words are spoken musically, yes she
sings too, but she also speaks in music and sometimes at a rapid fire speed that leaves you with images, like minimalist expressionist brush strokes of
essential feelings regarding racism and injustice. Her dialogue is raw, spewed in your face and what you understand is ... the words are very wise and very
real and most importantly, speak the truth regarding our human experiences as Asian Americans, as women, as citizens, as students, in a country where
injustice occurs. Discrimination, whether language, race, religion (or lack of one), gender, disability, poverty, whatever the difference — can at times
determine life and death, such as in access to health care.
As one student stated after the performance, during Q & A time with the performers, “... all the things you are saying on the stage are what I have been
feeling and keeping inside all this time in my life ... you give us a kind of hope.” I felt the same way. If we want others to understand us — our hopes, joys,
strengths, similarities and yes our differences and our pain — we as Asians need to face it first ourselves. We were helping each other do that all throughout
the performance. Were Rigg and Hung our “therapists?” Well, no, though I felt their performance saved me a few trips to the couch! They were artists,
courageous leaders and ultimately awesome teachers, who had a lot to say, like all of us, but they did it in a way that was very powerful. Why? Because they
didn’t have any fear! That was the therapeutic part. They captured what you feel and what you want to shout everyday when you see and experience
They give us validation and permission to stand strong in who we were. They were saying in their own way, “It’s OK, you can speak out more.” Their
deliberate use of words like “chink,” “gook,” “nip,” and “jap” takes the negative power of the racist meanings away. Does that mean I would use these words
myself? No, but I do believe only Asians can say them and only in a certain context. It is a way of countering and deflating the racist put-downs we have
lived with all of our lives.
Kate Rigg has been likened to Lenny Bruce, Lily Tomlin, Whoopi Goldberg or, I believe, Richard Pryor. Their delivery, despite how hard edged, was so
powerful and most importantly, taken into our hearts and minds.
The Asian American Voices event was focused on the theme “Mixed Race Asians: Why it Matters to Asian America,” and earlier that day, a symposium
was held at the UW-Law School building. The flyer for the event had the ever familiar boxes to check — Asian, Latino, African American, Other — and
added a checkbox for Mixed Race Asian. Rigg, a mixed-race Asian, performed a poetic song about the checked boxes that was truly genius. It really is
frustrating to many when they can not categorize you, and Rigg knows firsthand the marginalizing that can occur when you do not fit these categories. She
pushes the envelope satirizing the typical stereotypes, particularly of Asian women.
Both Rigg and Hung were very gracious and respectful, despite their uncensored (well, mostly uncensored) performance. They were tired after their
performance but were available for interviewing in their hotel lobby. It is difficult to be truly funny in an in-depth way. It requires being very smart, creative,
skilled, compassionate, insightful and courageous. I felt pride and appreciation for them and their work and for spreading “the word.” They defined mixed
race as pure heart and soul.
See Kate Rigg’s website at http://www.katerigg.com/html/chinko.htlml
About the author:
Sharyl Kato is co-chair of the Wisconsin Organization for Asian Americans (WOAA)-Madison.
by Sharyl Kato
What’s that? Who said that? The incredibly talented and inspiring dynamic
duo, Kate Rigg and Lyris Hung, teamed tightly to perform what’s called their
“Slanty Eyed Mama” concert — a mix of poetry, beautiful music, hip hop,
theatre, stand-up comedy, satire and social/political commentary. They both
“graced,” or I should say “rocked,” UW- Madison’s 3650 Humanities lecture hall
on April 5 at 8 p.m., with their no-holds-barred, multimedia show. The room
has been “cleansed” of any old, medieval karma, no nook or cranny was spared
and will never be the same after Rigg and Hung were done with their
performance and those in the audience were definitely transformed.
Kate Rigg, raised in Canada and Australia, currently resides in New York.
Rigg is a playwright, screenwriter and actress with a Juliard-trained
background. Lyris Hung, electric violinist, was also Juliard-trained and has her
own death metal band. Hung is the only musician I know who plays the violin
like Jimmy Hendrix plays the guitar. Rigg chided that what she gained the
most from Juliard was an “attitude,” and what Hung gained the most were “her
tattoos.” Rigg has opened for acts such as Margaret Cho, David Chappel,
|Kate Riggs (r) and Lyris Hung