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“As if you won the lottery on September 11”: how the life of comedian Robin Tran changed last year

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A month before the start of the pandemic, Robin Tran was fed up with stand-up, so she started learning how to make memes for fun.

She went on to post a mix of standing clips and original videos on TIC Tac this resulted in a new follow-up consisting mostly of people 20 and over LGBTQ at a time when comedic events were being canceled indefinitely.

I had more success in a year in quarantine than my other eight years of stand-up combined, Tran said.

The 35-year-old, who grew up in Garden Grove, could be recognized for her performances at Orange County venues in early 2012 at an open mic on being a 27-year-old virgin or a 2016 duet Unconventional lesbians played with his girlfriend, Cate Gary.

Others might recognize Tran from her appearances in Comedy Centrals Roast Battle or her hour-long special debut in 2018, Dont Look at Me on Hulu as part of a six-episode Asian comic book showcase called Comedy InvAsion. .

I had to go out a lot and was the first employee in my company history to become transgender, Tran said in her hour-long special. Never be the first employee in your business to do anything. It was the worst experience of my life.

The Joke is now available with the full comedy album on all audio streaming platforms. It covers bipolar disorder, coming out as transgender to your Vietnamese mother, Christmas in a white household, and professional wrestling to name a few.

Tran, who has since quit his 9-5 job, spends most of his days scouring Twitter, reading news, writing jokes, and making TikTok videos. She’s also starting to perform on a stand-up again, preparing for shows in San Diego next month and Austin in 2022.

In this condensed and edited interview, Tran talks about depression, behind-the-scenes moments at Dont Look at Me, TikTok, and back on stage.

How has the past year been for you?
I talked about how 2020 is the best year of my life, but I couldn’t say it in 2020 because everyone is in so much pain. I had to hide it from people. The other day on stage I said it was like you won the lottery on September 11th.

I have been severely depressed for over 20 years and have bipolar II. I started taking medication in 2017. I had psychiatrists who didn’t care about me at all. I took the wrong meds for a few years, stopped them because they weren’t working. In the month that I wasn’t taking any medication, I felt like I could feel things again, but my mood swings were wild. So I had a new psychiatrist who really cared about me and had good health insurance. My depression has completely lifted. I tell people that finding the right medicine is the best thing that has ever happened to me, better than standing up, becoming transgender, or falling in love.

It’s crazy that sometimes the difference between life and death is quality healthcare and healthcare workers, but a lot of people don’t have access to it.
When I started seeing my current psychiatrist I kept thanking her and she said: It makes me so sad that you are thanking me for something every doctor should do for you.

She completely debunked Bipolar II for me. People either make it this insurmountable thing that they have that they will never get over or they do the opposite where they go, I’m depressed and it’s because I’m special or I’m a genius. But she said being bipolar or having a mental illness is the same as having a cold or asthma. You wouldn’t say, I’m so weak. I need this inhaler.

Have you had any conversations about whether suffering in general serves your comedy and not having it can hurt a performance?
This is one of the most common misconceptions, and I thought so too. It’s that old myth of the tortured artist, of the sad clown. It’s a very masculine mentality. When I was super depressed I had really funny shows about depression. But I didn’t really talk about anything else because my brain was so focused on my own misery. I’m a very silly person and I finally brought on stage the silliness and absurdity that I had missed for so long. I think you can tell how much fun I’m having, even though I’m talking about something serious.

Cover for

Cover of the album Dont Look at Me, the actor Robin Trans.

(Courtesy of Robin Tran / 800 Pound Gorilla Records)

What was the process of creating your first hour-long special, Dont Look at Me?
Most comedians would find places to practice. But I was so depressed, I didn’t do any of that. I was pacing the apartment and telling myself the time from start to finish out loud. Then I would stay in bed all day crying. On the day of the recording, there was a dress rehearsal where I played all the time for a cameraman and without an audience. I bombed. I forgot my jokes. I messed up my opener. I messed up my reconciliation. Then two hours later, I had to perform this thing in front of a packed audience. My girlfriend was opening for me and while she was playing I thought about running away. But right before I got on stage, I just reminded myself that the worst that can happen is to start bombing again, so go ahead and have fun. Then I ended up having the best set of my life.

I had a clock on my life. I thought I was probably going to kill myself, but I want to do something really good before it happens. That’s how I saw the special.

Now that your working process is different with comedy, how do you think back to the special and that time period?
During my first session with my current psychiatrist, she was trying to explain to me how resilient I was. Compliments bounced off me. I didn’t know what she was talking about. I would do a 10 minute roast on Comedy Central and stay in bed for a month. This is how my career went for a while, doing a great thing and then I was hiding for months. But now I can’t believe how well I did. I am in awe of myself because I am stronger than I thought I was.

You became more active on TikTok by posting not only your stand-up clips, but original videos as well.
I ran out of stand-up clips. I was really panicked because I didn’t know what to post and I had 100,000 subscribers. My girlfriend told me: Create your own content. People want to see your face. I was like, no one wants to see my stupid face. You need a microphone and an audience. I just started doing it because I had no choice.

Some old school comedians say it’s not real comedy. You are trying to make a fun 15 second video! I guarantee you it’s as hard or maybe even harder than doing a 20 minute streak. You have to find a way to be funny fast which means to edit. Many comedians will have a four-hour podcast that they won’t edit, calling it a creative choice. But for me it’s lazy. Some of the most creative people in the world are on TikTok right now. I am really excited about this. And that gets rid of the keepers a bit too.

You also start to go out and play again. How does it feel not to be on stage for a year?
It was like an embarrassing first date. I enjoyed each other’s company, but I didn’t really know how to act and they didn’t know how to be an audience. It will take some getting used to, but I think it will get back to normal soon. I love comedy, but I don’t have to do it all the time. I agree to do a really good set and then take a two week break to get back to the internet.

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