Preview: Front Row With Margaret Cho and Friends
On Wednesday, March 21, UC Berkeley’s Front Row (a program put together by Cal Performances) is hosting their third annual event: Front Row With Margaret Cho and Friends. Host and comedian Margaret Cho will be joined by fellow Asian American comedians Ali Wong (American Housewife), Aparna Nancherla (Master of None), and Hari Kondabolu (Jimmy Kimmel, The Late Show, John Oliver) to discuss issues surrounding race, identity, and power in a program of stand-up comedy performance and conversation. The event is specifically curated by 11 students chosen by Cal Performances to create the event from the ground up, supervised and mentored by the staff and Associate Director, Rob Bailis.
Our Editor-in-Chief Mika Anders had a chance to interview Bailis and a student participant in Front Row, Jessely Serrano, to get a glimpse into the history and day-to-day operations of Front Row. Bailis explained how the program got its start: “Front Row falls into a suite of programs that we have been working on over the past five years to really deeply connect with students on campus. And at the time that we started this process, student participation with Cal Performances and coming to our shows was kind of hovering around 3-5% of our total audience.” He noted that while that percentage is not all that bad considering the scope of the audience, “The percentage felt wrong.”
So, Bailis returned to the proverbial drawing board and asked himself what was missing from Cal Performances. Referring to the general composition of the staff, he said, “We really felt that students should be coming and taking advantage of this, and why aren’t they? Or what should we be doing differently? What was missing in all of this,” he emphasized,” was an opportunity for students to actually curate; to actually say, ‘we want not just to be involved with what you’re doing, but actually have authorship of what you’re doing.’” He describes Front Row as a part of “a whole series of programs that were entirely student-facing and faculty-facing.” It offers a platform to explore direct student curation.
Jessely Serrano, a sophomore at Cal majoring in media studies, is one of the 11 students who worked with Bailis to help curate this event. This is her second year participating in Front Row, and she spoke in an interview with Mika about looking forward to her third: “I will definitely be continuing Front Row next year. It is a wonderful experience where I learn the process of putting on a show but to also have the opportunity to have control over something this big. Most students don’t have the chance to get real-life experience in the entertainment industry unless they know someone who knows someone, so being able to get professional life experience while working towards my degree is an amazing opportunity.”
When it came to who to choose for this year’s event, Serrano and her colleagues were motivated to select strong representatives for minority groups. She said, “During such uncertain times, we need to reassure minority groups that there IS support here on campus and that we stand with them. Our previous shows highlighted Lars Ulrich from Metallica and Daniel Handler, author of The Series of Unfortunate Events; both wonderful people, but also both white males. During our first meetings, we started throwing around women that inspire us, such as Elizabeth Banks, Kamala Harris, and even Ali Wong (whom we are very glad was able to join us). After much discussion over who would be a great representation of our campus, we realized that what our campus really needs right now is someone who empowers and represents many minorities around campus--some like Cho.”
Which brings us to the front of the lineup: Margaret Cho, a stand-up comedian of Asian American descent and a San Francisco native. In an interview with Mika, Cho spoke to the kind of representation Serrano and her colleagues seek to provide with this event: “Comedy is really about social commentary, and that’s what it’s always going to be about. It’s always going to be known as a catalyst for change, an instigator, a comfort. So, to me, it’s a very noble profession…to be a part of what we do. We are politicians. We are social commentators. We are agents for change.”
Serrano remarked, “Working with Cho has been very exciting since the very start. A very surprising and welcome experience was talking to Cho--the real Cho. Everyone sees and knows Cho’s on-stage persona, but face to face she is different... she is simply her amazing self. In our show, we hope to show the same amazing person Cho is off-stage to our fellow students on campus.” Front Row presents an event that promises a compelling discourse surrounding race and identity set in a comfortable, yet stimulating, comedic framework. The Caliber Magazine staff looks forward to Front Row With Margaret Cho and Friends on Wednesday, March 21st in Zellerbach Hall!
Tickets for Front Row with Margaret Cho and Friends on Wednesday, March 21 at 7pm in Zellerbach Hall are $5 and are available exclusively to current UC Berkeley students. There is a ticket limit of one per person online at calperformances.org or via telephone at (510) 642-9988. An additional ticket may be purchased (for a maximum of two per person) in person at the Zellerbach Hall Ticket Office with a valid UC Berkeley ID. Tickets are general admission.