Bowen Yang: Things To Know About SNL's First Chinese-American Cast Member

Bowen Yang as Trade Daddy on Saturday Night Live

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In its nearly five decades on the air, the Saturday Night Live cast has seen its fair share of individually unique, memorably amusing, and truly groundbreaking personalities in the world of comedy. I believe that we are currently witnessing the series’ next great shift with Bowen Yang on SNL, partially due to the fact that the is the latest of only four performers of Asian descent to ever be a featured cast member. - Of course that is not the only reason why the actor, writer, comic, and podcast host is making such an impression on NBC’s legendary sketch comedy show. Learn all about that and more with these fascinating facts about SNL’s Bowen Yang, starting with his surprising birth place.

Bowen Yang as himself on Saturday Night Live

Asian-American Bowen Yang Was Born In Australia

While he would one day make history as the first Chinese-American performer to ever join the Saturday Night Live cast, Bowen Yang is actually from neither China nor America, naturally speaking. According to a 2020 feature in The New York Times, the comic was born on November 6, 1990, in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, to Chinese immigrants who moved “down under” where Yang’s father would study mining explosives, before spending years in Montreal, Canada, and later Aurora, Colorado. Outside of being SNL’s fourth performer of Asian descent (after the half-Filipino Rob Schneider, part-Korean Fred Armisen, and Iranian-born Aladdin actress Nasim Pedrad), Bowen is also breaking ground on the show for another reason.

Bowen Yang and Dan Levy on Saturday Night Live

Bowen Yang Is The Saturday Night Live Cast’s Third Openly Gay Male Cast Member

There have been six openly LGBTQ+ performers on the Saturday Night Live cast, including the seasoned veteran Kate McKinnon and newcomer Punkie Johnson. The first openly gay cast member was Terry Sweeney, who (like the second openly gay male cast member, John Milhiser, from 2013) was fired just a year after joining. However, Bowen Yang has been a featured performer since mid-2019, making him the first gay male to last more than one season, even though he has actually been a part of the show even longer.

Bowen Yang and Sandra Oh on Saturday Night Live

Bowen Yang Was An SNL Writer Before Being Promoted To A Performer

During a December 2019 appearance on NBC’s Late Night, Seth Meyers recalled how when he first returned to Studio 8H to host Saturday Night Live in 2018, his guest that night, Bowen Yang, only had a writing position on the show. It was not until Golden Globe winner Sandra Oh hosted (the third woman of Asian descent to do so) when he made his debut on the stage in a brief cameo as North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Speaking of Oh, the actress had a huge impact on Yang as he was growing up, but not in the way you might have expected.

Bowen Yang's idol Sandra Oh on Grey's Anatomy

Sandra Oh On Grey’s Anatomy Inspired Bowen Yang To Originally Pursue Medicine

During that same Late Night with Seth Meyers interview, Bowen Yang recalled the first time he saw Sandra Oh in The Princess Diaries and later as Dr. Cristina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy, which genuinely convinced him to be a doctor. According to his aforementioned New York Times profile, Yang took pre-med classes at New York University, where he also graduated with a chemistry degree, before realizing it was Sandra Oh’s acting ability that he truly admired and began pursuing a comedy career. College would turn out to be a very transformative time for Yang for other reasons as well.

Bowen Yang in an "It Gets Better" parody on Saturday Night Live

Bowen Yang Was Sent To Conversion Therapy When He Was 17

In that same New York Times piece, Bowen Yang reveals how, when he was 17, his parents discovered a chat conversation he'd left open, which outed him, to which they were not accepting. Soon after, Yang’s father would send him to a series of eight therapy sessions in hopes to cure his son of his homosexuality, the first few of which the actor became candid about for the interview:

The first few sessions were talk therapy, which I liked, and then it veers off into this place of, ‘Let’s go through a sensory description of how you were feeling when you’ve been attracted to men.’ And then the counselor would go through the circular reasoning thing of, ‘Well, weren’t you feeling uncomfortable a little bit when you saw that boy you liked?’ And I was like, ‘Not really.’ He goes, ‘How did your chest feel?’ And I was like, ‘Maybe I was slouching a little bit.’ And he goes, ‘See? That all stems from shame.’ It was just crazy. Explain the gay away with pseudoscience.

Bowen Yang goes on to describe “trying on straightness for size” in college and “failing miserably” before ultimately accepting his true self. He says that, since his “second coming out,” his parents still struggle to accept his sexuality themselves, but it has never ruined their family dynamic. In fact, Yang’s parents have proudly attended multiple episodes of Saturday Night Live to see their son perform.

Bowen Yang and the Saturday Night Live cast

Bowen Yang’s High School Superlatives Predicted His SNL Future

Speaking of Saturday Night Live, apparently Bowen Yang’s current career was predestined even before college. Seth Meyers, in the same aforementioned Late Night interview, brings up to the comic how the senior superlatives at his high school voted him as “Most Likely to Be a Cast Member on Saturday Night Live.” He certainly did not expect them to be so on the money with that prediction, nor did he expect his most popular sketch to date to take off like it did.

Bowen Yang as Iceberg on Saturday Night Live

Bowen Yang Did Not Expect The Success Of His SNL Iceberg Bit

In April 2021, Bowen Yang appeared on Weekend Update as the iceberg that hit the Titanic, amid the tragedy’s anniversary, who hopes the world can forget about how the ship attacked him so he can promote his new EDM album. Yang was interviewed by Entertainment Weekly for a special “Pride Issue” cover story literally the day before he performed the bit on SNL, at which point he and co-writer Anna Drezen never expected it to actually make air. However, it turned out out to be a viral sensation, even amusing former SNL cast member Jimmy Fallon enough to bring it up on The Tonight Show when Yang appeared as a guest about a month later, still surprised such a bizarre, yet clever, idea would be one of his greatest hits… no pun intended.

Hopefully, Bowen Yang will soon get used to expecting the unexpected as, so far, his life has been a series of events he never saw coming. From being the first of his nationality to be an SNL cast member to becoming one of the most talked about performers on the show in recent memory, at this rate, he could be the next king of the late night talk show scene.

Jason Wiese
Content Writer

Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.