Ever since going viral on social media, Yurié Collins has made a splash in the stand-up comedy world. The New York and Tokyo-based comedian has grown popular due to her Kansai accent and dialect, quick-witted jokes about her identity and takes on Japanese culture. 

Inhabiting a unique space of performing both in Japanese and English, Collins has made a name for herself by putting a culturally aware, edgy spin on the nuances of life in Japan, while still being relatable to a wide range of people. Recently, Collins sat down with Tokyo Weekender for an exclusive interview to chat about her childhood, going viral and Tokyo’s comedy scene. 

Returning to her Roots and Branching Out

Though currently based in Tokyo, Collins’ roots are in the Kansai region. Growing up in Wakayama city, she felt isolated in her half-foreign identity. After being treated somewhat differently throughout her childhood, she went to New York to study and pursue a career in acting, and was surprised by the reception she received. 

“When I moved to the States, people kept telling me I was Asian. I remember going to auditions and being told a role was for a white actor. I had to wonder, ‘am I not that?’ ‘What do I play?’ I was so confused about my identity, I bought a kimono at Urban Outfitters,” she laughs as she says one of her popular punchlines, but her words ring true.

During her time in New York, her story was similar to that of a lot of hard-working actors in the Big Apple: audition after audition, waiting to be cast in something big. Collins felt the tide turning in 2019, however, when she wrote, acted, directed and produced a short film. 

“I had an impulse to create something, which was a dystopian thriller called #Sponsored,” she says.  

During the coronavirus pandemic, while the world was plunged into uncertainties, Collins took a leap of faith and returned to Japan. She used social media as her creative outlet while the entertainment world took a hiatus. She soon realized that her work resonated with many people. 

“My original TikTok content was about cultural things about Japan,” she tells us. “Some videos went viral and my platform grew. In my 20s, I was just waiting to get cast, so after making my movie and going viral, I got the confidence to be like, ‘I have something to say.’”

While her comedic sketches on TikTok and Instagram were gaining momentum, many fans asked whether she would consider doing stand-up comedy. “Of course I had,” Collins says, “but I needed that extra push to get me on stage.”

Photo by Hiroki Baba

Training at Tokyo Comedy Bar

Collins’ first stand-up show was one she hadn’t planned on performing. Attending a friend’s open mic night, she felt her heart racing at the prospect of telling her own jokes. 

“I didn’t realize anyone could go up,” recalls Collins. “I didn’t have any jokes written, but I had a funny story to tell from when I used to work at a girls’ bar. It was actually kind of traumatic, but I put a funny spin on it. I really liked the feeling of turning something that was pretty messed up into laughter.”

Fans of Collins know she’s a regular at Tokyo Comedy Bar, Japan’s only English-speaking stand-up comedy bar, which she refers to as her “dojo.” 

“There are other people doing similar things and a sensei figure,” she explains, “and it’s a place where you can try new things and also fail.”

Collins doesn’t fear failure and this attitude permeates her edgy jokes, which range from quirky traits in Japanese culture to the horrors of dating. 

“Sometimes I get accused of being a man-hater. I love men. They give me so much material,” Collins jokes before adding, “I try not to play it safe. I’m OK if not everyone laughs; it would mean more to me if they left with new insight.”

Daring to be Vulnerable

When asked about her honest and daring approach to comedy, Collins remains thoughtful yet lighthearted. “I’ve always been an open book,” she says. “And there’s some kind of comfort in being vulnerable. It’s been important to me to feel understood, so if there’s an opportunity to open up, I’m going to take it.” 

Along with exploring personal subjects, Collins uses humor as a way to navigate uncomfortable topics. “I had an acting teacher once tell me a Harold Clurman quote that went like: ‘Make them laugh. And while their mouths are open, pour truth in.’ It’s important for me to make people laugh because I want them to have a good time, but I also want them to think about something.”

Yurié Collins

Photo by Alex T Thomas

From Japan to the World

Collins had her first ever solo show in February, which she performed to a sold-out crowd. While she continues to enthrall Japanese and English audiences alike here in Tokyo, her gaze is on the horizon with a more global goal. 

“I want to be able to perform anywhere, and not just be confined to Japan-related content,” she says. “Like, what would I say in Alabama? I can’t make jokes about manin-densha (packed trains) there.”

Alongside stand-up, Collins is continuing her career as an actor and pursuing various projects, including writing a TV series. Her larger goal is to incorporate her comedy into her career as an actor.

In the meantime, she values the universal connection she’s made with her fans by opening up about her own experiences. 

“Growing up, I didn’t have people to talk to about my feelings as a haafu,” she remembers. “When I started making content on TikTok, I received so many messages from mixed girls of all backgrounds thanking me for what I’m doing. When you’re at your most private, you can actually be your most universal. I like taking that risk, because you never know who’s listening.” 

You can find Yurié Collins on Instagram @babypinkhaus

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