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Charlyne Yi goes from sad comedian to funny poet

By
Ben Hooper
Charlyne Yi, a professional polymath whose artistic endeavors include stand-up comedy, acting, screenwriting and composing, is branching out into poetry with new book You Can't Kill Me Twice (So Please Treat Me Right). Photo courtesy of Laura E. Davis
Charlyne Yi, a "professional polymath" whose artistic endeavors include stand-up comedy, acting, screenwriting and composing, is branching out into poetry with new book "You Can't Kill Me Twice (So Please Treat Me Right)." Photo courtesy of Laura E. Davis

Nov. 19 (UPI) -- "Professional polymath" Charlyne Yi is adding another art form -- poetry -- to her crowded repertoire. The composer/painter/actress/comedian/author said branching out into more personal territory is, in a word, "terrifying."

Yi, 33, known for roles in TV shows including House M.D. and Twin Peaks, as well as films including Knocked Up, This is 40 and Paper Heart -- which also marked her screenwriting debut -- is releasing her first book of poetry, You Can't Kill Me Twice (So Please Treat Me Right), Tuesday from Andrews McMeel Publishing.

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The artist and entertainer, self-described as a "professional polymath," told UPI in a recent interview that her interest in poetry stemmed from her career in stand-up comedy.

"My comedy all of a sudden became unfunny, and then I started using that material at poetry venues," Yi recalled. "And then the platform changed. I became a funny poet instead of a sad comedian."

Yi said the poetry she is making now is far from the poetry she experimented with as a teenager.

"I used to write secret poetry in high school, but it was really bad, and very goth," she laughed. "It was about pull-string dolls. I think I was really into Hot Topic then."

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Transitioning from comedy to poetry required more than a change of venue. It forced Yi to get personal in a way that she had managed to avoid in comedy and music, she said.

"The comedy I used to do was pretty fantastical and fictional," she said. "And then when I started gearing toward music, I wrote encrypted messages using metaphors and analogies."

Her story

In You Can't Kill Me Twice, Yi offers a stark portrayal of the darker details of her life, including abuses suffered at the hands of her parents and her struggles with depression. She said going public last year about the restraining order she took out against her parents was her first taste of how "horrifying" it can be to divulge details of her personal life.

"I realized so much of my life was repressed because of the conditions I lived under, regarding my abusive parents. I realized it's really scary to be honest about what's going on, but I also realized so much of my life had been having to keep secrets and having to protect others over myself, which I'm still recalibrating from.

"So it's terrifying that this book is coming out. I don't know if anyone will read it, I don't know if it will mean anything to anyone, but personally, it's really scary."

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Yi said being publicly honest is also daunting because it leaves you vulnerable.

"As much as it creates an avenue to be more free, and explore who you are, it also can make people think they know you when they don't know you, and that kind of creates some complicated relationships with strangers," she said.

One theme that permeates the book is the difference between repression, depression and reality.

"I grew up in an unhealthy environment where I was gaslit a lot, as well as society constantly gaslighting me regarding racial issues and the patriarchy. I was repressed, but I was like 'I'm fine, I'm totally fine, I'm good.' But that wasn't reality. There was so much chaos I wasn't dealing with," she said.

Facing the pain she had been refusing to acknowledge led Yi into a period of depression, she said.

"It became super dark and morose," she said. "I was thinking about all the horrors I've experienced, and that's not healthy, either. I think I've experienced severe repression and severe depression and I realized that when I'm healthy, I can see both."

The darker aspects of the book are balanced somewhat by whimsical line drawings.

"There was a version where there were no drawings," Yi said. "I've been painting for a long time, but a lot of the titles for my paintings were kind of poems in themselves, so the illustrations just kind of organically became part of the book. Maybe some of the poems don't hold up as they are, with just words, but somehow tied together it maybe means something different."

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Standing up for herself

Yi feared her publishing career would be derailed after a potential publisher preyed on her sexually. Reporting his behavior made her worried that she would get blacklisted from the industry.

"He was forced to resign, and I didn't think I would ever get published after that. I thought I would get blacklisted because usually they side with a person of power," she said.

"Even reporting him, the HR company was like, 'Are you sure he wasn't just hitting on you?' I'm like, 'Is it his job to try and have sex with me and find out where I live and abuse his power to do so?'" Yi said.

Yi said she was happy to find other avenues into publishing.

"I hope that I can write well enough and the book does well enough for more opportunities. I'd like to publish some of the kids' books I pitched two years ago, or any new ones, as well as new poetry," she said.

Diverse interests

Yi said she has been experimenting with a wide range of artistic mediums since childhood.

"The most I ever feel present is when I'm tackling something new that I'm not good at. It keeps me present with the learning processes captivating my attention. It's better than looking at the Internet. It makes my brain create new paths, and not just echoing in the abyss," she said.

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Her next "something new" is as different as can be from poetry.

"I'm going to a wrestling school, to check it out," she said. "The reason I chose poetry right after comedy was because I wasn't good at figuring out how to explore or articulate my feelings, and I still am learning. I think it takes my entire life to figure out how to talk."

"But I've been pretty fascinated with the wrestling world lately. I have no control over my body, I can barely touch my toes, I have the body of an 89-year-old who's unfit. But I'm going to try to be a pro wrestler, and see how that goes," she said.

Yi was also recently announced to be joining the third season of NBC comedy-drama Good Girls. Her role in the series is still under wraps, but she said she feels "very grateful to be around such funny people -- and nice, which is a definite plus."

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