I was suddenly thrown into a fantasy world. It was the HBO Golden Globes after-party at the Beverly Hilton. Silicon Valley had been nominated for Best Comedy Series and I was invited to the party along with my fellow castmates. The party was decked out in the Game of Thrones fire and ice theme with a massive HBO logo projected on the side of the Beverly Hilton. There was an open bar with top-shelf liquor, all the food a man could eat and all the who’s who of Hollywood gathered inside of one swanky party.
My first stop was the posh buffet line; there were rib-eye steak and three different kinds of fish. This buffet was beyond Guam’s wildest dreams. I was determined to stuff myself stupid to make up for all the times I ate at HomeTown Buffet. A man leaned in behind me to get a closer look at the salmon. I was about to tell him to back off my precious buffet fantasy, and then I turned around and realized it was Bryan Cranston. “Hey, just checking out what they have here,” That caught me so off guard that I practically screamed at him and shoved my plate of salmon in his face. “The salmon looks good! You want some?” He kindly smiled at my mini mental breakdown and turned around to say hi to his friend. “Hey, Patrick!” I looked up; it was Sir Patrick Stewart. I looked over to the bar and I saw Mike Judge, so I moseyed over to say what’s up. As I got closer, I saw that he was busy chatting with Marilyn Manson, and Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters and Nirvana. So I back-peddled away with my overloaded plate of high-end meats. Then I saw Harrison Ford casually having a conversation with Jon Hamm, who was holding a shiny Golden Globe statue that he’d just won that night. I was so starstruck I almost rolled into a Short Round impression: “Watch out, Mister Jones!” I was hyperventilating. I walked towards the bathrooms for a breather, and there was Jennifer Aniston strolling out of the women’s room. Holy shit! I stopped and stared at her as my brain kept telling me: Don’t stare, don’t stare, don’t stare. But my body was frozen. I’m pretty sure I was experiencing a stroke at that moment. I felt like I was high on LSD, having the trip of a lifetime. This can’t be real life. Six months ago, I was driving drunk assholes in an Uber; now I am eating free salmon next to Harrison Ford? My imposter syndrome kicked into full swing. I felt like I snuck into this party. How did I end up here? I don’t deserve this! These are gods amongst men and I am just a dude who used to pay five dollars to do five minutes at an open mic. I was looking over my shoulder, waiting for a security guard to escort me out.
Being a series regular on a hit television show was beyond my wildest dreams. My very first acting coach, Caryn West, told us to write down the biggest goals we had and put them away in a box. Then we’d revisit it every six months to see if we could cross off any of these goals. With Silicon Valley, I was finally able to cross out a few of them.
Become a series regular on a TV show
Stop driving Uber
Get my own apartment
It felt great to accomplish something so unbelievable, but I didn’t feel any different. I might be at the same buffet line as Bryan Cranston, but I still felt like the guy who was rejected by the agent at the apartment rental office. I was still the same guy with the same problems. My parents’ attitudes hadn’t changed. My friend asked my dad during dinner once:
“Isn’t it great that Jimmy is on a TV show? He’s doing so well.”
“Yes, he’s doing good. But I still wish he was a scientist,” my dad unapologetically said right in front of
“Why?” Jeremy pushed for more answers when I would have quit while I was just slightly behind.
“Scientist is always more respectable than an artist,” my dad explained in a matter-of-fact way, as if that was the universal truth. I guess it is the truth in Chinese culture, which is the only universe he knows.
The first time I showed my mom a scene from Silicon Valley, she said:
“Jimmy, how many times do I have to tell you, don’t hunch your back.”
“Mom, this is acting, I’m playing a character.”
“Can you play a character that stands up straight? You look weak.” I gave up trying to explain myself. Nothing
I used to think being on TV meant I’d be living like the stars on MTV’s Cribs in a mansion with three Ferraris, a pet tiger in the backyard and models lining up in front of my house waiting to date me. Nope. I still drive a Prius, I still use Tinder and I still dwell in a one-bedroom apartment, which is already a massive upgrade from living with Tarrell with Guam in my closet. I get recognized once in a while at the local bowling alley and I get a free beer if I’m lucky. Fans often come up to me and ask, “Are you Jian Yang?” I don’t mind being called Jian Yang, but I have noticed there’s always a hesitation when they ask me that question. Because if I wasn’t the guy who played Jian Yang and I was just some random Asian guy, they would look super racist. I’m sure there were other Asians who were asked that question, and they had to respond, “Not all Asian people look alike, you asshole.”
Then some people are shocked when they find out I sound nothing like Jian Yang:
“Oh my God, we love Silicon Valley! We didn’t even know you speak English in real life. We thought that was your real accent!”
I bet nobody ever said to Johnny Depp, “We love Pirates of the Caribbean! We thought you were a pirate in real life!”
The majority of people who watch Silicon Valley are dudes. Ninety-five percent of girls who have come up to me always say:
“Oh my God! My boyfriend is a huge fan of Silicon Valley! Can I take a picture with you? It’ll make him so happy!”
Sure, I’ll make your boyfriend’s day.
Meanwhile, I was still trying to find myself a girlfriend on Tinder. It’s pretty awkward to be a quasi-celebrity on Tinder. Some girls don’t believe it’s really me. I mean, who the hell would use my picture as their fake profile picture? That’s counterproductive.
* * *
Like most people in this world, I thought achieving my goals would solve all my life’s problems. It didn’t change much at all. There’s satisfaction in achievement, but the excitement is in the chase. Looking back, some of the happiest times of my life were working at the Comedy Palace for minimum wage, folding envelopes with Tarrell and Guam. Even though none of us had any money, we had a great time just hanging out. I was so poor I would go into the kitchen and sneak out leftover prime rib with a side of beef barley soup. Once a fortnight, the comedians went to Denny’s after the shows; that was our special treat. I had to save up to get a ten-dollar Moons Over My Hammy at Denny’s, but that ham sandwich meant something to me. I earned it by doing what I loved and it tasted just as good as the salmon at the Golden Globes party. One night after the Comedy Palace shows, Tarrell, Guam, our comedian friend Jason Lawhead and I were chopping it up over a grand slam breakfast at two in the morning.
I said to my boys, “I think the new waitress likes me, she was giving me some signals. She—”
“Jimmy,” Jason interrupted, “her boyfriend drives a Bentley, you were stealing soup in the kitchen.” We all folded over laughing.
We are so busy chasing our goals, sometimes we forget about the thrill of the chase. We only realize the goal wasn’t the prize when we get there. It was cool to be in the same room with Sir Pat Stew and Jen Ann, but I honestly had more fun at Denny’s than the Golden Globes party. Maybe Charles Dickens and UCSD chancellor Fox did have a point after all: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”
I had achieved one of my biggest goals when I became a series regular on Silicon Valley, but I felt more lost than ever. Now what? I was meandering around in my apartment not knowing what to do next with my life. I panicked. It was scary to feel empty in the presence of success. So I called my mentor, Sean Kelly, as I always do when I’m lost. I asked Sean, “What should I do now?” And he said: “Start back at square one, with an even crazier goal.” Then I realized, the chase is never over. I just needed new challenges. It’s satisfying to cross out a goal, but it’s even more exciting to write down new ones. So I wrote down some even crazier goals:
Become a series regular on a TV show
Stop driving Uber
Get my own apartment
Win an Oscar
Meet Snoop Dogg
Standup comic, actor and fan favorite from the popular HBO series Silicon Valley Jimmy O. Yang shares his memoir of growing up as a Chinese immigrant in California and making it in Hollywood.
In his first book, How to American, Yang shares his stories—always hilarious, often resonant—of learning our customs, assimilating into our culture, and figuring out how to date high school girls who were six inches taller than him, all while enduring the constant pressure from his sometimes overbearing parents to go to medical school and become a doctor. In his book, we see firsthand what Yang's experienced as an immigrant and the things he did and didn't do to progress into a star on the rise.
PREORDER YOUR COPY NOW!
Meet The Author: Jimmy O. Yang
Multi-faceted actor, stand-up comedian, and writer Jimmy O. Yang is best known for his portrayal of hilarious intern Jian Yang on HBO’s Emmy-nominated comedy series Silicon Valley. Born in Hong Kong, Yang made his television debut on the CBS series 2 Broke Girls and his first late-night stand-up appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show, where he received a rare standing ovation.
Other television credits include DirecTV’s Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight,CBS’ Battle Creek and Criminal Minds, FXX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He is currently recurring on TruTV’s half hour comedy series, Those Who Can’t. Yang is based in Los Angeles.