Writing Jokes with Joy Lin (TED.com)

I find superpowers fascinating because people must first be able to fathom having a superpower before inventions in science can catch up to our imagination.

Joy is a comedian with three science degrees. She resides in Austin, TX.

What’s your name and where did you grow up?

Joy Lin. I grew up in Taiwan, as in “made in…”

What’s interesting about Taiwan?

We have the fattiest foods and the skinniest girls! It defies biology.

What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid?

My mother was a renowned professor and my father was the senior executive officer for the entire Asian branch of a big insurance company.

What was the first joke or bit you tried on stage?

Being on stage makes me nervous. I mean, come on, look at me. I’m clearly, clearly… Hispanic! (I’m Asian.)

You’re a comedian with three science degrees, which is a little unusual. What type of degrees do you hold? How do you balance science and comedy, both passionately and logistically?

I have a BA in Biology, a BS in Chemistry and another BS in Biochemistry from UT Austin. I was supposed to become a doctor, but three years into college, I realized I was needle-phobic and the smell of formaldehyde made me queasy… so I became a science teacher. I taught science using pop culture references, using a lot of Hollywood action movies, especially the ones involving superheroes.

How did the “If superpowers were real” series begin on TED-Ed? What is your role on the show? Why do you find superpowers fascinating?

TED and Kohl’s Cares teamed up to look for 18 most inspiring lessons to animate, and my Hollywood vs. Science lessons were lucky enough to be nominated and subsequent selected. They further invited me to write for a series of sixvideos. After I finished the scripts, they had me approve the storyboards and animated them. The resulting series was promoted and received a lot of media attention that summer, including FOX, KUT, Time Warner, etc.

In this series, Joy Lin tackles six superpowers and reveals just how scientifically realistic they can be to us mere mortals.

The highlight was the BBC Science in Action podcast interview, which went global. I find superpowers fascinating because people must first be able to fathom having a superpower before inventions in science can catch up to our imagination and make it a reality. By pointing out the physical limitations, I’m aiming to fix them, not crush children’s dreams. My series is meant to inspire children to be interested in science and potentially contribute in the future.

You were set to break down the science of Walking Dead at this year’s Comic-Con. What happened?

Unfortunately, due to some very unfortunate circumstances, I was unable to attend this year’s comic con despite the invitation. However, in hindsight, I think I dodged a bullet there. If I had showed up and told them how much Walking Dead had screwed up with the human anatomy, I think I would have been martyred at the panel via pelted oranges…

How long have you been a pianist and what do you enjoy most about playing? What is shortcut piano?

I’ve been playing since I could remember. I wouldn’t call myself a good pianist at all. I’m just good enough to impress people who don’t play, but I did invent a new way to read music using numbers and dashes that is much easier for an adult beginner to pick up. I call it “shortcut piano.

Joy has 45 minutes of material if anyone wants to book her for a show.

Are there any Asian stereotypes where you think, “Wow- this is fucking stupid.” Or, “Yeah- this is actually true.” How do you work your own culture into your set?

I actually looked up Asian stereotypes and wrote a joke for each one. Personally, I think stereotypes exist for a reason: they are mostly true. It is not racist for us to make a general statement, like “Asian men are shorter in height” as long as you recognize there are exceptions like the freak of nature that is Yao Ming. Just like it is not sexist for a man to claim men are stronger than women in general if he can admit that Ronda Rousey can probably kick his ass. So I embrace most stereotypes and zing back by being extra “racist” to make my privileged white audience members uncomfortable. Haha!

What do you like or dislike about the comedy scene in Austin?

As an audience member, I have no complaints. As a comedian, there are too many good comedians and not enough jobs. Also, there are lots of open mics, but only comics attend them, so we end up telling the same jokes to the same people and nobody laughs anymore after a while. And every time a comic tells a joke without getting a laugh, a piece of our soul flakes off…

Better Kevin Smith movie: Clerks or Dogma? (or other)

Who do you like better? Your mom or your dad? Just kidding… I like almost everything he did, but I personally think his Q&As are even funnier than his movies. He is, as my cameo in his “Kevin Smith Burn In Hell” special proclaimed, my celebrity crush.

What’s the dumbest superhero name you can think of?

Pretty girl… Saddest thing is, with society as it is, that is a very real superpower.

Why are jokes funny?

The same reason food is delicious… Because we humans are goddamn lucky! :)


Joy is a comedian and teacher. Check her out in the Austin comedy scene, at Crockett High School and on TED.com. She can be reached at JoyYLin@gmail.com.


Interview by Zuri Irvin (@withzuri)

Check out @jokewriting