After months/years/an emotional eternity of social deprivation and forced isolation, Santa Monica will host a celebration of laughter this month with the Crazy Woke Asians Kung Pow Festival.

Spread over four days, the festival features over 50 Asian American comedians from Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Florida, San Francisco and Canada in 30 shows. There will be an opening reception, traditional sets, industry panel, Final Showdown with audience vote and closing party. The festival also includes The Shane Wang Crazy Woke Asians Youth Stand Up Comedy Camp will offer fifteen students 15 years old and up an opportunity to learn the craft of stand up comedy and showcase on stage at the end of camp.

Hosting this festival at this point in time has a unique set of risks and rewards. The world is slowly emerging from the pandemic that isolated everyone from each other and created a sense of fear around public gatherings. It’s also a pandemic that massively magnified hatred toward Asians.

Executive Producer Kiki Yeung said the show has played to sold out crowds around the country in Seattle, New York, San Diego and while the show’s genesis predates COVID, the surge in anti-Asian hate crimes and even the current political connotations of “woke” the show has grown to meet it’s moment in history.

“People want to see more Asian comedians and they don’t think we all tell the same things,” she said. “Because that’s the thing before [Covid] with the shows the booker would think that ‘oh, we need one Asian, we don’t want three of them because they’ll say the same jokes.’ But in reality, there’s me, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, we really don’t have the same experience. Some of [the comedians] happen to be Asian, but they’re American born.”

Actor/Comedian Danny Plom said comedy is a chance to speak to the reality of the moment.

“I think that if we can shed more light and more laughter on these kinds of topics, then they kind of take the tension away,” he said. “And hopefully those people that are angry or violent for whatever reason, they can kind of take a backseat and just kind of listen to what we have to say versus, this unconscious anger that they have.”

Comedian and actress Sonya Vai said she loved being part of an event that challenged Hollywood stereotypes about performers, audiences and entertainment.

“That’s what things like this do because the audience that comes to see this isn’t just a homogenous audience, it’s not just an East Asian or South Asian audience. It’s everybody, right. It’s people who enjoy comedy.”

Plom is well aware of Covid’s impact on performances having tested positive during an acting job. He said that thanks to his vaccine, he didn’t develop symptoms but he understands how the pandemic has altered behavior and said audiences are ready for some social interaction.

“From the shows that I’ve done, they don’t necessarily heckle as much as they used to,” he said. “It’s more so they’re just happy to be out there, happy to be enjoying themselves. They’re more engaging and listening to a performance when you’re up there on stage versus the normal comics’ show where they go, and they might get a little too loose and, you know, heckle the comedian and go wild or have too much drink. I’m sure that still happens but from the shows that I’ve done, I’ve seen that they’ve been more kind of excited to kind of be out versus, you know, going insane in the house.”

Vai has had a similar experience returning to the stage. She said the pandemic closures killed comedy as it we knew it but losing live shows highlighted the importance of laughter and the need to recognize the trials of life.

She said performers need to acknowledge that mentalities have changed while helping everyone move forward.

“So I think the biggest thing is to address it on stage and then also talk about how to be free of it,” she said. “I want to have other things I’d like to talk about aside from the pandemic, but I think a big part of it is addressing the fact that the world is different and that we need to laugh. And one of the things I found as things have opened up, and the shows that I’ve done in person, is that people want to laugh. You know, prior to the pandemic, a lot of times, I’d go to shows and people have their arms crossed, and almost have this attitude of ‘make me laugh.’ And now it feels more communal, when people want to laugh, they want to be able to see the light side, because that’s what helps us heal.”

Plom said while social commentary is part of comedy’s function, the point is always to make people laugh.

“Look, we have an amazing lineup of Asian comedians from all over the world coming to perform at this night, and if you’re ready to come laugh and hear culture in a new light, and really see Asian comedians come together in unity to make you laugh for a good cause, come out, enjoy yourself,” he said.

Admission for shows are $25 in advance, wine or non-alcoholic beverage included; $30 at the door. Doors open 30 minutes before showtime. Tickets are available online at https://www.santamonicaplayhouse.com/cwokungpow.html. For more information, visit http://www.crazywokeasians.com (tickets can only be reserved ahead of time online via link or website, or bought on the day at the door.) Santa Monica Playhouse: 1211 Fourth St. Shows are Nov. 11 4:30 p.m. to midnight, Nov. 12 7 p.m. to midnight, Nov. 13 12 p.m. to midnight, Nov. 14 1 p.m. to 11 p.m.

editor@smdp.com