BY DAY, HELEN Hong is steadily employed as a TV producer. By night, however, she’s a stand up comedian and the mastermind behind a crew of four funny ladies known as “Little Ethnic Girls.”
Somewhere in the midst of all this, she finds time to date—and talk about it. “One joke I love doing is the one where I talk about my huge Asian tits, since all the Asian guys I date don’t seem to like big tits.” She volunteers that “huge” for Asian guys is apparently 36A. Much to her chagrin, Hong also has to endure the awesome ethnic guessing game as proposed to her by potential suitors. “I call it racist Jeopardy,” she says before volunteering that her background is Korean. Since another Korean comedian has already made a name for herself in regard to talking about dating, sex, body-image issues and immigrant parents, one has to wonder if Hong is a little miffed at being beaten to the punch.
“While Margaret Cho’s act’s more political now, she really broke down a lot of barriers when she first started doing comedy. She was a chubby female comic talking about the first generation Korean experience. No one was really doing that.” Fair enough.
Hong also insists that she wants the crew to represent a fresh perspective on female comedians, since the stereotype is nestled around women being bitter, shrill man haters.
“We’re all cute and have no trouble dating. It’s just that we’d all look really terrible as blondes. Plus, it’s fun to be small and adorable and then get on stage and be filthy, which makes everyone proud.”
Well, everyone except for her parents, but Hong shrugs that off. “They don’t speak much English anyway.” While Hong loves working the show What Not to Wear for cable, her ultimate goal is to be producing her own show. “A lot of people run home after work to their kids; I run to comedy.”
Another member of the troupe, Maria Shehata, explains, “I was the only ‘ethnic girl’ in my school.When I would tell other classmates I’m Egyptian, kids would say things like, ‘I thought you guys were extinct.’”
Another triumph for the nation’s history and social studies teachers! After growing up, visiting the motherland, Shehata finds herself dealing with an entirely new perspective.
“Now whenever people are standing around and speaking Arabic, [others] assume they are a terror cell—and that I can translate.”
The youngest and arguably most feisty of the crew is 23-year-old Liz Miele, a mouthy Italian broad from Jersey. She’s another one that strangers feel totally entitled to exoticize.
“Guys come up to me and ask me if I’m Puerto Rican, Dominican or Jewish before finally guessing that I’m Italian,” she explains.
“It’s like, ‘Thanks cause I was having trouble writing material and ew, get away from me.’” At her young age, Miele is a bit of a prodigy, having started at open-mic nights when she was 16.When she explains her family’s background, it makes sense as to why comedy clubs were the perfect refuge from her suburban home. “Both my parents are mentally ill and I was convinced I was eventually going to go crazy,” Miele relates, “but I refuse to see a therapist because that means the crazy is actually happening.”
Instead, Miele spent her youth reading up on bipolar disorder and manic depression in a morbid fascination to pinpoint when exactly she was going to crack. She even makes a joke in her act about her parents meeting upon the suicides of their mothers.
During our conversation, and in the midst of relaying stories of a dark upbringing, Miele takes breaks to scream at her sisters for interrupting and then outs which of them is lying about her height on her MySpace page. Apparently with the Miele girls, adding an inch or two is an egregious offense.
“I might only be 5-foot-1, but I’m still taller than Maria Shehata,” Mielle boasts. But one has to wonder how she prepped her man of three years to come home and meet a household of loud and spastic short people.
“My dad is very traditional, so I made sure to tell my boyfriend to shake his hand and not to call him ‘dude.’” Miele then pauses before admitting, “I guess my parents did a pretty good job with me, even if they don’t have all their marbles.”
For our sake, we’re glad your parents were missing a few.
> Little Ethnic Girls
Oct. 27, Gotham Comedy Club, 208 W. 23rd St. (betw. 7th & 8th Aves.), 212-367-9000; 7:30, $15.