The Comedian Karen Chee Tries to Keep Up with a New Yorker Cartoonist

[gentle music]

I don’t know if I’m meant to say this,

but just between you and me, this was a rejected cartoon.

Okay. So I guess you’re just making me draw trash.

[bouncy music]

Hi, my name’s Maddie Dai.

I am a professional cartoonist.

And this is Karen Chee who, you know

from American television.

Thanks for being on here, Karen.

Oh yeah, I’m so excited.

And today we’ll be drawing New Yorker cartoons together.

I will be teaching her using only verbal instructions.

I can’t see what she’s doing.

She can’t see what I’m doing.

We’ll show each other at the end anyway.

You have to talk about how much dread

you’re feeling on a scale from one to 10.

I’m feeling no dread and all excitement to be very honest.

I’m really stoked.

The cartoon we’ll be drawing today

is a desert island cartoon.

Okay.

So what do I feel at classic New Yorker trope?

There are two men on the island

and a stack of books, 10 books.

One of them is approaching the man who is reading them

and saying something to him.

Okay.

Have you ever been marooned Karen?

No, I honestly would love to be marooned safely.

I’d love to be marooned

for like three to five days with enough food.

I guess what I’m saying is I want alone time.

On like a nice tropical island.

I’d like to visit Hawaii is what I’m talking about.

I’m going to start with the shape of my island.

Yeah, same. That’s what I was going to do.

I think I immediately made my island way too small.

I’m just realizing the paper is so big.

That’s what erasers are for.

You know what?

No, I’m going to keep it small just to show the vastness

of the ocean around it.

Yeah. Solitude.

Yes.

I’m now going to draw my horizon line.

Mhm, I’m not going to have one.

[Maddie] Suspended in space.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

That’s cool.

Emma Allen once told me that frequently

she has to give notes

that the palm trees on the desert island are to phallic.

Oh, too phallic?

Well instead of a palm tree, I was drawing a huge penis.

So, you know, it’ll be fine.

You know, I can’t remember what the like leaves

on a palm tree.

It looks like large fronds.

I always go for like one main stem

and then spikes extending from that.

I don’t really know how to draw what you said

but that sounds really awesome for you.

[both laughing]

I think it can be like a star with many points.

Okay. Yeah.

This is my tree.

And honestly it looks really beautiful.

I’ve put coconuts on it.

Oh really?

Oh, I didn’t even think about that.

But my coconuts are dead cause it’s deserted

so they all look really sad.

Totally, totally.

So you grew up in California?

I grew up in California.

I grew up in the Bay area.

I did take drawing classes when I was very little.

Really? Yeah.

But I wasn’t very good at them.

The sad thing about art education is that like

they kind of tell you you have to be good

at drawing kind of technically, as I say, you know

sometimes kind of the worst, the better.

Do you actually think that or are you being nice to me?

No I actually kind of think that a little bit.

I mean, I just think that a lot of people are dissuaded

because like they draw a head strange

but I actually think it’s exciting to draw a head strangely.

I actually remember a lot in like art class

for some reason, this like really stuck with me,

like the rule of halves where you draw a huge oval

and then the teacher would be like the

eyes are halfway down the face.

Okay. I know that might seem real

for me because I have a huge forehead.

I also have a huge forehead!

[both laughing]

Solidarity forever.

Okay. So there should be 10 books, right?

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.

[bouncy music]

Do you like when people offer suggestions

for cartoons or is it like very annoying?

Oh, I like it.

I like it.

[Karen] Oh, nice.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I mean, I would say that like, they haven’t always been

that kindly delivered.

Like I did have this one dude who was like,

I saw your cartoon in the New Yorker,

and he was like, and the caption was totally off.

Oh no!

And he said the one that he thought was better.

And then he said, but he printed out my cartoon

and scrubbed out my caption and put his better one on top.

And I was like, that feels like kind of thing

you kind of just keep to yourself.

Oh yeah.

Don’t tell, that’s so weird!

That’s very rude.

Very rude. Very rude.

Sometimes after I do like stand up

an audience member will come

up to me and be like, I have a better punchline.

And then they’ll say something and

it’s not a better punchline, but it always like

there’s a part of where I’m like

if it actually were a better punchline

would I just then get to say your joke on stage?

Like, I don’t understand any of it.

Yeah. I have the two people and I have the books.

I have the palm tree and the water.

I put a little message in a bottle.

Oh, love that touch!

I don’t know if I’m meant to say this

but just between you and me, this was a rejected cartoon.

Okay. So I guess you’re just making me draw a trash.

Do you feel ready to go onto the inking portion?

Yes, I feel I’ve been ready my whole life.

I am actually just using an ink pen

for this section because I can’t find my nib.

Wait then why, why am I using a nib?

What?

This makes me feel like I’m Benjamin Franklin.

In case anybody wants to see.

Oh, so I just ink right over where I drew in pencil.

And then afterwards we erase the pencil?

Is that? That’s my strategy.

So during the pandemic, where did you flee to?

I went to South Korea too hang out with my grandparents.

Our whole family is very close and I was like

there’s really nothing keeping me in New York right now.

And we’re all working remotely so I went to South Korea.

Living with my grandparents is honestly the best.

They’re like very sweet and very cute.

And we hug like 20 times a day.

It’s really the best.

My grandpa, the other day was like blasting music

from his room.

And I was like, this is weird behavior and I like went over

and he was blasting La Marseillaise,

the French national Anthem,

which is all about like blood and sweat

and like tearing down imperialism, I think.

And he was like, This is my favorite song.

[both laughing]

What?

That is so amazing.

Did you go back to New Zealand at all during the pandemic?

I did.

I did for three months.

[Karen] It must have been amazing!

It was amazing.

I mean, it was like completely surreal.

[Karen] Yeah.

I mean surreal in the sense that like, you know

you had four weeks of lockdown and then you went, you know

to a music festival for the rest of, you know,

like sort of like existed with sweet, absolute sweet bliss.

[bouncy music]

So are you excited about moving back to New York?

Yeah. Yes and no.

You know the thing about living in Korea is that like

because I’m Korean American and everybody

in Korea is mostly, it’s like a very homogenous country.

It’s mostly Korean people.

Everyone on TV looks like me, everybody in magazines

looks like me, everybody on the street looks like me.

And it’s really nice in a way that I just never expected.

There was like a very physical moment of like,

Oh, I haven’t felt ugly in a long time,

which was really genuinely nice.

I was like, this is how white people

must feel in America all the time.

You’re beautiful in every damn nation, Karen!

It’s actually funny because

I’m actually, I’m half Chinese.

I actually had this strange experience where

like I was meeting my family there for the first time.

And I actually sort of like was like

I was meeting them at this restaurant in Hong Kong.

You know, there’s like these huge multi floor restaurants

and just like, like a sea of Chinese people.

And I was like, I actually have no idea what they look like.

And so I was like

I’m just going to have to wander around this restaurant

until someone claims this like wondering white girl.

And then I just looked over

at this table and was like, My God, there’s my family.

Like, you know, was like, There they are!

Strong foreheads and strong jaws.

There’s my people.

I’m erasing.

Okay. I’m also erasing.

Okay. Yeah.

I actually was just taking cues from

I was like either she’s going really wild

with the ink or we’re in the erasing stage.

You know, like loosely at the beginning, I said,

I will teach Karen how to draw a cartoon.

And really I left you.

You’re completely a drift out there.

I did not give an ounce of advice but I just left you to it.

But to be honest

you seemed quite confident in your strokes.

All right.

Okay. So now I have water mug and I got a lid to use.

Oh yeah, perfect.

All those takeout containers finally

having a second purpose.

Truly, that is what’s happening.

Do I squeeze this out first?

I would do that.

Yeah. Like on one end of your takeout container

like kind of dilute it down maybe a little bit.

Cause she’ll be coming pretty thick and fast and strong.

In her undiluted form.

We don’t necessarily want the sea to be

like an inky jet black.

Yes.

But you may want the book covers or the shorts

of these boys to be-

You put them in shorts? Shorts? I did.

That’s actually a really smart idea.

I gave them long pants and long shirts.

I gave them the three basic.

What are you starting with?

The coconuts.

Okay. I’ve done my coconuts.

Feeling pretty smug about them.

Do you think one

of the dudes you drew is hotter than the other?

I’m going to say yes, because one

of them looks nicer and I think nice men are very hot.

Yeah. I totally agree.

Yeah. It’s like, you know, like hot men reading

on the subway, it’s just sort of imbues them

with a certain je ne sais quoi,

a certain willingness to take on information and retain it

in their sweet little minds.

It is, it is fun how much we are excited

by the fact that men are literate.

[both laughing]

Okay. I’m going to try

and do a shadow line on this palm tree.

[Maddie] Oh hell yeah, totally.

Okay, I’m very nervous.

Okay. Okay.

I think I can do this.

[bouncy music]

Okay I think this is going to be the closest thing

I’m going to get to a good job.

Great. Have you signed it?

Oh no, I should do that.

My nickname at work is Big Dog.

[Maddie] Do that then.

Yeah. I nicknamed myself Big Dog.

[Maddie] And then strong armed everyone into calling it?

Truly that is what happened.

And my coworkers were like, Okay…

All right.

Okay. I have a couple captions in mind.

Me too! Me too!

My caption is unbelievably long and gets less

and less funny the more I’ve been writing it out.

Oh, help.

I mean, okay.

I bet it’s very good.

It’s the original caption, right?

Yeah, the original rejected caption.

Karen, it’s the moment of truth.

Yes. You started this exercise

with little to no dread and no doom.

Now we’ve become enemies, I’m just joking.

Sorry, sorry.

We will now be revealing our cartoons to each other.

Okay. Ready Karen?

One, two, three, reveal.

I don’t know how to, yours looks great!

Oh my God! Yours is so good!

Wait, read your caption.

One guy’s idea.

Say you had to take your 10 favorite books

to a desert island, but then you needed some toilet paper.

Which book would you start with?

That’s great! That’s fun!

So I had the person who was not reading

talking to the person who was reading.

The person who’s says in this one, You die at the end.

[Maddie] Wait that is so good.

I’m sorry, sorry, your coconut’s are dead.

It’s like a hell island.

[Karen] It is a hell island.

[Maddie] It’s like the island in Moana

that’s slowly turning to volcanic Ash.

[Karen] Yeah. But they also are, you know

long sleeved shirt and pants, which is a real choice.

[Maddie] I love that.

He’s still wearing shoes in the sand.

That’s such a bold decision to not feel the sand

between his toes.

He’s like, I’m gonna keep my boots on.

Yours is legitimately beautiful.

Oh my God.

It’s so good.

Also the people have such expressive faces

and the pants are clearly like torn off.

This is so good.

I’m also realizing

that I just didn’t quite understand what you meant

by horizon because I definitely also have one of those.

And earlier I said, I wasn’t going to have one, right?

That is totally the horizon line.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

You instinctively knew it should have one.

I love that.

Do you feel that you [laughing]

do you feel you learned anything on this?

Too high a bar.

I think I learned about a lot about you.

Yeah, absolutely.

This was all just an elaborate ruse

so we could spend a little time together.

Yeah. And I have a new increased appreciation

for the art of cartooning.

Thank you. That is true, actually.

I do.

Actually me too.

It doesn’t usually feel this hard.

It is complicated.

I’m like, I can’t believe I do this all the time.

[gentle music]

[bouncy music]

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