Joel Kim Booster knows about having “a moment.”
In the past five years, the actor / writer has voiced characters in Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman” and “Big Mouth,” guested on TBS ‘”Search Party” and HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and starred in the short-lived NBC sitcom. “Sunnyside.” But with a Hulu rom-com (“Fire Island”), Netflix standup special (“Psychosexual”) and Apple TV + comedy (“Loot”) all premiering this month, the long-touted “comedian to watch” is finally poised to break out.
“Since 2016, when I ended up on ‘Conan,’ well-meaning people in my life have been like, ‘This is it! You’re about to be huge!’ says Booster, 34. “I’ve been hearing that for years and it hasn’t exactly happened, so my response now is incredibly measured. I’m very grateful that I’m able to support myself doing this, and I’m very pleased that people seem to be liking (these projects). ”
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Co-created by Matt Hubbard and Alan Yang (“Parks and Recreation”), “Loot” (first three episodes streaming Friday; new episodes weekly) stars Maya Rudolph as Molly, an ignorant yet well-meaning billionaire who turns to philanthropy after her husband (Adam Scott) leaves her. Booster plays snooty assistant Nicholas, who tries convincing Molly to give up her noble new venture so they can go back to getting massages and buying castles online.
Nicholas “is like the most negative aspects of my personality blown up tenfold,” Booster says. “It’s so fun to be heightened and just watch people like Maya do their thing. I don’t know that there’s a real villain in the show, but it’s fun to be the devil on her shoulder. I don’t often get to play that part. ”
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For Booster, “Loot” was an opportunity to stretch himself and just be silly after “Fire Island” (now streaming), in which he and “Saturday Night Live” favorite Bowen Yang play two friends attempting to find love while on vacation in New York’s famed gay mecca. Inspired by the tart humor and sweeping romance of Jane Austen novels, the film is also grounded in real-world issues of race, class and toxic body standards.
“Coming to a place like Fire Island can be so freeing, because as gay people, we don’t even realize the weight we carried around navigating heterosexual spaces,” says Booster, who wrote and executive-produced the movie. “But some people feel so free that they get emboldened, like, ‘How do gay men start to oppress each other when there’s no one around to oppress us?’ It really does become a microcosm of that. ”
Conrad Ricamora, who plays Booster’s love interest in the drama, says it was “super inspiring” watching him navigate so many different roles in front of and behind the camera.
“I’ve seen white people in this role over and over again,” Ricamora says. “But I’ve never seen an Asian American – let alone a gay Asian-American man – given so much guidance of a film, and then actually starring in it as well. It was healing to see how empowered we can be.”
That “Fire Island” wrestles so deftly with queer trauma and identity is no surprise to anyone familiar with Booster’s comedy. He was born in South Korea and adopted at a young age by white, evangelical Christian parents. Homeschooled for most of his childhood in Plainfield, Illinois, Booster never thought he was “especially funny” until high school, where he realized that his “very blunt” sense of humor made other students laugh.
It was around that time that Booster was outed by his parents after they read his journal, which contained lists of “guys I’d hooked up with or drugs I’d tried.”
“It was very easy for them to sift through and find all the stuff I didn’t want them knowing,” Booster recalls. “It wasn’t until I discovered playwriting (at Millikin University in Decatur) that I really began to figure out how to process a lot of what happened to me through narrative. And then standup was a huge evolution of that; it was really the start processing my experience and the way I navigated the world. ”
Booster performed standup for the first time while living in Chicago after college, when someone dropped out of his theater company’s variety show at the last minute. He volunteered to fill in by testing out a few jokes, which “created the addiction in me.”
“Psychosexual” (now streaming), Booster’s first hourlong standup special, is chock full of bawdy humor about masturbation, threesomes and taking explicit pictures. But it also grapples with Booster’s struggles to get in touch with his cultural background and the expectations placed on him to be a “role model” as a gay and Asian comedian.
“I always wanted to talk about myself in a way that felt authentic, and early on, I was celebrated for that. That felt revolutionary,” Booster says. “And then suddenly, if (audiences) don’t see themselves reflected in my experience, they get very angry with me because I’m not representing everyone. It feels really frustrating when people feel ownership over you.
“There aren’t a lot of gay comedians. There aren’t a lot of Asian comedians. Scarcity creates resentment, and that’s what I’m trying to address in my special: My job isn’t to represent all of you and make everyone happy. A couple years ago, my inclination was, ‘Oh, what I should be doing is making as many people as possible feel seen.’ You lose sight of yourself and the real reason you’re up there, which is to make people laugh. ”
After his whirlwind of June premieres, Booster plans to relax by taking a brief vacation over the Fourth of July weekend – in Fire Island.
“Depending on how people like or don’t like the movie,” he says, “it’ll be a real fun experience or it will be a nightmare. We’ll see.”