L.A. Comedian Jenny Yang lends support to anti-arena activists
The Swarthmore grad cracked jokes and raised awareness during her recent Underground Arts Show
Los Angeles-based comedian Jenny Yang voiced support for the Save Chinatown Coalition protesting the proposed $1.3 billion 76ers arena during her show at Underground Arts on Aug. 3. Yang, who recently voice-acted in The Great North and will appear opposite Michelle Yeoh in the upcoming Netflix show The Brothers Sun, is a Swarthmore alum who studied urban planning and Chinatowns in graduate school at UCLA.
“Philadelphia Chinatown has been an incredible part of my development as a human. Not just as, like, a cool place to get dim sum,” Yang said in a phone call with The Inquirer. The area and the Asian Arts Initiative in particular were “the source of so much enrichment for me [in college], as a budding political activist, a budding poet.”
Prior to her show, Yang met with Debbie Wei, the longtime activist who founded Asian Americans United, and Jenny Zhang, an organizer with the Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance, from the Save Chinatown Coalition. Yang offered them a table at her Underground Arts show and got to work writing new jokes about the arena project to incorporate into her act.
“Jenny did way more than I imagined she would,” said Wei. “She is extremely smart and 100 percent understands the issues involved with this project.”
During the show, Yang projected a QR code on the screen behind her with a link to the “Save Philadelphia’s Chinatown” petition and encouraged the audience to sign and chat with the organizers in white t-shirts at the table in the back. She said Chinatown needed to be preserved for its cultural heritage and housing affordability for immigrant communities.
“I want to be very clear who I think the villains are. I don’t think the villains are the 76ers. I don’t think the villains are sports fans in Philly,” she told the audience. “What I do not like is the fact that very rich billionaires have decided that they are going to take advantage of the importance and the real estate that Philadelphia Chinatown is on.”
“Don’t f— with Philadelphia Chinatown,” Yang added.
Zhang and Wei said the show was a cathartic morale boost for them and their volunteers, who attended thanks to Yang’s comp tickets. They gained signatures for the petition (Wei says they have about 17,000 total), sold t-shirts, and informed attendees that the arena’s development was not a done deal.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there about what’s going on with the arena, so it was an opportunity for us to get one-on-one conversations with folks in the community,” said Zhang. “I largely talk to Asian communities, so it’s like reaching a different section of the population in Philadelphia, the comedy folks.”
Beyond Underground Arts, Yang made sure to stop by Penang, one of her favorite neighborhood restaurants. On Tuesday, she posted an Instagram video of herself standing in front of the Chinatown arch and wearing the “Save Chinatown, No Arena” t-shirt, with the link to the petition.