October 6, 2022
Stand-up comedian (and accidental inventor of the #dropchallenge) Atsuko Okatsuka joins Jameela this week to discuss growing up with a mother who had an intense and undiagnosed mental illness, her experience as an undocumented immigrant in Los Angeles, reconnecting with her father after being separated for years, having her grandma be her best friend, all the wild things she was taught about sex growing up, and more.
You can find transcripts for this episode here: https://www.earwolf.com/show/i-weigh-with-jameela-jamil/
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131 — Atsuko Okatsuka
Jameela [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to another episode of I Weigh with Jameela Jamil, a podcast gainst shame. I hope you’re well. I am uh I’m still fucking sick. I can’t believe it. I still feel like shit. It’s been weeks. I’m so annoyed, but I’m getting better. And I’m back at work and I have a fresh, brand new hot off the press episode for you with a joy of a human. Her name is Atsuko Okatsuka, and if you aren’t yet familiar with her work, go and find it. She is a huge new rising star in comedy. She’s about to drop her first ever big HBO special this fall, and everyone is talking about her. So I was super lucky to get time with her this week to sit down and talk about her extraordinary life and what a wild journey her and her family have had together. It’s honestly one of the most bonkers stories I’ve ever heard, and she’s incredibly stoic throughout all of it. She’s been through it all. She’s she’s had a mother she was terrified of who had severe mental health issues. She was kind of raised by her grandmother, taken away from her dad without her consent as child, which meant becoming estranged from him during really formative years. She was taken to another country without knowing she was actually moving there, then had to live as an undocumented immigrant in the United States all while dealing with an eating disorder, and then finding herself as a fully grown adult who has arrested development, which I think many of us can relate to, especially if we haven’t had traditional childhoods. And so we took all about that in a very honest, real, unpretentious and shameless way. I love her vulnerability. It’s almost alarming and just so refreshing how honest she is about all of the thoughts that occur in her head. And I think that’s why she’s a really popular comedian right now. I think people feel very safe with her. There’s something very and I mean this in a lovely way, like very vulnerable and childlike about her whilst this woman has also lived about a thousand lives. And so I’d love to hear if you feel seen or heard by this episode, especially if you are an immigrant, someone who has lived with an eating disorder, someone who who has found themselves as an adult thinking, fucking hell, do I really have to be held responsible for everything now? I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. I’m sure many of us feel that way, way more often than we feel allowed to say. And so this episode is for you. So go find her online. Go follow her everywhere you can. Watch her special when it comes out later this year. And please enjoy the excellent Atsuko Okatsuka. Atsuko Welcome to I Weigh. How are you?
Atsuko [00:02:49] I’m good. Thanks for having me, Jameela.
Jameela [00:02:51] Thank you so much for being here. Oh, my God. And you look amazing. I wish everyone could see you right now.
Atsuko [00:02:57] Oh, you know, I’m just, you know, I want to I always try to put makeup on first thing in the morning just so that I can be like, wake up, bitch, wake up. You know?
Jameela [00:03:07] Is it every single morning?
Atsuko [00:03:10] Yeah, I try. I try to so that I feel like I’m going to have to present myself, you know, even if I’m going to see nobody that day.
Jameela [00:03:18] Right. No, you see, I feel like I flip between made up like I am now, between that and then just Saddam Hussein at the very end of his life. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen those pictures of him fresh out of the cave.
Atsuko [00:03:34] That is wild.
Jameela [00:03:35] That is a strong image for me. I’d say I live on a kind of 50, 50 basis. Anyone who follows me on Instagram kind of sees both. Sorry to them.
Atsuko [00:03:45] Yeah. Yeah. Well, you know, I’m starting to realize, you know, he had a very at least he went natural. Right. You know.
Jameela [00:03:52] Yeah. Yeah. None of this threading or Botox.
Atsuko [00:03:57] Oh, how lucky. How lucky he is. He had no pressures of society to put on the makeup and, you know, to use the great hair products. You know what I mean?
Jameela [00:04:08] Yeah. Anyway, before we both have any of his supporters coming after us.
Atsuko [00:04:13] Oh, yeah, right. Of course. Sorry.
Jameela [00:04:15] I want to start with the light and breezy question. I start many of these episodes with, which is, how’s your mental health been your whole life?
Atsuko [00:04:23] My whole life. My whole life. You know clearly.
Jameela [00:04:26] You can start with right now. How are you feeling at the moment?
Atsuko [00:04:30] At the moment, you know, I always think that, like, I’m doing pretty good, you know. But then, you know, in moments of silence and moments of when I watch a movie, sometimes I’m like, I don’t think I’m supposed to be crying this much, you know? And and I go, Oh, maybe I am unwell. You know what I mean? Come on, this is Jurassic World Dominion am I supposed to be weeping my eyes out the whole time, you know what I mean? And, oh, you know, I don’t currently have a therapist.
Jameela [00:05:02] Right.
Atsuko [00:05:02] You know, which means I’m raw dogging it. I’m just raw dogging it out and about in the world. This is my authentic self. Good luck.
Jameela [00:05:10] And why is that? Is that a deliberate choice to see what’s going to happen?
Atsuko [00:05:14] I think it is because I’m optimistic and I think that I am doing okay, you know, but I’m such a workaholic that I think I don’t check in with myself. And so it is those moments where, you know, I’m on an airplane and I’m watching Jurassic World Dominion, for example. That’s when I realize. And I’m trapped and I literally have nowhere to go. I’m in the air, you know, that’s that’s when I’m reminded, okay, maybe maybe you’ve been sort of pushing down your actual feelings because you just keep working and working and having this positive attitude. And so so whatever you want to call that, how am I doing mentally? I would say some would say that’s unwell.
Jameela [00:05:56] Okay. Okay. Do you think having said all that, now you will go and find a therapist?
Atsuko [00:06:03] I think I will. And I maybe the holidays are a good time to sort of invest in something like that, you know?
Jameela [00:06:12] Well, it’s family time, isn’t it? Especially. And so it’s a time where as workaholics can’t get away from that. And I know that family has been a really you’ve had a fascinating life and a huge journey with your family and especially your mother and also your grandmother in many ways, and also your dad actually now, come to think of it. But it’s been such a key part of, I guess, your journey with your mental health, not meaning to speak for you, but but would it be fair for me to say such a thing.
Atsuko [00:06:43] That’s 100% correct. Yeah. Yeah. And thanks for being my therapist today.
Jameela [00:06:47] Yeah.
Atsuko [00:06:47] And bringing up the things that I think a therapist would in our first session.
Jameela [00:06:51] Yeah, I’d like to bring it all up to the surface and then say goodbye to you and leave you with that.
Atsuko [00:06:57] In an hour.
Jameela [00:06:57] Yeah, yeah, of course. Of course. But I would love to talk to you a little bit about your relationship with your family, your history with your family, and how those things that happened when you were young have kind of left an impression on you now.
Atsuko [00:07:11] Yeah, for sure. Yeah. And so, you know, I live in Los Angeles, but my move to the States, you know, was based on a lie, right, by my grandma. My grandma told me we were coming here for a two month vacation and then so I pack lightly. I was also ten years old, so, you know, like a check in bag was enough.
Jameela [00:07:33] And you had a whole life, you had friends, you had a little community. Your dad was still there.
Atsuko [00:07:39] For sure. Yeah, 100%. All of that was there. And I was coming back to it in two months, I thought. And then two months turned into three months and three months turned into four months. I was enrolled in school. Suddenly it wasn’t a summer vacation anymore. And then. Yeah, and then my father and I lost touch. I was still writing him. I don’t know what it was. I think I was in denial. I knew that we were staying in the States because, you know, I can count. I was ten, but I could count it when it’s been three months, you know, when we’ve overstayed the promised time. And but I was in denial and I was afraid of what the truth was going to be. And the truth was that my grandma had moved us to the States, you know, but without getting we overstayed our tourist visas. So we didn’t have the paperwork to be here. So we were suddenly undocumented and we were living in my uncle’s garage, you know, to sort of not be in the public eye as much. And yeah, so, so that was a tough time for me.
Jameela [00:08:46] But it was a tough time that occurred because a tough time was happening back at home. Right. Your mother, a schizophrenic and she wasn’t diagnosed for a long time. She went kind of untreated for schizophrenia. So that’s probably why your grandmother decided to. I still don’t think that the way that you were told was fair. But your grandmother, uh, it sounds like, wanted to get your mother out of there to try to kind of save her life. And. And I love the fact that it was partly your mother’s, like, belief of what America’s represented as, especially in Hollywood and in movies. It’s like this kind of land where everything good can happen.
Atsuko [00:09:28] Oh, for sure. Yeah. It worked out for the Full House family for the Turners.
Jameela [00:09:32] Exactly.
Atsuko [00:09:33] And that’s what we were watching. So.
Jameela [00:09:35] Right, exactly. And so that’s that’s something you’ve been living with. So, I mean, had that impacted you at that point that by the age of ten, like your mother’s mental health problems, schizophrenia? I you know, I have had a lot of members of my family who have schizophrenia. It’s a really, really tricky thing to live with, especially when you were a child, still piecing together the information as to what that actually is and learning how to not take someone else’s behavior personally because you’re just a kid.
Atsuko [00:10:03] Right. Right. I was scared of my mom. Yeah. And so I sort of lived in this I lived in this sort of constant fear of my mom. My grandma was sort of my caretaker. I saw her as more of the mom. And, you know, I was trying to live day to day, honestly, because there was still regular ten year old stuff that I was dealing with, like making friends, dealing with my crushes at school. Homework was way too easy just because I had moved from the from Japan. So at first homework was way too easy.
Jameela [00:10:33] It’s something only Asians it’s the only thing we understand.
Atsuko [00:10:41] At that time. Don’t don’t get me wrong.
Jameela [00:10:43] No, no, no, no. I know it catches up.
Atsuko [00:10:45] Oh, in high school, I was failing. I was. But you know, all of that stuff, I think I was sort of pushing it down initially and it didn’t really affect me til you know my mother. Yeah. So my mother, you know, gets seizures like 3 to 4 times a week as well. That’s I think it’s a separate thing from the schizophrenia because she’s had epilepsy since she was like 14. And so I was seeing her suffer constantly and fighting the voices in her head. And, you know, when she would throw temper tantrums from the paranoia, it got really intense you through plates and stuff. And I was I just grew up being scared of her and not trusting her. And so but I just kept trying to, like, do homework and try to make friends. And my grandma enrolled me in extracurricular activities. And, you know, it wasn’t till middle school that I think it really started affecting me, and I. It was in the form of an eating disorder.
Jameela [00:11:47] Mm hmm. We’re very similar people. Yeah.
Atsuko [00:11:50] I mean, you know, I always tell people, me and her, we’re twins.
Jameela [00:11:54] We have the fringes and.
Atsuko [00:11:58] The same career.
Jameela [00:12:00] Exactly. But but I. But I do think that, uh, I do think it’s really interesting how we push the pain down sometimes into our bodies and kind of take it out on our bodies. And I was I was also in high school. Well, not not high school. I mean, I guess secondary school where I’m from, I was about 11 or 12 and my eating sort of started and it was very much so something where I wanted to be in control of something and and the eating sort of made me feel in control. But also I wanted to be thin enough for my just to impress my family and make my, thinness was something that my family really valued all the time and society valued like my confidence was low because I hadn’t been built up properly by my family because they were just dealing with their own mental health issues. And so it just leaves all these kind of gaps in you that I imagine you’ve spent a large amount of time trying to fill by yourself.
Atsuko [00:12:55] For sure. Yeah. And it sounds like you reached it earlier than me. And that’s another thing I think, that affected me sort of mentally, emotionally. I had mentioned to you that, you know, I feel I’m very stunted as an adult.
Jameela [00:13:10] Mm hmm. Yeah. It’s a weird one where I feel as though there’s one big difference in how we experience the mental health problems of our family members in that. And it’s impacted us both very differently as we’ve gotten older as well, which is that at the age of about between seven and nine, I became a carer to all those family members because nobody could keep their shit together. It was just chaos in the household and you had and that was very unhelpful to me because I became like a 40 year old by the time I was ten, you know, like I knew things, I knew practicalities that I shouldn’t have had to understand at such an age. But at the same time, you were so sheltered by your grandmother. Is that correct? Like your grandmother took like on the bulk of your your mother’s mental health. And so so when you talk about being stunted like a kind of arrested development, you’re referring to your grandmother kind of sheltering you from everything, which then meant that you developed later.
Atsuko [00:14:11] Yeah, I feel like my self awareness came way later, you know, and the ability to even, you know, if you don’t have self awareness, you have a hard time doing things like making friends, you know. For the longest time, my grandma was like my best friend, my only best friend, my only friend, which sounds quirky now, you know? And she is still my best friend. But at that time it’s like, Oh, girl, go and make some actual friends your age, okay? You know, because having a having someone 50 years older than you be your best friend is not sustainable.
Jameela [00:14:47] Mm hmm.
Atsuko [00:14:47] You know, they got other things to do. They got life to live. And, you know, they can’t do everything with you. They can’t go rollerblading with you. They have bad knees. And, yeah, but because my grandma, you know, from the lies to trying to protect me from, you know, telling me the truth about. Hey, we’re undocumented now, or, hey, your mom has a mental illness, stuff like that. She sheltered me. So, yeah, it makes sense that, you know, it just took me longer for these traumas to hit.
Jameela [00:15:20] It’s an interesting one, isn’t it? I talk a lot about this when I talk about parenting that we have to not consider ignorance and innocence mutually exclusive. Sometimes, sometimes sheltering someone too much can actually leave them more vulnerable later. You know, so when it comes to the conversations around sex or consent or any of these things, you can just find a way to communicate to a child in a way I mean, God, I’m not saying this like I’m not critiquing your grandmother in any way. She comes from a completely different generation and they had no access to the Internet or parenting. But all these different things that we’ve all been able to learn from the mistakes of our predecessors. It’s like she is she’s two generations, three generations back. So but I do think that it is something valuable for us to learn now for anyone out there who’s got kids, who feels as though they want to hide them from all of the evils in the world or all of the sad and painful things happening in the household. Don’t do that. Find sugarcoated ways to explain to kids what’s going on. Because I think the biggest trauma happens from surprise and surprise happens when we have absolutely no idea what’s coming.
Atsuko [00:16:30] I 100% agree. Oh, yeah. My my grandma told me. And it’s a generational thing, too. You know so I joked that, you know, someone 50 years older than me taught me how to socialize. So when I would try to make friends as a kid, I was always like telling war stories and stuff, you know.
Jameela [00:16:48] Inviting them for knitting.
Atsuko [00:16:50] Oh, yeah. I was trying to trade food recipes, you know, it turns out fifth graders didn’t really care about the fermenting process, okay. Or, you know, and so there was already a big enough gap. And then she barely knew what how sex worked, too. I feel like because in her generation, I feel like she had sex like three times and that was it got knocked up all three times. Those are my kids. She told me that boys get their periods, too. She did. Jameela, look at me.
Jameela [00:17:27] Shut up!
Atsuko [00:17:27] No, and she told me it’s just there’s is white. Oh, I know, I know. Sorry, TMI. TMI. Should have came with a warning. But she told me that. So imagine my shock. Imagine my shock when I had sex for the first time. And the guy finished, I was like, Oh, my God.
Jameela [00:17:44] And came his period.
Atsuko [00:17:46] Yeah I was like I just made you start your period, you know, I was like, congratulations, you’re a woman now, you know, the things I was told. So, yeah. Surprises, like you said, surprises are even worse because then you, you know, the trauma is hit hard.
Jameela [00:18:03] We’ve got no tools, right? You have no tools then, because you’re in shock from what’s happened. You haven’t really heard enough about it. You don’t know what to do. Like, you’ve got to give kids the tools to. To go through life and have any idea of what, because it’s they’re not always going to turn to you immediately. It would be ideal if they did, but they’re not always going to turn to you immediately. And so it’s vital that you give them something to start off with themselves. Can you talk to me about the ways more specifically in which you feel stunted?
Atsuko [00:18:43] Yeah. So basic questions from little things like I just learned how to clean the lint tray out of the dryer for the first time because my grandma wouldn’t have me do chores. In fact, my mom would stop her from teaching me chores because my mom also, you know, didn’t want me to grow up too fast. They were both trying to, in their weird ways, protect me from, you know, the truths of the world because the truths hurt. You know, maybe if she doesn’t grow up, she always be this innocent, happy kid or something like that, you know? So I never learned chores and, you know, two to basic things like now that I’m an adult. Right. How do you make friends? How do you make friends as an adult? Do you just go up to people and go, hello, what’s your favorite color? Like I used to as a kid, you know, I feel like it was easier as a kid because we all had school, we had classes, we had to do projects together. So at least you would socialize. But as adults, everyone pretty much already has their friends, you know? Right. They’re like, These are my group of friends. We’ve been friends since, I don’t know, 14, 19, whatever. And we just knew that we wouldn’t change too much. Also, how do you know that? I’m sorry. I’m asking so many questions, but.
Jameela [00:20:02] No it’s fine.
Atsuko [00:20:03] How do you know at a young age. Like, I don’t know, 16 that this is you and your friend is that personality and you all mesh. And no matter how much you change, it won’t be such drastic changes that you’ll continue being friends at 35. You know what I mean?
Jameela [00:20:21] Do you have many friends from back then?
Atsuko [00:20:23] I don’t. A lot of my friends now are from the comedy community, from doing standup comedy, from being on the same lineups, because you need a common enemy and the common enemy is maybe having to perform and put your, you know, heart out there for the for everybody. Right. So you have this common struggle that you can relate to and, you know, or else just being out and about at a bar, I don’t really know how to make a new friend or do I not need to.
Jameela [00:20:55] I mean I don’t think bars are meant for talking about anything or engaging with people in any way. I think it’s for us to look at each other and find each other sexy and then go home and talk there or not talk there. I like I they’re so fucking like I hate bars. They’re so fucking loud. They’re loud and they’re smelly and the lights are very strange. So I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t look to meet your friends at a bar. I like the fact that you’re making friends at work. I think that’s the only way I make friends. But generally, you know, I, I for different reasons because, you know, I, I was like this sort of middle aged old man living in a 11 year old’s body. I couldn’t relate at all to any of the kids around me. And, you know, I’m socially I’ve always been socially odd as well, very stare-y. I’ve been working on my stariness. I don’t stare at people when they’re looking at me. In fact, I don’t I avert eye contact when people are looking at me, but when they’re not looking at me. I used to stare at them all the time because I was just kind of studying people to understand them. So I got, yeah, I, I.
Atsuko [00:21:58] Because you’re an old man sitting on a bench.
Jameela [00:22:00] Little old little old guy, you know. And so I didn’t have a lot of friends and, and for most of my youth. And then at 19, I kind of met this core group of boys, and I’m 36 now and they all still live in my house and we all live in a house together because I once I got to L.A., I had the same thing. And I think a lot of adults have this and a lot of us considering the statistics on loneliness in the world, especially in the United States, in the United Kingdom, places that seem so social and happy in the media, loneliness is at like 70% or more, especially after the pandemic. And, we don’t know how to say, I don’t know how to make friends, but I think a lot of people feel that way.
Atsuko [00:22:42] Yeah, that’s why I don’t. There’s all these dating shows, right, about finding your love. Finding your partner. Romantic partner? No. Give me a reality show where you teach me how to make friends.
Jameela [00:22:54] Oh, my God. Should we make that show together?
Atsuko [00:22:57] Isn’t it brilliant?
Jameela [00:23:00] Just two weirdos. Two weirdos. Helping other weirdos find their weirdos.
Atsuko [00:23:05] Yeah, like we only. Yeah, there’s. You’re the weirdo that you made your friends from when you were 19 move in with you.
Jameela [00:23:12] Yeah exactly.
Atsuko [00:23:14] And you still live with them.
Jameela [00:23:14] I made them move to the other side of the world to be with me because I knew I wouldn’t be able to hack it on my own in America.
Atsuko [00:23:20] Exactly. And I think there’s other people like us out there that are like, oh, sure. Okay, The Bachelor Love is blind. Oh, great, great, great. People are finding their loves. But like, how about that? How about a friend?
Jameela [00:23:35] Yeah, because also friendships are some of the great loves of my life. You know, that’s where I get so much of so much of my emotional nutrients from our friends. And so it’s a vital thing like this. This idea of spousal living being the only kind of true love is fucking ridiculous.
Atsuko [00:23:52] I agree. And you need friends first to be able to start dating. Who are you going to call when someone breaks your heart or someone is lame or someone stood you up?
Jameela [00:24:02] So. So. Okay. So are you looking for more friends now?
Atsuko [00:24:08] Oh. Is this a game show?
Jameela [00:24:09] No, no, no.
Atsuko [00:24:11] Are you going to put a call out?
Jameela [00:24:13] Yeah I have three contestants here. Oh, no. I was just I was just wondering, like, do you feel a sense of loneliness now? Do you feel as though you would you wish you had more friends in your life, or do you feel sated with your comedy community?
Atsuko [00:24:26] I feel I feel pretty fulfilled now. And, you know, I was partly joking about finding friends, but also serious, because if I wanted to, you know, I was just so I’m just so curious. And I want to find my mom friends and I want to help her do that, you know, so things like that, because my mom truly does not have any friends. Her only people are me, my grandma and my husband, you know. And when me and my husband, when I’m touring and my husband tours with me, he sort of produces a lot of my shows, you know, and my grandma is busy, you know, my mom has nobody. And so, you know, asking these things for a friend.
Jameela [00:25:12] Yeah, for everyone and for all of the people who feel too scared to ask that question. But I cannot stress enough that if you are someone who is listening to this, who feels that way, you’re so, so not alone. It is tricky. It’s not impossible. The only advice I have, I think kind of similarly to yours, is just to to go where you love and find the other people who love that place and then try to connect with them over that.
Atsuko [00:25:38] Right. Right. Even if it is at a noisy bar, like like.
Jameela [00:25:42] Yeah, whatever, whatever. Yeah. I’m not going to yuk your yum. Whatever that is. Whatever you love, go there. And I think you will.
Atsuko [00:25:50] You won’t see Jameela at that bar.
Jameela [00:25:51] You will not. And honestly, seeing me out in the world is like a rare sighting of bigfoot. I do not like to go outside. Oh, yeah, I’m. I’m a house cat.
Atsuko [00:26:03] It’s so interesting. In their whole conversation, you have you have compared yourself to two beings. One was Bigfoot, and the other was Sadam Hussein before his being caught.
Jameela [00:26:13] Well, I have a very high opinion of myself, so learn something from it. You know, you talk about the fact that your your mother is kind of on her own and a little bit in a state of dependency. And your grandmother is is with us now, not in literally right now, right here, but your grandmother is around and doing her own thing and living her life. But when we were talking on the phone, you mentioned the fact that, you know, there will be a day that comes where maybe your grandmother can’t look after your mother so much anymore and you will be the person that takes over. And you sometimes feel complex feelings around that. There’s a lot of guilt.
Atsuko [00:26:57] Yeah, for sure. There’s guilt now because I’m not the main caretaker. But, you know, I have to also think longevity. There’s a lot of gratefulness, too, because of the sacrifices my grandma was making, you know, with still caring for her daughter after my gosh, my grandma’s 87. She’s still caring for her daughter. You know, maybe she had dreams of retiring and things like this, but she still cares for her daughter. And so that’s where the gratefulness, but also the guilt comes because I get to frickin be a standup comedian as my career. I get to just tell jokes, I get to tour, I get to see the world, you know, while my grandma and my mom are sort of stuck together like Gray Gardens, the documentary, you know, and. And that’s why maybe that’s why I’m I’m a workaholic, too, because I want to like I need to make that money so that I can get that guest house for my mom to live in, you know, so that we can have a caretaker that we can pay for if we need to be on tour, you know, things like this, right? You know, I I’m the lucky one. But, you know, they came here hoping that I would do something like this so that I wouldn’t have to suffer like they did, you know? And so I’m torn because I am getting do not suffer like they did, you know.
Jameela [00:28:24] Is like is pretty phenomenal that I mean, a lot of people come here in pursuit of the American dream and never quite find the exact form of the American dream that people get sold. But you actually came here undocumented and then became famous. Now you’re on the TV. This is you recognize how wild that is, right?
Atsuko [00:28:50] It is wild.
Jameela [00:28:51] The countless stories of people who make that journey here and go through all of that, who’s kid or grandchild doesn’t end up actually smashing the exact, quote unquote American dream is fucking bonkers.
Atsuko [00:29:05] Yeah. No. And I keep I always think about it. I’m like, one of the lucky ones.
Jameela [00:29:10] You must feel so smug. Your grandmother must feel so fucking smug. The epitome of I knew it.
Atsuko [00:29:17] I hope so. You know what? I hope so. Because she doesn’t quite understand how the industry works and how it translates, you know, or what money is or in the industry. And you know what I mean? What being known is all she knows is I mean, it is wild, this 87 year old woman, you know, who is also undocumented, too, and her her husband was murdered in Taiwan and has been caring for her daughter with schizophrenia and epilepsy since she was born. My grandma has gone through all that and my grandma is because of me she has, you know, people people recognize her in the streets, too, now. And she has 17,000 followers on Twitter, which isn’t bad for a grandma who’s just trying to be a grandma.
Jameela [00:30:04] I know. I mean, this is down to partially the drop challenge, right? Like you were the starter of the drop challenge to Beyonce’s B?
Atsuko [00:30:12] That’s right. Yeah. We both accidentally started the drop challenge.
Jameela [00:30:15] When she drops it low. Yeah.
Atsuko [00:30:17] Accidentally. But even before that, you know, because she would make appearances on my social media. It’s just funny. It’s like she’s like, I don’t have a need for Twitter. I come on here maybe once a month just to tell everyone I love them and boom, every time she tells everyone she loves them. 17,000 likes, you know? And it’s like it is wild. It is wild. You know, she I don’t know if she’s smug, but if she knew what it really meant, you know, and really thought about all the things she went through, maybe she would be, you know, impressed.
Jameela [00:30:49] I hope she is. I’m wishing for smugness. I think very few people deserve it, but I think she would. What an amazing woman. And what a huge what a huge undertaking of on your own raising a child and then a grandchild at the same time. Because I know that, you know, you say that she pretty much raised you. So you’re extremely close. Can I ask what your relationship with your mother is right now?
Atsuko [00:31:14] Yeah, well, my mother so I used to be scared of her, like I said. And then, you know, as a teenager, I went through that phase where I ran away. I found a boyfriend. I moved in with him.
Jameela [00:31:27] What do you mean is that you literally ran out, ran away, like, and you left your home without your parents knowing and, you know.
Atsuko [00:31:34] No not run away. But, like, I got out of there as fast.
Jameela [00:31:39] Mm hmm.
Atsuko [00:31:40] You know, by going, I have a boyfriend now, I won’t be a burden here anymore. Goodbye. You have more space in the garage now. There’s one less person. By the way, a garage is a lot. Is not enough space to hold bulimia and schizophrenia.
Jameela [00:31:58] No, exactly.
Atsuko [00:31:59] And three generations of women. Not enough space. Not at all. So I you know, I was like, I think I’m doing us a favor. I’m leaving. You know, I’m 17 now and there’s a boyfriend that is going to let me move in with him and his dad. So I went and did that. Gosh. Sorry. I’m trying to get back to the question, but it kind of it kind of left my brain.
Jameela [00:32:22] I was asking you how your relationship is with your mother now.
Atsuko [00:32:24] That’s right. And so during that time, I thank you. Thank you.
Jameela [00:32:29] That’s alright. I’m just digging through all of your wounds. That’s fine. Thrilled to know that you have no emotional support on the other side of that from a therapist.
Atsuko [00:32:38] No I feel like do you take Venmo?
Jameela [00:32:40] Yeah yeah.
Atsuko [00:32:41] Oh, good. Good. Once the hour’s up I’ll Venmo you. But so. So during that time, and I was gone for, gosh, maybe seven years, I didn’t see my mom as much. But then when I would, I started feeling more sorry for her and wanting to show up for her more. And, you know, when it when I went when I no longer lived in Santa Clarita and I say I moved away, but it was literally from Los Angeles to Santa Clarita, which is a 30 minute drive. But it was far enough for me, you know, where I didn’t have to live in that darkness, you know, in that garage. Now, our relationship is stronger and closer than ever because I. I had that time off to sort of be and get in toxic relationships, even though they were romantic. And, you know, I was getting laid, which I thought was cool. And, you know, I needed that time to grow away from my mom and grandma by myself and realized, oh, my gosh, you know, don’t be scared of your mom. She’s going through a lot. Be there for her even more, you know? And so. So, yeah, we even have times where we have fun together now.
Jameela [00:34:00] That’s great. Did you ever feel. Do you ever have feelings of anger that you needed to overcome or resentment or any of those things that I think a lot of people feel because they’re too young to understand that someone can’t help it.
Atsuko [00:34:13] Yeah. There’s sometimes a little bit of resentment with my grandma, you know, only because I wish she would have taught me the chores and taught me things like, I don’t know, don’t go to bed. I didn’t know this until, like a month ago, you’re not supposed to go to bed when you’re. When you’re so tired you can get up anymore. You’re supposed to prep yourself for bed and then slowly go to sleep. Did you know this?
Jameela [00:34:43] No I feel like not everyone’s grandmothers teach them that.
Atsuko [00:34:47] Okay. I just didn’t know that I you know, where it’s like I would have I would be dragging my feet. It’s so hard to even get that toothbrush in my mouth. I’m about to fall over like that tired to go to bed. I didn’t know it’s this thing where it’s like, okay, y’all, we’re going to bed now.
Jameela [00:35:04] So. So because your grandmother was shielding you from your mother, there were no feelings of really resentment for. For the fear that you felt and everything. That’s amazing.
Atsuko [00:35:13] Yeah, I didn’t feel resentment towards my mom. Just grandma, that maybe, you know, she didn’t make me a more useful person.
Jameela [00:35:21] But in about ten, 20 years time, those tips she gave you about being friends, about how to make friends are going to come in real fucking handy. Those recipes, the knitting groups, all of that shit. She was going to be very deeply handy.
Atsuko [00:35:37] Stories about the war.
Jameela [00:35:37] Stories about the war like you’re going to be the most popular,.
Atsuko [00:35:42] Popular grandma.
Jameela [00:35:43] Yeah.
Atsuko [00:35:44] No, because by then that fellow grandmas will be like wanting to talk about their favorite tiktoks.
Jameela [00:35:54] Oh, God, it’s so, so weird. I’d love to talk about your dad a little bit because, you know, you feel as though your mother’s mental health was partly why it was hard for them to stay together.
Atsuko [00:36:15] Mm hmm. Oh, yeah. I think that’s a big part of it.
Jameela [00:36:18] Right.
Atsuko [00:36:19] Yeah.
Jameela [00:36:20] They fell in love on a game show, which I think is one of the most unusual meet cutes I’ve ever heard.
Atsuko [00:36:27] All of it is not usual.
Jameela [00:36:30] Yeah.
Atsuko [00:36:31] And there’s some resentment there, too, where it’s like, gosh, my life just started as a joke didn’t it? You know, but my grandma didn’t feel like, you know, you know, in some cultures and it’s a generational thing too where, you know, a woman turns, a woman turns 30 and it’s like, what’s wrong with her? Why is she single? Right. So that’s what happened to my mom. She was in his in her thirties. And it was like, wow. Well, she doesn’t she’s she’s never even had a romantic partner. You know, we have to go to another country to find her someone. So my grandma answered an ad in the newspaper, went from Taiwan to Japan, brought my mom.
Jameela [00:37:12] She loves flipping countries, doesn’t she? She loves just to up and go.
Atsuko [00:37:16] Yeah, she’s just like Carmen San Diego. It’s like, oh, okay. You got you rich now. Just suddenly buying plane tickets for better opportunities sometimes that’s how much people don’t want to go to go see like a therapist, you know, they go, it’s not me, it’s the environment. So I’m going to move.
Jameela [00:37:39] Yeah.
Atsuko [00:37:40] If I pick up and leave this whole country, things will get better.
Jameela [00:37:43] So she met your dad? They had you? They broke up after not. Not very long. And then you were taken on a two month holiday that turned out to be the rest of your life. To the other side of the world.
Atsuko [00:37:57] Mm hmm.
Jameela [00:37:58] And you didn’t get to see your dad for a really long time, because when you’re undocumented, which you were for seven years, right?
Atsuko [00:38:04] Mm hmm.
Jameela [00:38:05] It means that you can’t leave the country. Otherwise they’ll catch you on your way in or out.
Atsuko [00:38:09] Right. Yeah.
Jameela [00:38:11] My God. And so over time, you’ve kind of rebuilt that relationship, right, with your father because so much must have been forgotten.
Atsuko [00:38:21] Yes, for sure. And he missed out on so much, you know, which I felt. And there’s guilt there, too, on my part. I feel so bad. I’m most nights I go to bed going, Gosh, I tried to call my dad really quick or I wish I could call my mom one more time just to let them know everything’s okay because they feel guilt too. You know, my dad also feels guilt that he didn’t maybe try to stop all that from happening, you know?
Jameela [00:38:50] Did he know that you were leaving forever?
Atsuko [00:38:53] I don’t quite know. I feel like he may be did, but I think we were all kind of in denial. My family doesn’t talk about things. They’re not good about talking about things. They’d rather just surprise each other with secrets. You know, I. Yeah. They would love a surprise party, but. No, they. Yeah, it’s weird. They’d rather just not talk about it. So I don’t quite know if my dad ever knew that it was going to be permanent. The thing is, if you’re not really studying immigration law, do you really know all that stuff that that, you know, if you overstay your tourist visa in the states, you can’t leave again. You know what I mean? Surely he thought I could still visit Japan once in a while, but I couldn’t. You know, it was a shock to me. So, you know, there’s a lot of like weird holes there where I don’t know what the actual truth was. And I’m scared to talk about it with my dad because that was such a heartbreaking time for us. And so we lost touch. We didn’t talk for a long time. And then he was like, I’m going to come visit Los Angeles. Why not? You are like 15 now, you know? And so he came and it was awkward because suddenly we were strangers. And yeah, but because of that, you know, I feel closest to my dad. I think out of the three, he knows my true, authentic self. I feel like the most.
Jameela [00:40:21] Because you don’t have to protect him from anything.
Atsuko [00:40:24] I think so. And I know I will maybe not see him again for a few years every time I see him. So he knows like my how how I drink and stuff like that that I won’t do in front of my grandma.
Jameela [00:40:37] Right. Okay. Fair enough. I mean, maybe your grandma likes a drink.
Atsuko [00:40:42] Yeah, I. I’ve offered it to her. She. She calls it too spicy. Whatever that means. I think it’s just that burning sensation of vodka.
Jameela [00:40:52] Yeah, I imagine it’s not like a not amazing on the gut of an 87 year old, to be fair. So you’ve rebuilt your relationship with your dad. You are rebuilding your relationship with your mother, who at some point you will have to have a very intensely one on one relationship with. You’re very close to your grandmother. Do you think you’re going to extend your family?
Atsuko [00:41:14] Oh, no, no. All the things we talked about, Jameela, do you think any of that should ever be repeated ever again? No way. It ends here.
Jameela [00:41:22] Listen, it’s not for me to say. But I did wonder. I was like, I can’t wait to find out your your stance on children.
Atsuko [00:41:31] Can you imagine. Oh, my gosh, no. Let me figure out how to make an adult friend that’s not from my workplace first.
Jameela [00:41:36] Right, right, right. Yeah.
Atsuko [00:41:37] Let me figure out, you know, gosh, how do you know let me figure.
Jameela [00:41:44] I mean I can see your house like from, you know, here, like the mirror or something I think is showing off the rest of it looks very tidy. You look like you have your shit together.
Atsuko [00:41:53] Thank you.
Jameela [00:41:54] Also your your hair is cut to. To literal perfection. So I look at you, and I don’t see someone stunted, just for whatever it’s worth.
Atsuko [00:42:03] Thank you so much. Well, the tidiness. I have this thing called a husband. I have my husband who is very. This is the fun fact. My husband’s mom actually also has schizophrenia, which is it was just like a freak thing. It wasn’t like we try to look for that. We weren’t.
Jameela [00:42:21] Yeah there isn’t a special app for.
Atsuko [00:42:23] Your mom too.com yeah. But he, he’s just, you know, he wasn’t sheltered, so he had to do chores and stuff like that. And so he, he’s an adult with tidiness and cleanliness and things like that. So he keeps the house, this nice.
Jameela [00:42:40] God you hit the fucking jackpot didn’t you?
Atsuko [00:42:43] It’s just, I think a normal person. I just just I’m just behind.
Jameela [00:42:47] Right.
Atsuko [00:42:49] I hit the jackpot. It was just everyone else was raised, right? That’s all. It could have been, you know. Yeah, you would know by like you if I moved in with you and be like, oh place is tidy. And you know, you would have to tell me once in a while Atsuko mop, do you know what that is?
Jameela [00:43:10] And so is your grandmother and you’re like, your family is okay with the fact that you’re not going to have children.
Atsuko [00:43:17] Oh, yeah, yeah. My grandma. My grandma.
Jameela [00:43:20] Well, she’s probably fucking terrified she’ll have to raise them as well.
Atsuko [00:43:22] That’s what I’m saying. Exactly. Can you imagine us having a kid and yeah, we drop off the baby at her doorstep. She’s like, Oh, third one, third time. Third time’s a charm, Grandma. No, she’s so stoked. She knows what would happen. She knows we to drop the kid off and then be like, we’re moving to Santa Clarita. Like, you know, like I did when I was younger.
Jameela [00:43:45] Also, I guess looking after a parent at that stage of life sometimes can feel like you have your own kid. And so. You’ll be looking after your grandmother and mother at some point in your life, and then you’ll still have your whole big American dream career to kind of look after. I personally am also, you know, not going to have children just because I think the bloodline needs to end here and now.
Atsuko [00:44:05] Yeah. Woo. Yes, I support.
Jameela [00:44:07] You know what I mean?
Atsuko [00:44:09] I support this thinking process. It’s I mean, we are twins. I mean, I don’t. And, you know, we’ve seen the world lately. You know, I just and you’re right about the caretaking of my mom and grandma. You know, I’m I am helping out, and I think.
Jameela [00:44:23] Yeah your plate’s going to be full.
Atsuko [00:44:24] I get them diapers. You know, we had to get my grandma a new phone recently that took 5 hours, you know, just figuring out her passwords and what what could they possibly be? You know, it’s things like that that we we’re already having to do that you would do for a teenager, for example, when you buy them a cell phone for the first time or, you know, things like this that, yeah, we really have to be there for doctor’s appointments, you know?
Jameela [00:44:49] Can I ask how your family feels about you being so open about them publicly?
Atsuko [00:44:54] Mm. Yeah, well, you know, they.
Jameela [00:44:57] Do they know?
Atsuko [00:44:58] Huh? Do they know?
Jameela [00:44:59] Do they know yeah?
Atsuko [00:45:00] They know. Yeah. I mean, they’ve, they’ve come to my comedy shows. I mean, they don’t understand everything I’m saying, but they, I go live, you know, I go live on Instagram. And my grandma has seen that. My grandma has joined the lives, too. And she sees the real time comments. She hears the things I’m talking about, the questions that people ask and I talk about it. I even translate it to my grandma. Grandma, they want to know when your husband died or whatever. And she’ll say it. And so she she knows that part of comedy, especially with the type of standup I do, you know, is being an open book. And so she’s like as long as, you know. You get me that flight to New York? Those vacations keep coming because of your job. You know.
Jameela [00:45:47] What a gangster. I fucking love the sound of your grandmother.
Atsuko [00:45:52] She likes that tangible evidence. That’s why she’s not stoked about Twitter because she’s like, Sure, sure. I have 17,000 followers. Do they pay? You’re like you’re right, it doesn’t pay. They don’t pay. They just follow you for free.
Jameela [00:46:04] She’s become a full Westerner. She’s a Westerner. It’s happened. Shit has gone down and it’s happened.
Atsuko [00:46:10] Bitch needs her diapers.
Jameela [00:46:12] Can I ask? Not. Not any kind of. I don’t mean to be prying, but have you ever had therapy? Just. Just after hearing about all of this? Did you have did you ever try therapy?
Atsuko [00:46:23] I had a therapist when I had an eating disorder, but it was like a religious one because my uncle signed me up for it. So it was a lot of like. Okay. So you’re storing up. Okay. Let’s turn to Joe the 13 five. You know, it was like it was like relying on the Bible for, you know, eating disorder. And what I really needed was like, I think cognitive behavioral therapy, you know, where we talk about the feelings and, you know, the struggles and and then maybe a routine to help me get out of it. Right. So that didn’t quite work. But yeah. Where, you know, it was like Bible Bible verses.
Jameela [00:47:07] Yeah, that’s fucking ridiculous. Did you manage to to beat the eating disorder or is that something that you still carry? You didn’t have very effective therapy for it.
Atsuko [00:47:17] Yeah, I found routine in cheerleading. The cheerleading squad in my high school let me in, and suddenly it was like. It’s kind of like the military, you know, suddenly every day, 8-3 p.m., you’re in school from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.. We practice, right, eat something and we all eat together at 7 p.m., you know, and then get home and do your homework. You better have good grades or else you can’t stay on the squad. So it was this thing where, you know, I had something, a community to live for and and fight to stay in, you know? And that actually helped me. I didn’t have time to throw up anymore. I couldn’t really binge. And, you know, suddenly I was busy with this routine and this squad was counting on me. I think one time I did binge and tried to throw up and I was too sick to make it to practice. And because of that, I was I was a face, which is someone who catches, you know, the people who fly in the air and then I catch them. But because I was missing, that group couldn’t practice, you know, and, and I and so it was this weird thing that kind of got me out of it.
Jameela [00:48:31] And so. So since then, you’ve been okay?
Atsuko [00:48:34] No, I mean, I was still once in a while throwing up. You know, it’s it’s hard to really kick, because the body dysmorphia, I think, is probably still a part of me, too. The body dysmorphia. But.
Jameela [00:48:46] Why you work in such a balanced industry? That’s amazing about the way we present ourselves.
Atsuko [00:48:53] Yeah it’s weird, you know. That’s why. And, yeah, that’s why. You know. Somethings wrong with me.
Jameela [00:48:56] What’s wrong with you. I. I can’t believe you’re choosing this.
Atsuko [00:49:02] Well, I wonder if, as a comedian, I get to have a little more free rein. I don’t know, because it’s like about authenticity.
Jameela [00:49:09] We’ve had plenty of comedians on here who struggled with eating disorders and body dysmorphia.
Atsuko [00:49:13] Yeah, that’s true.
Jameela [00:49:15] Yeah, it’s something that if you’re, you know, brought up, you’re raised as, you know, someone who identifies as a woman. Like it is extreme. It is extremely tricky. And it’s it’s kind of spreading now across the genders. You’re having more and more boys, men and even comedians struggling with their self-image. It’s just we’re in a toxic hell fuck cycle and that’s why you don’t want to have more children grow into it.
Atsuko [00:49:40] No, exactly. Yeah, but you know. But I don’t I don’t partake in the sort of the eating disorder stuff anymore. I don’t know if it’s like there’s enough love in my life or support. I, I guess I would have to see a therapist to figure out how I was able to kick it.
Jameela [00:49:58] So I was about to come back to that. Right. I think it’s none of my fucking business and I’m happy to go fuck myself. But I would say from everything you said to me, from everything you’ve been through, I mean being raised by someone you were afraid of, being completely detached from the reality of the world, then being taken away from all your friends and family to another country living undocumented in secret, not being able to bring friends back to your garage that you live in with your mother and grandmother, one of whom is very, very sick. You’re then going through your own eating disorder. You’re separated from your dad. You then have years of turmoil going getting back together with your dad and then kind of growing up feeling slightly disorientated, it sounds like, in the world at times.
Atsuko [00:50:43] Mm hmm. Mm hmm.
Jameela [00:50:44] That’s a no wonder you’re fucking bursting into tears at Jurassic Park. I’d shit myself during that movie if I had if I had had the amount of help that I’ve had now. And so I take this with a complete pinch of salt. That being that this is a mental health podcast, I would definitely say you deserve to have someone to offload some of this stuff on to because it you’ve done a remarkable job. I mean, you seem like just the happiest and brightest human. And it sounds like you have a wonderful life. And maybe you don’t need it. But. But. It never hurts to have someone to just run some of this stuff pass or get it off your chest to someone because it’s all a lot. And so.
Atsuko [00:51:29] For sure, no I agree.
Jameela [00:51:30] It’s worth considering to anyone out there who’s listening.
Atsuko [00:51:33] You think that therapist I saw the Bible therapist. You think I should just give him a call.
Jameela [00:51:40] Yeah. Given that. Given that so much of religion is steeped in shame regardless of the religion it is, I’m not sure that that was where I would necessarily recommend you to go.
Atsuko [00:51:53] Yeah. No, sure. I would be surprised if he’s still practicing, to be honest.
Jameela [00:51:57] Right, right. Right.
Atsuko [00:51:59] No, but no thank you. I truly think I truly am going to take steps to see one by the holidays because that’s when.
Jameela [00:52:09] Great.
Atsuko [00:52:10] Yeah. I feel more than feels. We all do, you know, but.
Jameela [00:52:14] For sure. For sure. Well, I mean, look, come back, check in with me after you’ve. After you’ve done it, see what’s going on? I’m dying to hear how you feel. And if I can ever be of any help with finding someone, please let me know.
Atsuko [00:52:29] Thank you Jameela.
Jameela [00:52:29] You are a remarkable person. You’ve had a remarkable life. And and I’m very excited for your HBO, kind of your big show now that’s debuting in the fall. I’m so excited. I hope everyone follows you and finds you online and all of your work. You’re an excellent stand up. And and I’m so pleased that we have someone like you in the industry.
Atsuko [00:52:53] Thank you, Jameela. I feel the same way about you.
Jameela [00:52:56] Well, before you go, would you mind telling me. What do you weigh?
Atsuko [00:53:01] I weigh my unique fashion sense. I weigh my empathy, lots of empathy and love that I have that I get to share with people. And that’s why I’m here.
Jameela [00:53:21] That sounds great.
Atsuko [00:53:24] Is that enough? Enough pounds.
Jameela [00:53:26] It’s. It’s so enough pounds yes. From one eating disorder survivor to another, you have enough pounds. Well done. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast and I look forward to speaking to you again soon.
Atsuko [00:53:39] Thank you so much for having me.
Jameela [00:53:42] Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode. I Weigh with Jameela Jamil is produced and researched by myself, Jameela, Jamil, Erin Finnegan and Kimmie Gregory. It is edited by Andrew Carson. And the beautiful music you are hearing now is made by my boyfriend James Blake. If you haven’t already, please rate review and subscribe to the show. It’s a great way to show your support. We also have a bonus series exclusively on Stitcher Premium called Ask Jameela Anything. Check it out. You can get a free month of Stitcher Premium by going to Stitcher.com/premium and using the promo code I Weigh. Lastly over at I Weigh, we would love to hear from you and share what you weigh at the end of this podcast. You can leave us a voicemail at 18186605543 or email us what you weigh at IWeighpodcast@gmail.com. And now we would love to pass the mic to one of our fabulous listeners.
Listener [00:54:34] I weigh getting out of a deep state depression and enjoying life and everyone in it. All right. Thank you.
November 27, 2023
This week, Jameela is joined by writer, broadcaster and feminist organizer Clementine Ford to discuss the historical roots of marriage as a tool of patriarchal control, the illusions surrounding modern matrimony and the modern marketing machinery that sustains its myth.
November 20, 2023
Jameela is joined by beauty culture critic Jessica DeFino in a candid conversation about where her current research and journalism is taking her, after years of covering a multi-billion dollar beauty industry for major women’s magazines & beauty apps in the US.
November 13, 2023
This week, Jameela is joined by director, producer and sexual educator A’magine Goddard to discuss her award-winning new documentary ‘At Your Cervix’ that breaks the silence about the continuous violation of bodily autonomy for educational purposes.