Jodi Long has had her hands in almost every kind of writing and performance you could imagine including documentaries, stage performances, television shows and movies. Most recently, she plays the overbearing, yet hilarious Korean mother, Ok Cha, on the sitcom Sullivan & Son. In addition, her one-woman play, Surfing DNA (directed by Frank Manga), will be performed in West Hollywood this fall. With all of this going on, it’s a wonder that she had the time to sit down and talk with us at Cliche Magazine about her recent projects, her background, and her love for theater.
Cliché: On the show Sullivan & Son, the character of Ok Cha is a humorous reflection of a strict Korean mother. What drew you to the role of Ok Cha?
Jodi Long: I thought that she was very funny, and I felt like I really knew this woman. My mother is not quite like her, but she is so much like the aunties that I grew up with. It’s really just a very funny script. All immigrants want the best for their kids and they want them to have a better life than the life they left, and the way to do that is through education and money; you get educated and you get a good job, such as a doctor or a lawyer, and then you’re okay.
Sullivan & Son seems like such a fun show to be a part of. What do you enjoy most about being involved with the show?
I have the best job in show business because I have the greatest cast and we have four comedians on our show. We have this great comradery and it’s really become such a great family, and that includes our producers, Rob Long and Vince Vaughn. The other thing, besides making ourselves laugh all the time, is that we get to make our audience laugh.
On Sullivan & Son, you work with many stand-up comedians such as Steve Byrne. Is stand-up comedy something you have experience with or would ever consider delving into?
No, I’ve never been a stand-up. I’ve always been an actress, meaning somebody else writes the words and I say them, although I am also a writer. It’s interesting because the boys are on the road right now, with the Sullivan & Son Comedy Tour, and one night I went to see them in New York and Steve [asked that I introduce Owen] and I thought, oh my gosh, how am I going to do this? So I went up on stage as Ok Cha – I didn’t put my hair up or anything like that. So I did this little bit. I just improvised the whole thing about “Is this guy any good? Is he funny? If not, we’re going to have to give your money back.” It was very fun. I’m actually thinking maybe next year, if we have the good fortune of getting a third season, I may go on the road with the boys even if I’m just introducing them, [but] not as a full stand-up act. So you may see me out there yet.
Theater and performing arts are a large part of your family history. How has this influenced your involvement in theater?
My parents were vaudevillians, so I really grew up on stage. For me [being on stage] is the most natural thing in the world. It’s just really comfortable for me being a performer.
I understand that the reprisal of your one-woman play Surfing DNA will be at the Working Stage Theater in West Hollywood this September. Can you tell us a little more about this play?
It was something I wrote about five years ago that I performed in Los Angeles and it’s about what it says: surfing DNA, the DNA in me. What I’m really interested in is the imprints that are in us that we don’t consciously know that come out through our DNA, through our cultural upbringing, and through the emotional imprints that are put on by our family and our society. That’s really what this piece is: an exploration of how things that we don’t even know are there will sort of pop out.
[It’s different than] being on a show with other actors and the audience, where you can be interactive with other people, [because] when you’re by yourself it all comes out of your imagination. And obviously I wrote these words, so it’s really coming out of my imagination.
You seem to have dipped your toes into every style of singing, acting, writing, and producing. You’ve played roles in movies, plays, and sitcoms. You even have experience creating a documentary. What do you hope to achieve with your work?
My work is about the inter-personality of us as human beings. Obviously, when someone first sees me on a television show or on stage, they see an Asian-American woman. And that comes with whatever they expect to come out of my mouth and how they expect me to be. If I’m really doing my job as a storyteller, a writer, or an actor, then I’m showing them that I am a human being like everyone else.
Do you have a preference for any type of theater or performance, since you’ve kind of done it all?
With television you connect to a bigger audience, but you have more control as an actor in the theater. So I prefer the theater, but I also enjoy writing my own material.
What is it that you love about theater and performing arts?
In theater, the artist is in control of that experience more than anything else. Even though the playwright has written those words, in the end it’s just you and the audience. That’s a communal experience, and I don’t think there’s anything quite like it when it’s good [because] you can connect with people in ways that you might not be able to do with just the written word. The human experience is happening right there.
Don’t forget to follow Jodi on Twitter! @xojodilong
Photos courtesy of Bobby Quillard