Just Doug is the Facebook Watch show about a D-list poker celebrity tries to parlay his success into a career he’s woefully underprepared for Hollywood. Join Doug on his quest for the American dream: love, liberty and the pursuit of Justice. It’s produced by Eric Cook and Lizbeth Chappell and directed by Dan Chen. I recently had the opportunity to hop on the phone and chat with the creator and lead actor, Doug Kim. We talked about his journey as an actor, the show, what it’s really like for Asian Ams in the industry and what’s next for him!
What made you want to switch gears from being a pro poker player to become an actor? Have you always had the acting bug?
Growing up, I spent a lot of time reading books and comics. I wasn’t the most popular kid so that was a lot of my childhood consuming the culture of storytelling. I used humor as a way to fit in but I never thought acting was a choice. You never see Asian Americans on screen. I graduated in 2006, 2008 was the financial crisis, and I was laid off from my job. I saw it as an opportunity to reevaluate my career. Harold and Kumar had come out in 2004 and things were sort of changing. That’s when I started to think that this is an opportunity. I started asking friends if they knew anyone in the business, read acting books, being in NY there are a lot of acting resources. I eventually started to do a two-year acting conservatory. That theater program started my journey.
Your character in Just Doug is semi-biographical. How much of this character is really you and what are your differences?
The storyline is probably like 20-30% accurate. I’m not aggressive enough that I would go in for a kiss on the first date. I take little social cues indicating that its OK to do so. With Doug on set, racism is a little bit more insidious, they don’t outright say, “hey you’re an Asian person, talk in this accent,” they sugar coat it. My mom always says, as a disclaimer, “this is me 10-15 years ago, I’m a changed person.” I wanted to introduce my world and character before showing my quirkier side. I didn’t want to appear as this off-the-wall person from the get-go. That was the reason that we chose Gilbert Galon as the best friend, to serve as that person.
Tell me about your journey to getting Just Doug onto Facebook Watch.
I got in touch with their content division. Facebook launched Facebook Watch around August of last year. Currently what I think they’re trying to do is be a landing page for videos, somewhere in between Youtube and Netflix, looking for new content. We already had the show made, we sort of said, “why don’t you give us this platform and in return we’ll be on the platform and get more visibility.”
You mention in your Next Shark piece that you decided to enlist a mostly Asian-Am cast and staff. Why was this important to you?
A lot of the content right now in Hollywood that does have Asian American people in it, usually doesn’t portray us as a lead character. “Hey this is a world from a white or black person’s point of view. This is how we view them, not the other way around.” It was important to us to have the leads be Asian American. I wanted to show what it’s like for many Asian Americans. Our interactions are mainly with other Asian Ams, it’s not like we’re the token best friend in a group of white people. It was important for me to have that Asian best friend and love interest because I wanted to explore why we gravitate towards that.
Even with the whole dick measuring scene, that’s a conversation that a lot of Asian American men have with each other. I just don’t think that’s ever been shown on screen. I was showing my script to some writers and I remember this white writer saying “oh, do you think we should use euphemisms?” I was like, “what are you talking about? I wouldn’t filter myself when talking to another dude about my penis.” It’s funny because a white person is thinking in those terms since they don’t understand how we talk to each other.
It was important to get an Asian American writer and director because even the shows like Fresh Off the Boat or Dr. Ken–they don’t have Asian showrunners. I wanted an authentic Asian American voice with real interactions. I think it’s rarely seen.
There’s Master of None but then even then he’s (Aziz Ansari) more south Asian. The last true thing I saw was Better Luck Tomorrow directed by Justin Lin.
Asian-Am roles have been scarce in Hollywood, with several white actors portraying Asian characters. What’s your take on this?
To me, the problem stems from the differentiation between Asian Americans and Asians. I think the American public doesn’t see the difference. They see most of us as like we are [from] our parents’ generation. “How do you speak English so well?” Some of these things in the media that have been controversial, that’s not the root of the problem. Ghost in the Shell – it’s not like that movie had an Asian American lead. If an American saw a Japanese film, they’d be informed on what Japanese culture and people look like. To me, it doesn’t really move the needle for us in terms of how we are viewed in society. I would look to the African American community and see how they’ve done it. They made believable stories on their own to squash stereotypes.
People like Spike Lee and even Tyler Perry to some extent, Bill Cosby or WIll Smith, these are people that have brought what a “normal” African American looks like to the public. There’s a lot of Black comedians and artists in the 80s/90s who normalized the African American experience to the rest of the country. That was like, “oh I see their struggle and I see what they go through.” There’s an episode on Family Matters where the main character is a police officer and his son is pulled over because of racial profiling. He talks about it with the other officers who say, “oh we didn’t know it was your son.”
The problem is that a lot of Asian Ams feel like we need to be in Hollywood right now, we need to be a star, the hero saving the day. It’s helpful for young Asian Americans to see themselves on screen and have a positive image of their own self-worth. Like Jeremy Lin, someone who inspires them. It’s on us to start making our own stories and content, developing what being AsianAm looks like, what our stories look like to really build that library of content that pushes our voice forward. Part of the problem is systemic at this time, we make up 20-25% of the population of the top universities in America, the writing talent is out there. My goal is to go around and try to educate the next generation of talent.
What’s your message for other aspiring Asian-American creators?
I would suggest to them to be real about their expectations, if they have pressing financial needs, this is not the best way to pay off your student loans. If they are passionate, if they have a specific voice or story that needs to be told, they owe it to themselves to do research on how to break into the business. I would encourage them to reach out to Asian American organizations who foster the arts and try to find a mentor who is already in the industry, pick their brain on what they’ve been through and how they hashed it out.
What’s next for you?
Just Doug is still in talks to negotiate more episodes. We want to create a show that has a lot of story behind it, show what it’s like for Asian Americans to pursue the industry and what Asian Am millennial life looks like.
As far as myself, I produced a short film with my director called Ella that’s in the festival rounds. It’s the director’s story about what it’s like to grow up as an Asian American in the Midwest. It’s a coming of age story. There’s less commentary about the racism, it’s a slice of life type of film.
Personally, I’m working on a couple features. I’m going to try to write as much as I can this year. I am hashing out an idea for a podcast. My efforts will be pushing forward content creation.
Just Doug is now streaming on Facebook Watch.