David Choe: 'If you want to come and try to cancel me, that’s OK.'
Enter 'The Choe Show,' an act of Asian American defiance.
There’s an immigrant playbook familiar to the sons and daughters of Asian America: good grades, dean’s list, Ivy League, professional degree, a career in law, medicine or business. Anything with money. And stability.
David Choe did everything to subvert that template. As a teenager, he hitchhiked across the country and visited every state. He train-hopped across Europe and eventually found his way to Israel where he worked on a kibbutz. He snuck his way into The Republic of Congo in the ’90s in search of a lost dinosaur and nearly died. (He also almost killed a guy.) He was a professional gambler and made his first million by the time he was in his early 30s. He also paints.
When Facebook opened its first headquarters office in 2005, Choe was asked to illustrate some murals on the walls, and instead of cash, he accepted Facebook stock. Seven years later, Facebook went public and Choe became worth $200 million over night. (He might be worth more than double that now.)
That was the end of Choe. And the beginning.
“I don't want this much money,” he recounted to me in a two-hour interview over Zoom a few weeks ago.
“I'm a fucking hitchhiker, he says. “I'm a graffiti artist. I don't want any responsibility. I don't want this responsibility!”
He saw the money in extreme terms: “I was a fucking out of control gambler. I took insane chances. And sometimes they end up in with me in jail. And sometimes they end up with me possibly about to die. And then sometimes they end up with me being a multimillionaire. Right? It's like I was I didn't care. I'm going for both sides of the spectrum: death-prison or super-rich, no middle for me.”
But after thousands of hours of therapy, he’s found his way back. He’s a father now. He’s championed charitable causes. He’s in recovery from everything — gambling, sex addiction, lying.
Therapy in many ways is the theme of his new television series, “The Choe Show,” which debuts June 25 on FX and Hulu. He interrogates the famous and the semi-famous in unorthodox formats that include role-playing, art making, and confessionals. Performance art in the guise of a talk show.
But there is another subversion at play. Choe’s life itself has long been an act of defiance. Almost instinctively he reacted to the racism he endured growing up in Los Angeles as a Korean American by tracing its negation.
“I spent my whole life’s work rebelling against the model minority that I was thrown into against my will, that I had to live, like, loud and pronounced. I had to show you that, you know — like, ‘You’re Asian, you’re supposed to be like this!’ So I need to show you I’m the complete opposite.”
Here’s how I wrote the story for The New York Times.