The Kip Club

Terry Hong, A. Magazine

June/July 2001

Kip Fulbeck is not your average performance artist.

At age 35, he’s a tenured professor at UC Santa Barbara, does outreach programs for at-risk kids, was a nationally ranked swimmer and even ferries bugs outside instead of brutally squashing them.

Most recently, he published his first book, Paper Bullets: A Fictional Autobiography (University of Washington Press). And, at a rather buff 6-foot-1 with long, dark brown hair and a more Asian-than-not-mix of a Chinese mother and a Welsh, Irish and English father, he sports a definite resemblance to Disney’s version of Tarzan.

What Fulbeck brings to the stage is a compilation of rapid-fire snippets from his life thus far: everything from dealing with such asinine comments from strangers as, “Oh, we were just wondering what our kids might look like,” to being the only Asian kid in school, to dating a white woman who wanted him to speak only Chinese in bed, to trying to figure out where he fits in as a multiracial Asian American male.

To these autobiographical stories done stand-up style, he adds his award-wining short videos—think Chris Rock meets VH1.  But don’t ever make the mistake of putting Fulbeck in the mainstream: “I’d rather be throwing bombs from the sidelines,” he says. “I don’t want to be part of the system. I want to see things change.”

Change is the operative word for one of Fulbeck’s most successful solo performance pieces, I Hope You Don’t Mind Me Asking, But …, which he’s performed over 20 times in the last two years.

Because his audiences are always different, he improves each show into a unique performance.

Fulbeck, a native Southern Californian, didn’t grow up thinking he’d be confessing his life in front of an audience.  “Like any good Asian kid, I was pre-med,” he insists.  “Okay, for a day. Maybe a week.”

Then it was communications, then art.  By the time he was about to graduate, however, three things happened over three weeks that changed his life forever: Fulbeck’s best friend since kindergarten died, his grandmother was placed in a nursing home against his mother’s wishes, which splintered the extended family, and his almost-Olympic swimming career came to an abrupt end.

“I just sat at the computer one day and spewed this diatribe on the keyboard about all the things that were pissing me off.  And that became my first spoken word piece.  People just responded.”

And the Kip Club was born.  Artist Amy Hill (best known for her portrayal as Margaret Cho’s hilarious grandmother in All-American Girl) thinks he’s “introspective and funny and fearless.”

Performance artist Dan Kwong, curator of “Treasure in the House” the Asian Pacific American performance and visual art series at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, CA, wants to thank him for “the sentiments he captures so well in The Pissed-Off Asian American Guy Who es Fed-Up and Had It With All This Ignorant Racist Bullshit (and we know who we are).”

Philip Cheah, editor of The Big O Magazine and director of the Singapore International Film Festival, lauds him for “his use of pop culture to comment on the Asian American Condition, [which] makes his observations so scathing but entertaining as well.”

And Arnold Marquez, managing director of the San Diego Asian American Repertory Theater, talks about Fulbeck’s “hip articulation and breezy competence,” adding “That man sure makes an impression.”

These days, the Kip Club is only growing.  As Pam Wu, managing director of San Francisco’s Asian American Theater Company, where Fulbeck performed last year, points out, “[Audiences today are] used to watching films, reality TV, videos—all mediums that cut quickly from one image to another.

“That’s what Kip’s work is like: he’s got spoken word, he’s got video, he’s got soundscape, then he’s back to monologue.  He’s the perfect introduction for younger audiences to performance art.”

Which, not to sound selfish, is great or me. Because by the time my hapa kids hit adolescence in a decade or so, I’m going to enroll them in the Kip Club.