November Issue: Comedy Troupe OPM Brings The Laughs

Celebrating A Decade of In-Your-Face Funny

After years of performing in Los Angeles, OPM—the hilarious, groundbreaking, multiethnic comedy troupe—plans to pack it in. But is it really the end for this L.A. institution?

by Oliver Saria

It was, by far, the oddest meal at a Denny’s I’ve ever witnessed. The cast of OPM’s forthcoming retrospective sketch comedy show, “Decade of Hits,” assembled for a table read in the corner of the restaurant with a view of traffic creeping along Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. The multicultural-butmostly-Asian troupe noshed on Buffalo wings and illicitly shared a plate of all-you-can-eat pancakes while they read aloud some of their best (and most outrageous) sketches, such as: “The Sex Olympics” (actress Diana Toshiko felt compelled to swallow the more graphic lines for the family dining within earshot, while artistic director/actor/writer Charles Kim felt no such compulsion) and “Chuy the Environmental Cholo“ (Kim—not Latino, by the way—performed the titular character who spouts eco-dogma with a heavy “cholo” accent. For a second, we feared we might get beaten up.).

In between sketches, the group—which also includes co-producer/actor/writer Ewan Chung; performers Rodney To, Nika Williams, Jae Suh-Park and Brian Slaten; and director Eddie Mui—caught up on personal and professional news, reminisced about old shows, and ribbed one another. You’d never know from their relaxed demeanor that the show was only three weeks away. But since this is old-hat for the professional performers who all have television/film credits, the most stressful task will be whittling down 10 years worth of material.

OPM (Opening People’s Minds) actually started earlier than that in Seattle, Washington, in the mid-1990s by founder Leroy Chin, an aspiring actor who wanted an inclusive comedy troupe that represented voices not normally spotlighted in mainstream media.


At the time, Ewan Chung, a recent college grad from Virginia, knew eventually he’d move to Hollywood to pursue acting, but decided to first wet his feet (literally and figuratively) in Seattle. Meanwhile, Charles Kim, an L.A. native, was practicing law in Washington when the acting bug hit. At separate times, Chung and Kim, answering a casting call, performed with OPM, but their paths didn’t cross until Chin took the group to Los Angeles.

OPM’s first show in L.A. was at the Flight Theater at the Complex in Hollywood in 2001. Shortly thereafter, Chin decided Hollywood was not for him and returned to Seattle, handing over the reins to Chung and Kim. Things quickly took off after that.

The quality of the sketches improved; structure became tighter; pace quickened. They benefited from recruiting veteran actor Eddie Mui to serve as their resident director.

“Being in L.A. forced us to step up our game,” Chung recounts, “It’s made our actors better. It’s made our writers better. And it’s also changed the mix of the group.”

Notable alumni include: Janina Gavankar (The L Word, True Blood), Randall Park (Larry Crowne, Dinner for Schmucks), and writer Maurissa Tancharoen (Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena).

The group hit its stride in 2002, when OPM won Best of the Fest & Best Box Office Awards at the San Francisco Fringe Festival. They went on to win the Fringe Fest awards six more times. According to Kim, in San Francisco, people literally fought in the sidewalk over tickets. They won top prize at the Vancouver Sketchoff Competition for three consecutive years.  Their complete domination prompted the competition organizers to give OPM its own showcase.

But while Chung and Kim attest that the group only seems to get better with age, the times they are a-changin’. Apparently, the Internet isn’t just killing print media and the postal service.

Kim confessed that it’s harder to attract an audience for live sketch shows. “People want to see what your [show] looks like online to decide—because they’re not saying it to you out loud—if it’s worth driving across town and plunking down their 15 bucks to see you,” he said.

Chung added, “In my perfect picture, I would want OPM to transition from stage to putting stuff on film. Theater shows are great and fun, but it’s just a fleeting moment.”

In addition, Chung cites time and budget constraints that make live theater particularly challenging. Instead of one day of shooting, theater demands a much longer time commitment, not to mention theater rental.

Thus, “Decade of Hits” isn’t only an anniversary show. It is perhaps OPM’s final bow and the last time audiences will be able to see the award-winning group live onstage.

Video may be a necessary transition in the digital age, but when Chung and Kim speak wistfully about their favorite moment over the past decade, it’s hard to believe that they’d be able to give up live performances completely.

“We knew we had something when we had our first win at the San Francisco Fringe Festival, when we got Best of Fringe that year,” Chung recalls. “That was a wonderful shock.”

Kim’s favorite moment is decidedly more in your face.

“We had people sitting on the floor on the stage and, back in those days, we sold dollar shots of Crown Royal so the audience seemed like they were ready to have a good time—rowdy crowd,” recounted the actor/lawyer, who often played North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il to hilarious effect in OPM sketches. “And there was a joke that landed particularly well and I was standing on stage and everybody just roared back, and I got hit with this tidal wave of Crown Royal breath that just freaking knocked me back. You know, when you’re in a bar and you have a friend who is sloppy drunk and he breathes heavy on your face and you wince a little bit? Can you imagine 85 people doing that?

“I look back on that with fondness. It was one of the most visceral shows of approval from the audience, not just hearing laughter, but getting hit in the face with their breath.”

For better or worse, that’s something you’d never experience in the comments section of YouTube.

If you want to show OPM some love, check out “Decade of Hits” Nov. 5-19 at the Flight Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., in Hollywood. Visit or for more details.

This article was published in the November 2011 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today!