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Out cover star Joel Kim Booster reviews his body of work

Out cover star Joel Kim Booster reviews his body of work

Out cover star Joel Kim Booster reviews his body of work
Ramon Christian

The July/August cover star talks changing Hollywood (and himself) as a writer, actor, comedian, and aspiring "Asian sex symbol."

Joel Kim Booster has been putting in the work.

The Loot star is becoming more of a household name since writing and starring in 2022’s queer retelling of Pride and Prejudice, the Emmy-nominated Fire Island. But the 36-year-old Korean-born comedian and actor has been sowing the seeds of his career for the better part of the last decade. While he’s getting busier and busier these days, he’s always known that he was built for this — even if he didn’t necessarily always know what “this” looked like.

“I always knew I wanted to work in entertainment,” says Booster, fresh off the second season of his beloved Apple TV+ show Loot, where he plays a fiercely loyal (and gay) assistant to series lead Maya Rudolph; he’s also featured in Outstanding, a new Netflix doc about the cultural impact of LGBTQ+ stand-up. “But my conception of what ‘this’ actually is, is that what I’m doing has changed so many times over the course of going to school for theater and then doing theater in Chicago and then starting stand-up and then going from stand-up to television writing and television writing to making a movie.”

“It constantly keeps shifting, what it means to be doing what I’m doing,” he continues. “I don’t know that I ever knew that I wanted what I’m doing now. I didn’t know what it was. It’s so different and keeps changing, and the idea of success keeps moving and changing.”

Ramon Christian

Yes, Booster’s career trajectory hasn’t been the most predictable, with gigs that have taken him on stage as a stand-up comic, as well as both in front of and behind the camera in film and television (Booster has had acting roles in titles like Shrill and Glamorous and has written for shows like The Other Two and Big Mouth). But that’s a good thing. The multihyphenate is more than ready to adapt to a changing entertainment landscape.

Though Booster has a confidence that makes him a perfect candidate to be a role model for so many other up-and-coming queer Asian men in Hollywood (because there’s still not enough out there), he still goes through the insecurities many in the entertainment industry do about their place in the limelight and their body of work.

“When I was coming up in my 20s, you could not tell me shit,” Booster remembers. “I was like, I’m a genius. I’m great at this. I’m special, I have a voice, and I will be at the Emmys someday. I will be doing exactly what I’m doing right now. It’s so funny that now that I’ve arrived at this moment in my career, I’m more like, I’m a hack. I’m a fraud. I don’t deserve any of this. I can’t believe I’m at the Emmys right now. What am I doing here? I wish I had half the confidence I had at 26 that I do at 36, because the impostor syndrome is real.”

The solution to combating those feelings?

“You make the focus about the work,” Booster says. “What I try to do is keep my head down and just write or show up to work and just keep hustling. I think if you start to worry about whether or not your work is going to win an Emmy or if critics will love it or if it will be super popular if it’s this, that, or the other thing…. As you let your focus get away from the actual work that you’re doing, that’s when I think it becomes too overwhelming to continue. I just try to give myself a little bit of grace and remember what I love about doing all of these things.”

Ramon Christian

Though he acts and writes, it’s still his stand-up comedy that Booster says helps him most when it comes to feeling grounded and keeping his confidence up. “It is the closest thing to a meritocracy that I have in my career right now because people are either laughing in that moment or they’re not laughing in that moment and there’s no politics involved in that,” he says. “The immediate connection I have with an audience, you can’t really fake that. You can’t dress that up with smoke and mirrors and make it seem like a cool Instagram post just in that moment. The immediacy of that is really important to me, and that’s sort of how I keep myself sane.”

In the earlier days of his career, one of Booster’s first viral comedy bits was a set he performed on Conan O’Brien’s self-titled late-night talk show where he talked extensively about growing up in the Midwest as the adopted child of white parents. There, he famously said how he “knew he was gay before he knew he was Asian.” With his signature observational wit, and with a hint of self-deprecation, he cracked hilarious quips about how his “goofy name” doesn’t “match” his face, how he’s not what many people think of when it comes to their expectations of what a stereotypical Asian boy is (“I’m terrible at math, I don’t know karate, my dick is huge”), and how he was “a pretty gay kid” in his childhood.

Ramon Christian

Fast-forward to today. Booster’s comedy is still observational and witty as hell, but with a lot more self-confidence and assurance. It’s also no coincidence that Booster has bulked up since the early days of his career (he even does stand-up sets in a tank top sometimes). It’s not lost on him how that can be perceived by fans and viewers.

“It’s a really complicated thing,” Booster says. “I spent a lot of my early career as a stand-up talking on stage about how undesirable I was, and I found that really if you say it enough times, you really internalize it and believe it. As an antidote to that, I got onstage and started talking about how hot I was. I started talking about that before I believed it about myself and before the audience believed it too. I think a big part of why that worked early in my career was that I would go on stage and I’d be like, I’m hot! and the audience would laugh because they’d think, Isn’t it cute that this Asian guy thinks he’s hot? They weren’t laughing necessarily for the right reasons at that point.”

“And then, of course, I look the way I look now. I did a lot of work, some of it healthy, some of it unhealthy, and I look like this. So it’s comedically very uninteresting to come out onstage and say that I’m hot now, and I regret some of that, but it’s complicated because I really wanted to do this for myself to feel better,” Booster adds.

Ramon Christian

Booster is also aware that images of ripped queer men in media and social media can amplify mental health issues like body dysmorphia — especially among gay men, who are particularly at risk. “You realize that the more you emphasize it, the worse you make other people feel,” he notes. “I want to be able to own my sexuality. I want to be able to take thotty pics, and I want to be able to do all these things that make me feel good and feel confident. But you have to be hyperaware, especially when you have a platform like mine, of how you are centering that kind of thing in your life and in your brand, because I think in our community it is really tough. It’s really hard. And I’ve experienced that. I know people don’t want to hear someone like me talk about how bad they feel about themselves, but it’s really easy to, when you scroll Instagram, sometimes to be like, What the fuck am I doing? Why don’t I look like that? Should I do steroids? Should I do this, that, or the other thing?’”

However, Booster also recognizes the issue as “complicated,” particularly when it comes to his intersectional identities and the history of their representations in media. “I want to be an Asian sex symbol. That’s really powerful, and that’s a really powerful thing for Asian men, especially, to see. To see an Asian man who’s confident sexually and in his body and wants to move in the world owning that,” he says. “I think Asian men don’t get to do that a lot, and we don’t get to be sex symbols a lot. So it’s weirdly important and powerful for me when I look through that lens, and also very regressive almost when I look at it through a queer lens. I feel very conflicted about it at all times. Always.”

Ramon Christian

While stand-up comedy is Booster’s bread and butter, Fire Island was proof that he has what it takes to shine as a bona fide movie star. And while many fans of the film — which also starred queer Asian actors Bowen Yang, Margaret Cho, and Conrad Ricamora in prominent roles and was directed by Andrew Ahn — would probably love to see a direct sequel, Booster is ready for his next big movie undertaking, which is an ode to his boyfriend and Booster’s journey with mental health.

“I have my next feature set up at Searchlight [Pictures] right now,” shares Booster, referring to the studio that also produced Fire Island. “Again Again Again is what it’s called. It’s a wedding comedy, not necessarily a rom-com, but I’m really excited for that. It’s a much different movie than Fire Island, which is pretty intentional. I know that no matter what I did next, it would be compared and contrasted to Fire Island for good or for ill, and I’m not necessarily upset with that, but I wanted to do something that was sort of on the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s a much smaller movie in scope, in tone, in comedy. It’s very funny, I think, but it’s much different comedically of a movie than Fire Island was. And I think hopefully it will surprise people too. I think it is very much a love letter to my relationship and specifically what I have put my boyfriend through as he has learned how to deal with me and handle me and support me in some of my mental health struggles. I’m really proud of it and I can’t wait for people to see it.”

Ramon Christian

“I just want to see authenticity in depth,” Booster says about the Hollywood projects he wants to see. “I think it’s really tempting to look around at the landscape of casting today and be like, Oh, we’ve made so many great strides. There’s so many more Asian people. There’s so many more queer characters. There’s all of these things. But unless there’s depth to those characters, it’s still not a victory.”

For Booster, a successful media landscape blooms with variety. “Not every story has to center that part of our identity for it to be impactful,” Booster says. “Obviously I wrote a story that heavily centered sexual identity and the different intersections within that, but it doesn’t have to be every story, and I think it doesn’t have to focus and center those aspects for it to be a huge victory.”

“I’m also writing a gay action hero movie right now where we only know that the character is gay because he has a husband and not a wife, and that’s a very small part of his character,” Booster shares, teasing another project. “In the end, he’s still a fucking badass action hero. I’m really excited to hopefully get that off the ground and show people, again, a little bit of range for myself, but also that there’s a lot of places that I think a lot of queer people want to see themselves in that don’t necessarily have to tackle love or family or trauma.”

Whether he plays an action star, rom-com lead, or a gay assistant, Booster continues to surprise in Hollywood and beyond. And breaking boundaries? That’s something queer people love to see.

This cover story is part of the Out July/August issue, which hits newsstands on July 2. Support queer media and subscribe— or download the issue through Apple News, Zinio, Nook, or PressReader starting June 18.

Opening the Out100 Vault

In 2019 Joel Kim Booster was on the Out100, Out magazine’s annual list of LGBTQ+ luminaries changing the world. That year, Booster was making waves as a star on NBC’s Sunnyside and a writer on Netflix’s Big Mouth.

Booster was always challenging the status quo. As he said at the time: “There’s definitely a resistance to some of my material because I don’t think people are willing to engage with some of my experiences as relatable or universal, but gay people have had to dig into straight people’s narratives for centuries to find something to relate to. I don’t see why straight people shouldn’t have to do the same when they hear a joke about anal.”

This year marks the list’s 30th anniversary, and in celebration, we’re launching a dedicated platform for all things Out100.

Our new digital hub will include an interactive tour through 30 years of history in the Out100 Vault as we revisit honorees like Booster and share fresh insights on their contributions to queer culture. And readers can get exclusive access to past Out100 honorees, in their own words, in our new Out100 Voices section.

Plus, Out readers will have the biggest opportunity yet to choose who makes the 2024 Out100 list. We’re expanding our reader’s choice category, so get ready to tell us all about your faves!

It’s all coming together just in time for Pride Month. Don’t miss the launch – sign up for our free email newsletter to stay in the know! Go to today.

Ramon Christian

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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Raffy Ermac

Raffy is a Los Angeles-based writer, editor, video creator, critic, and the digital director of Out.

Raffy is a Los Angeles-based writer, editor, video creator, critic, and the digital director of Out.