Joel Kim Booster emotionally f—s on Netflix comedy special ‘Psychosexual’

Illustration of Joel Kim Booster during his Netflix special, by Angela Bi
Angela Bi/Staff

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

With three acts, standup comedian Joel Kim Booster has created a comedy special for everyone. In his new Netflix special “Psychosexual,” Booster covers being the only Asian person at a P.F. Chang’s in Boise, the age-old dogs versus cats debate, Fleshlights and more — all in just one hour. 

It’s been a big year for Booster, who is coming off of writing and starring in the romantic comedy Hulu’s “Fire Island” as well as touring across the nation. To kick off the set, Booster describes the necessity of code switching while performing in all states, red and blue, and finds himself mixed up in all of these personas. Is it time to play a straight man with a voice an octave deeper, or to soothe the woman walking home alone at night by complimenting her jacket with flair?

Throughout “Psychosexual,” Booster unpacks this dichotomy along with many other facets of his identity. For instance, while Booster is Korean, he was raised in the South by white adoptive parents. As a result, he laments missing out on the cultural nuances of growing up Asian — at one point in the show, he asks a Korean audience member about which Asian ethnicities he’s supposed to hate.

Cuttingly backward quips like these characterize Booster’s comedy. As he makes turns about the stage, he snarkily builds on his bits, which flourish most when they involve audience participation.

At the start of the show, Booster scours his audience, stating a rare request: “What I need is a straight white man.” He finds one, named Ben, who he hopes to get the hard truth about his comedy from the straight white male perspective. After every act, Booster returns to Ben, assessing his reactions to various topics and jokes. Did Ben feel ignored by his jokes about his Asian and gay identities? What particular bit was his least favorite?

“You can’t win,” Booster tells Ben, displaying his incredible ability to build continuous comedic commentary in a consistently quick, piercing manner.

Beyond Ben, Booster frequently returns to his audience to field questions and provoke reactions. There’s the Christian couple, Ali and Carl, who think that no, you cannot hold another person’s hand in a monogamous relationship, but sure, you can give a lingering hug. There’s the guy whose masturbation tally is really “up there.” And of course, there’s the moment where Booster admonishes his audience for their half-hearted “clapter.”

These gems of crowd involvement propel Booster’s set, alongside his ability to smoothly hop from topic to topic and bit to bit. His transitions follow his train of thought very naturally — only Booster’s brain can conjure connections between statues of Christopher Columbus, Asian fetishization and taking nudes. 

These creative connections also lend themselves to a variety of sparklingly hilarious metaphors. When Booster says that cats are weed smokers while dogs are cocaine users, it absolutely makes sense. These snippets elicit laughs before Booster has even reached his intended punchline, displaying what venturing past the bounds of your imagination can do for comedy.

Booster’s acting chops play a similar role in his set. No matter the moment from his life he’s recounting, Booster brings audience members right there with his inflection, facial expressions and body movements, all with appropriate levels of drama. While detailing his history dating rice queens, or white men that prefer to date Asian men, he subsumes the audience into whatever offensive thing he was experiencing at the time, effectively eliciting sympathetic “aw”s and “ooh”s from his listeners. 

Booster shines in his natural ability to draw authentic emotion out from an audience, as he states he has become a representative role model for his queer and Asian fans. While Booster only got into comedy to “be stupid and make people laugh,” the fact of his important representation is, in his view, a byproduct of his success.

But the fact that he is a (good or bad) role model does not stop Booster from telling the jokes that he wants to tell; he notes, “some of the jokes are just for me.” Booster is singular because he comments on all aspects of his lived experiences — his experiences, not the experiences of the Asian or queer communities at large. That is what makes this ex-Southern Baptist, adopted, Asian, gay, spectacularly dressed man unique: He’s doing this for himself.

Contact Katherine Shok at [email protected].