A young spunky comic walks into a bar somewhere in the Inland Empire and… well, it’s best to let Benjamin Jeong tell you the rest. The 19-year-old comic and student has thrust himself on a bold mission to expand the Inland Empire comedy scene, which, he says is currently below par. No joke.
“Comedy is extremely important in terms of what it teaches you about how to process life,” Jeong says. “My goal is to see the comedy scene take off in the Inland Empire. I’d love for people to see the world in a comedic light, and see the silver lining. That’s what comedy is all about. It’s about chasing the silver lining.”
Jeong, who graduated from Temescal Valley High School before going on to study psychology at Los Angeles City College, appreciates those bright spots. He’s worked hard to find them.
“During senior year of high school, I was at like the top of everything—varsity athlete, homecoming king, AP student, all that,” he says. “But then the second semester of high school I graduated with a 0.4 GPA. That year, I went to the doctor because I tore a ligament in my shoulder and that really affected, like my wrestling season. I did a complete 180 from being at the top of everything to being literally the bare minimum to graduate.”
It was when Jeong was at his lowest point that comedy helped him rise out of the dense emotional ashes.
“Comedy became so important to me and allowed me to see the positive,” he adds. “One of my jokes goes like this: ‘People like making fun of me. People like making fun of me because I have a 0.4 GPA. I just like to think I’m destroying Asian stereotypes, you know? I’m tackling the model minority myth—one missing assignment at a time.’”
Recently, Jeong received a grant from the Inland Empire Community Foundation through the Creative Corps Inland SoCal Program, which offers grants to local, regional, and statewide organizations in 58 counties for unemployed and underemployed artists. The grants allow artists to create public awareness messages and projects in support of civic engagement and community participation.
In Jeong’s case, it will help fuel his mission to expand the comedy scene throughout the Inland Empire. Up first is a partnership with Riverside Community College, where he will begin hosting comedy/entertainment shows. The first outing takes place Dec. 22 at the college.
“I’m currently writing a curriculum and such, and the grant helps because there’s not a large comedy scene here,” he says. “The funds will be spent producing shows at the community college. It’s also my opportunity to share with people what I know, personally, about chasing the silver lining.”
Being diligent in the arts often requires the artist to spin many creative plates. In this case, the grant will also assist Jeong with other components, such as advertisements. But Jeong is up for the task.
“I run the comedy club at my community college here in L.A., so I’m familiar with running comedy clubs at the community college level,” he shares. “I just love community college in that it’s so down-to-earth and grounded. There’s just such a level of relatability to everybody and you often get such unique stories and perspectives in community college.”
Future endeavors include helping other people understand the mechanics of writing jokes and more technical aspects of comedy.
“The comedy showcase will be me showing people my validity,” Jeong adds. “But the week after that I’m going to teach three days of comedy to students. Those students and I are going to do a showcase so they can get real experience. Their first show will be done within a week. It’s my way of showing people how extremely important comedy is.”
This story originally appeared in the Press Enterprise October 2023.
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