With his promotion from show writer to series regular, Bowen Yang made history as “Saturday Night Live’s” only Asian American cast member in the sketch comedy show’s season 45 ensemble. He is also the first Chinese American comedian in SNL history.
It’s an achievement his high school classmates could have predicted.
After the announcement, the 29-year-old comedian’s high school shared that Yang was named “most likely to be a cast member on Saturday Night Live” for its senior superlatives over a decade ago. “The class of 2008 knew this day would come,” the tweet from Smoky Hill High School, in Yang’s hometown of Denver, reads.
Yang joined SNL as a writer in 2018 and made his on-screen debut earlier this year in an episode hosted by Sandra Oh. In the skit, Yang plays North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with Oh as his translator.
The comedian previously told NPR that Oh actually inspired his early career path. First, he studied chemistry at New York University and thought he would become a doctor like Oh’s “Grey’s Anatomy” character Dr. Christina Yang. But later on, he realized he was more inspired by her acting chops, which led him to pursue comedy.
It was during his time at NYU that he met Matt Rogers. The two eventually went on to launch the weekly comedy podcast Las Culturistas in 2016, which covers popular and gay culture. He told Forbes starting the podcast and building a “wonderful following from it” is one of his greatest achievements. Yang was also included on the magazine’s 30 Under 30 list in the Hollywood and Entertainment category.
The comedian stays busy outside of his podcast work. He’s made appearances in “Isn’t It Romantic?” “Broad City,” doing stand-up on “2 Dope Queens” and posting expertly-timed lip-sync videos of famous movie scenes to Twitter. He will also appear alongside Awkwafina in her upcoming Comedy Central series, premiering in January.
Yang’s appearance on the SNL stage brings some long-awaited Asian American representation to Studio 8H. Fred Armisen, who was part of the show from 2002 to 2013, is part-Korean. Another former cast member, Rob Schneider, is a quarter Filipino. And Nasim Pedrad, an SNL member from 2009 to 2014, was born in Iran.
Just six Asian or Asian American entertainers have hosted the show, including Oh and Awkwafina in the most recent season.
SNL also announced last week the addition of two other cast members to season 45: Chloe Fineman and Shane Gillis. The hiring of Gillis quickly came under fire when videos of a podcast surfaced in which he makes racist and homophobic comments. A spokesperson for SNL confirmed Monday that Gillis was no longer joining the show and apologized that the vetting process was not up to standard.
Fineman comes from Los Angeles-based improv comedy group The Groundlings, which has produced other SNL alums, including Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer, Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig. With nearly 90,000 followers, Fineman has a robust Instagram fan base, where she’s known for her range of celebrity impressions from disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes to actor Timothee Chalamet.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – JUNE 02: Matt Rogers (L) and Bowen Yang perform onstage during ‘The Michelle Collins Show: Live!’ in the Room 415 Comedy Club during Clusterfest at Civic Center Plaza and The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on June 2, 2018 in San Francisco, California.