Amy Anderson has the last laugh

August 5, 2014

Korean American comedian and her “Modern Family” star daughter Aubrey Anderson-Emmons are having the time of their lives.


Naturally, Amy Anderson’s current comedy materials focus on being a single-mother to a young child who happens to be a celebrity. Her seven-year-old daughter, Aubrey Anderson-Emmons, co-stars as Lily on ABC’s “Modern Family.”

By Julie Carlson

So how does a Korean kid born in Seoul end up being an American comedian named Amy Anderson?

She was adopted. That explains the name. As a newborn, only days old, she was abandoned at Yongsan train station in Seoul.

“I was turned over to police by a passerby,” explains comedian and actress Anderson, 41. “I was in a Holt orphanage, and then with a foster family for a while, and finally adopted.”

At the orphanage she was given the “old school” name of Kim Hee-ja. Her new Swedish parents brought her to the states aged five-and-a-half months. Jan and Harold Anderson gave her the name Amy and accepted her as their own.

Two of Anderson’s three older brothers are also adopted — one from Italy and the other from Germany.

Living in the quaint, upper-class suburb of Excelsior, Minn., with Swedish parents, Anderson often jokes, “It was just like ‘Fargo,’ without the kidnapping and murders.”

As a child, Anderson first fell in love with music, like her musician parents. But she later forged a different path of self-discovery through comedy.

Growing up Korean American in a small Midwestern town didn’t come without problems.

“It wasn’t easy. I definitely had a lot of identity crisis growing up,” Anderson says. “Almost all of my friends and all of my family were white so I didn’t identify as Asian American until I was an adult. It almost made it that much more painful to be teased and bullied because of my race. I didn’t even realize I was different. I know that sounds weird, but other adoptees will get it.”

Amy Anderson

Amy Anderson successfully created and hosted the first Asian American stand-up showcase, Chop-SHTICK. “It’s one of the things I’m still most proud of in my career,” Anderson says.

From an early age, Anderson says she was always funny, finding humor in everyday situations. People often ask her if she speaks Korean. In her comedy routine she answers, “No, but I speak baby.” She even puts on the Minnesota accent her mother has, just like the accent used in “Fargo.”

Being funny was also a defense mechanism she would use to her advantage as a stand-up comedian. But that would come later on. During her youth, music was her passion.

From the time she could talk, music flowed in her veins. Her parents taught her and her siblings an appreciation of the arts. Like many young people, Anderson took piano lessons and played in the school band, which eventually led her to a classical music degree from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey.

Anderson had aspirations of being a choir conductor, but during her junior year, comedy became her true calling. She turned to making people laugh. Talk about a switch in careers, but Anderson hasn’t looked back.

After spending a couple of years working odd jobs — from waitressing to a boarding school dorm mother — she began training in improv at Stevie Ray’s Improv Company and The Brave New World Workshop in Minnesota.

“I also took some master classes with Paul Sills and Del Close. Pretty lucky that I had the chance to work with each of them before they passed away,” Anderson says.

Both top-notch in their fields, Sills was the founding director of Second City in Chicago. Close was an improv teacher with notable alumni from “Saturday Night Live” and many other famous comedians.

During the following six years, Anderson also worked as sketch comedy writer and an improv teacher.

“It was an excellent place to get started when I did in the late 90s,” Anderson says of her experience in Minneapolis-St. Paul. “For a smaller metro area, there were ample opportunities to get on stage and practice. The Twin Cities have some of the smartest and most supportive arts audiences too, so it was great.”

Amy Anderson

Anderson says she thoroughly loves L.A and enjoys Koreatown.

In 2001, Anderson set her sights on Hollywood. As a comedian, it was always her goal to pursue a career in acting.

She successfully created and hosted the first Asian American stand-up showcase, Chop-SHTICK. It starred the legendary Ken Jeong, Randall Park, Bobby Lee, and Jo Koy at the Friars of Beverly Hills and the Hollywood Improv.

“It’s one of the things I’m still most proud of in my career,” Anderson says.

So, what do her parents think of her comedy?

“I think they like it,” Anderson says. “They’ve seen me perform live several times and seem to keep coming back and bringing their friends, so they can’t be too offended. I think they wish I weren’t so vulgar, but I can’t help it. I enjoy cursing!”

Seven years later, Anderson formed another goal — taking care of her new baby. She had a charming little girl, Aubrey Anderson-Emmons, who would go on to be a star of her own.

If her name sounds familiar, it’s because the 7-year-old co-stars as Lily on ABC’s “Modern Family.”

“Modern Family” is Aubrey’s first role and it’s been a shock and a delight to her family that she’s on the popular and award-winning show.

“Our heads have been spinning ever since, but it has been the best experience ever,” Anderson explains. “We are having the time of our lives. I think [Aubrey's] favorite part of being on TV is watching herself. She never gets tired of it!”

When not taking her daughter to work, Anderson has also appeared on TV — on FOX’s “Raising Hope” and HBO’s “The Newsroom” — and has even worked with Aubrey on “Modern Family.”

She also just finished taping a show for TruTV called “How To Be A Grown Up” and performing locally.

Naturally, Anderson’s current comedy materials focus on being a single mother to a young child who happens to be a celebrity.

“Now that my daughter’s schedule is so busy and I manage her, it’s much easier to work in town as an actor,” Anderson says. “Traveling [as a comedian] for a living is grueling and every year kept getting harder and harder with the money staying about the same.”

Anderson thoroughly loves Los Angeles. It’s her home, and she feels it’s a family-oriented and kid-friendly city. She enjoys all the resources the city has to offer in arts, music, and sports.

She also enjoys Koreatown. “I love Korean food and we have the best Korean food in the U.S. here in L.A.,” Anderson says. She has visited South Korea three times, and hopes to take Aubrey with her in a few years.

Music is also still a part of her life. She sings with her daughter daily.

Although she no longer teaches comedy, Anderson explains that it can be taught, but being funny can’t be taught.

“There are definite formulas to jokes — set-ups, punchlines, tags, callbacks, etc. — but you can’t teach ‘timing,’” Anderson explains. “You’ve either got it or you don’t.”

Yah, sure, you betcha, Anderson’s got it!


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