Exclusive interview with artist and musician Jwyanza “JK” Hobson
CARPAZINE: Hello Joe. Thanks for taking the time to do this.
Musician, Comedian, Teacher… Did I leave anything out? Which keeps you the most active?
JK: Teaching takes up the most of my time, especially since I’ve taken on a second teaching job in the last few months. I teach at a private university called Dai Hoc Hoa Sen (Lotus University) as well as at an English center, mostly for young learners. I’ve been with the latter for over three years. The cost of living is quite low here (in Vietnam) and you can survive, and even save some money teaching for 20 hours a week. Between my two jobs, I work for about twice that amount of time because I’m a lunatic.
Standup occupies most of my nightlife, either performing, hosting shows of my own, or attending performances of other comics. It keeps me pretty busy!
CARPAZINE: I know you went to Queens College in Queens, NY. Did you grow up there? How'd you end up where are you now?
JK: Wow, long story. LOL.
Since moving to New York City from Puerto Rico, when I was a one year-old, I’ve lived in: Crown Heights, Flushing, Harlem, Sunnyside, the West Village, Park Slope, and Clinton Hill. (I was all over the place!) It was when I was living in Sunnyside that I went to Queens College. A couple of years into going there, I moved out of my family’s apartment and started living in the West Village; in this loft apartment where the animal care service I used to work for boarded dogs. This is back when I was playing in my old band: Toadeater. I was going to school, playing in a band, and taking care of sometimes up to eight dogs at a time in this apartment. Pretty crazy looking back on it. Not surprising that I eventually ended up getting kicked out of school for lack of attendance!
After Queens College Toadeater broke up. I spent a couple of years just depressed and making music at home on my 4-track. (Remember those? LOL.) Eventually I ended up playing drums for this band, Disease, that were based in the Lower East Side. All of them were squatters, and we used to rehearse at that old squat, Serenity, on 9th between Avenues C and D, down the block from Dos Blockos and C Squat. (This was before Giuliani had the cops going ham with their “broken windows policing” bullshit, so squats were still a thing. Almost unfathomable now. I played with them for close to two years. We ended up breaking up at some point, and I kicked it around there working on different music projects. One of them was with Craig Pillard of Incantation. That guy turned out to be some kind of heroin addicted Nazi. Haha. I also had a project with Mike Dixon from No Redeeming Social Value and Dray Lockdown from Warzone / NRSV. We tentatively called the band “Grits, Dummy,” (hilarious brainchild of Dray) but after writing and rehearsing a bunch of songs and then Mike leaving me to do the vocals, the project never went anywhere.
Eventually, I ended up joining the band Crisis, who were one of my favorite local metal acts in the early 90’s. I had been a fan of theirs since 1993, and would go see them perform at CBGB’s. They had a really unique, but heavy sound, and also had a female vocalist, who I thought was one of the most amazing performers I had ever seen grace the stage in heavy metal, male or female. We toured together and wrote a shitload of music for what was to become Crisis’ fourth album, eventually moving to LA to pursue fame and fortune and all the things. After a few years and a bunch of weird (both cool and not cool) experiences in LA, we got signed to an independent label called The End Records, based in Salt Lake City, UT. (I’m pretty sure they’re in Brooklyn now.) They bought us a van and we hit the road. We were on the road a lot from 2003-2005 when the band broke up for personal reasons. I found myself at a very depressing impasse, or so I thought.
My girlfriend at the time, who was pursuing her doctorate in Biochemistry, convinced me to go back to school, which I did, attending community college at LACC. I graduated from there in a few years and went onto pursue my bachelor’s in Global Studies at the University of California Riverside. In 2015, the beginning of my senior year, I won a scholarship to study Vietnamese History in Hue, Vietnam. I lived in Vietnam for two months and fell in love with the place, the climate, the people, the culture, the food, everything. I wept when I had to return to the states,
When I returned to the states, I found out that the applications for the Fulbright scholarship were open. I had about two weeks to put my application together, including letters of recommendation from my professors. I got it together quickly, determined to get back to Vietnam, which I did the following summer as a Fulbright Scholar. The program, where I served as an English teacher at a public university and as a cultural ambassador, lasted for a year.
During that year, the 2016 election happened, and I decided semi-spontaneously that I would not be returning to the states, not for a good long while. It was time for me to give America a time out, which I have not regretted since!
CARPAZINE: What's the low down with the comedy scene over there? Has it grown at all since your first gig? Can an English speaking foreigner get the crowd rolling?
JK: The comedy scene has grown a lot since I started performing in Saigon in 2017. When I first started there was one weekly open mic, and maybe a show a week or even less in a slow month. Since then, there are now 3-4 open mics a week, including one that I host under the Asia Out Loud brand which my buddy Mervin Lee started a few years ago. (Find us on Facebook!) Most of the comedy is performed in English by expats, although there are a bunch of Vietnamese comics as well who perform in English and in Vietnamese. Most of my audience are expats and Vietnamese folks who understand western culture. My most satisfying moments onstage is when I can make local people laugh hard! Every night onstage is a learning experience.
CARPAZINE: What kind of music are your students into? Have you ever played any music from your past musical endeavors?
JK: Most of my students listen to pop music. A lot of K-pop, that’s really big over here. I’ve had a couple of students that have been into rock music. I’ll get happy when one walks in with a Metallica shirt or maybe the Ramones, but rare is the day when they know who the hell the bands are, which is pretty typical actually. Even happens a lot in the states. (Metal and punk have some of the coolest merch out there!) Once in a while I’ll show my students an old Crisis video and they freak out, but I doubt they listen to the stuff when they get home.
There’s a hardcore / metal scene in Saigon with bands like District 105 (they sound like an NY Beatdown band, it’s crazy) and 7Uppercuts leading the charge. I go to their shows and get in the pit sometimes. The pits are pretty friendly actually, which is good, because I don’t wanna break my hip. LOL.
CARPAZINE: What's the pizza like there?
JK: There are a TON of decent pizza places in Saigon, even some gourmet ones. That said, there’s nothing like a dollar slice out here. (Is it the water? People always say it’s the NY tap water that makes the difference. I don’t know. I just know that I miss it. Gray’s Papaya too!) My buddy Hayden just started making Jamaican beef patties out here. No Italian Ices, unfortunately!
CARPAZINE: As an educator, what is the biggest impact you hope to make on your students?
JK: I love teaching small children. I realize that as a Westerner I am probably making a strong impact on their lives, particularly as a black one. I love teaching older students as well. I hope to inspire curiosity from them and help them to be critical thinkers. I’m always asking them the questions that I hope will lead them to understanding that from where they are, they can have a great impact on the world. I also try to demystify foreigners. One lesson I always teach to my adolescent and adult students is that “foreigners are not special,” which is a fallacy that many English learners tend to fall into.
It’s all about unlocking limitless potential, which I’ve learned from Daisaku Ikeda, my mentor in Buddhist practice. He says, “Education is to ignite a flame. When teachers burn with a passion for truth, the desire to learn will be ignited in their students’ hearts. When teachers are excited about culture and beauty, the creativity of their students will leap up like a bright flame.” When I’m at my best, I keep this in mind.
CARPAZINE: Is there any truth that you have spotted on more than one occasion a Fugazi t-shirt on a local scooter rider you have yet to meet? Clear the air please.
JK: So I started seeing this denim jacket with a Fugazi patch on the back. First it was a young Vietnamese woman wearing it. Soon after I started seeing them everywhere, usually when riding around Saigon. Anyone who knows Fugazi, also knows their particular relationship (or lack thereof) with merch. I thought it was hilarious, so I started collecting photos of these jackets, which I’m always posting on my instagram! Apparently they sell them online here in Vietnam. I’m pretty sure the wearers of these jackets have no idea who the band is, which is hilarious.
CARPAZINE: What's next for you?
JK: I just wanna get better at doing standup and grow the Asia Out Loud brand. When things get normal again, I wanna do a Southeast Asian tour and see how this material works outside of this country. I’ve done standup in NYC on a visit and got some pretty good responses thus far! Would like to come back to the states and do an American tour as well, but that might be down the road a bit, all things considered.
CARPAZINE: Thanks Joe!
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