Who Is Bowen Yang?
Bowen Yang was born in Australia in 1990 and grew up in Canada and Colorado. He is the first Chinese-American cast member of Saturday Night Live, as well as the first gay man to be part of the show for more than one season. Yang brought a new perspective to SNL, often performing in and/or writing scenes in which queerness is incorporated into characters without being used as a punchline. Yang is also known for his work on the podcast Las Culturistas and has appeared on several television shows, including a regular role on Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens.
Early Life and Family
Bowen Yang was born in 1990 in Brisbane, Australia. Yang’s family left China for Australia so his father could pursue a doctorate in mining engineering. Because Yang has an older sister, he’s noted, “I wouldn’t have been born if my parents had stayed in China,” due to the one-child policy in effect at the time.
Yang’s mother was a gynecologist in China. Yang grew up speaking Mandarin at home and going to Chinese Sunday school with his sister.
When he was young, Yang relocated with his family from Australia to Canada, where they lived outside Montreal. The family moved to the Denver suburb of Aurora when Yang was 9. There, he became a devoted fan of Saturday Night Live.
Yang attended Smoky Hill High School and was part of an improv troupe known as Spontaneous Combustion. Before graduating high school in 2008, he was voted “Most Likely to Be a Cast Member on Saturday Night Live.”
Conversion Therapy and Aftermath
When Yang was 17, he left a chat window open on a shared family computer that alerted his parents to the fact their son was gay. Yang told The New York Times what happened next: “They just sat me down and yelled at me and said, ‘We don’t understand this. Where we come from, this doesn’t happen.'”
“I had never seen my dad cry before up until that point,” Yang shared with GQ. “And I was coming home from school every day to him sobbing.” Yang’s parents set up conversion therapy sessions in Colorado Springs, a two-hour drive away, and he agreed to go. He said of the experience, “It was just crazy. Explain the gay away with pseudoscience.”
After completing the course of conversion therapy, Yang was allowed to attend New York University, where his sister was already a student and could keep an eye on him. During college, Yang again came out to his family. Though their initial reaction was once more unsupportive, he waited until his parents began to accept, or at least live with, his sexuality. “My dad every now and then will toe that line and be like, You could try women!” Yang admitted in 2020. “And I’m like…Don’t. It’s almost an endearing kind of homophobia, if such a thing exists.”
Today, Yang maintains a strong relationship with his family. They have vacationed together, and his parents are proud of his success on Saturday Night Live. “They know that that job has been hard won for me, and that it means a lot, and it means a lot to them too,” Yang said in 2021. “They think, ‘Wow, he pulled it off.’ And my mom said to me recently, she was like, ‘Bowen you’re very lucky to be doing this.’ And I was like, ‘I know, mom.'”
College and Early Comedy Career
Yang was a pre-med chemistry major at New York University, inspired in part by the TV drama Grey’s Anatomy. However, he continued to do comedy while in school.