What To Do With a Ethnic Studies Major. Seriously.

Comedian and UC Berkeley graduate Irene Tu entertain and inform


On October 9th, Berkeley Connect Ethnic Studies and African Americans Studies welcomed Irene Tu, Berkeley graduate and stand-up comic. Irene graduated in 2014 as an Asian American and Asian Diaspora major. “I spent $200,000 to move back in with my mom,” she cracked as she introduced herself to the students.

Irene then told jokes from everything from everyday racism to being gay to Jeremy Lin before speaking more about her own background and thoughts on both Ethnic Studies and comedy. She recalled once telling a white man that she was an Asian American Studies major, to which the man responded, “That must be so easy for you.” Irene quipped, “It’s not like I took quizzes with questions like ‘what did you eat today?'” Irene was a junior transfer from Northwestern with the intent of going to medical school. After realizing she hated organic chemistry, she went through a series of majors before deciding to become an Asian American and Asian Diaspora major. It was also around then she took a stand-up class.

Irene admitted she originally did not intend to pursue stand-up despite having been interested since she was a teenager because it wasn’t a career many people usually encouraged. But it was a perfect fit. “You can say whatever you want to say, and the audience has to listen. And you can say things in a digestable way,” Irene said of stand-up comedy. “I had a lot to say, but no platform. Now I do.” Students, too, jumped in with their own views of the role of comedy in serious conversations about race, with one student voicing the opinion that it allows comedians to contextualize a lot of things and talk about taboo topics.

When asked how her mother felt about her choice of major and career, Irene admitted it was not a “super popular” idea at first. “Short answer? She wishes I was a doctor, and she could quit her job immediately,” Irene said, but added that her mother was now much more supportive after having seen her perform. But she also recounted the difficulties of the trade. “Last week, I yelled in the streets of Oakland for a dental office,” Irene said. “That was bad.”  Her favorite comedian and role model – hands-down – is Ellen DeGeneres, which she described as “classic happy fun.”

“You grow into your comedy,” Irene said finally. “All you can do is try to keep your voice and stay true to yourself.”

To learn more about Irene or to see her stand-ups, go to irenetu.com or check out her twitter, irene_tu!


posted by Katherine Wang
Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant