Atsuko Okatsuka on culture, controversy and her upcoming comedy show

The Japanese-American comedian will perform at the Dubai Opera on Monday, 15 May.

Dubai – and the UAE in general – is home to a lot of celebrity appearances. In fact, many global stars have signed on to become ambassadors for brands in the UAE such as Jason Momoa for Yas Island or Ranveer Singh for Abu Dhabi tourism. And let’s not forget the King of Bollywood himself, Shah Rukh Khan who has often graced Dubai Tourism ads. Concerts by internationally acclaimed artists have become a common spectacle too as the capital recently witnessed an electrifying performance by the Backstreet Boys.

Similarly, the stand-up comedy scene has been gaining momentum, attracting both global and local stars. The Dubai Comedy Festival 2022 saw Russell Peters, Jo Koy and many others take to the stage – and this year promises to be no different. Yet, amid all the laughter, it’s crucial to acknowledge the female comedians who are boldly shattering stereotypes, one joke at a time.

Atsuko Okatsuka is one such example. Known for her distinctive style and thought-provoking humour, Atsuko will be gracing the stage at the Dubai Comedy Festival on Monday, 15 May. As she eagerly prepares for her four-day journey to Dubai, she spoke exclusively to FACT Magazine about her Dubai debut and her journey in the stand-up comedy industry. “When you’re asked to go to Dubai, you say yes,” Atsuko exclaimed. “I’m a workaholic and I like to have a reason to go and maybe ‘vacation’ a little bit.” And she’s hoping to take full advantage of her short trip.

Atsuko Okatsuka

“Dubai is still a mystery to me. Everything looks so fun but I’m only there for four days so I’m trying to figure out how to fight jet lag and see all the things, like the tallest building and the mall.”

With her infectious energy and sharp wit, Atsuko is gearing up for an unforgettable night filled with laughter. “I’m still working on my show,” she confessed. “I think my jokes are universal and relatable, so I’m just making sure that the references make sense.” Having performed internationally, she is confident that she’ll figure out a great set for her Dubai debut.

Atsuko believes in establishing connections by discussing important topics and making people laugh in the process. “It has to be funny to me first,” she explained. “I connect with people by talking about the things that make us laugh and if it works there, then there’s a joke there somewhere about this topic or experience.”

She then works on it depending on how long her show is, while also keeping in mind the audience that will be present. “You probably thought it was comedy,” she quipped, “but there’s a math to it.”

As a Japanese-American comedian, Atsuko seamlessly weaves her diverse background into her material, challenging stereotypes and offering fresh perspectives. “I talk about things that are sometimes difficult to talk about but for me, it’s about finding the light in such situations,” she shared.

Atsuko frequently discusses her mother’s mental illness because she believes many others may have family members facing similar challenges. “I don’t want people to feel heavy when they’re watching me perform. I want them to feel seen and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going through that!”

In an era where certain jokes have ignited controversy and placed comedians in precarious situations, Atsuko has managed to navigate this delicate terrain with finesse. Without showing off – but also a little – she explained that the reason that happens is because some writers like to “poke at people and see how far they can push others”, which is something Atsuko steers clear of.

In the male-dominated realm of comedy, a prevalent narrative claimed that women were simply “not funny.” However, Atsuko added that while it’s not outwardly spoken, the belief continues to this day in a rather subtle tone. “People would only put one female comedian on a lineup of comedians. They wouldn’t put me because they already have one female in a lineup that has eight men,” she explained. “When you have fewer female comedians, the audience tends to judge them harder – because they’re not seen enough.” She stressed the importance of more inclusive lineups so that audiences can see the different styles of comedy.

As for those who say that women are not funny, Atsuko responded with a pointed remark, “They run the risk of sounding lame because they are and it makes them look a 100-year-old.” She also added that those who subscribed to such beliefs likely lacked meaningful friendships with women, further emphasising the flawed nature of their perspective.

In the present era, such comments are frequently directed toward Atsuko and other female comedians through the veil of social media. “People hide behind a mask on the internet, so I ignore such comments and continue doing comedy for the reason I started doing it, which is for people to have a better day,” she exclaimed. She chooses to respond to these remarks through her performances aiming to be “yet another female comedian adding to the noise”. She added, “I mind my own business and make the pathway easier for other women by being out there.”

Atsuko Okatsuka

Atsuko wholeheartedly advocates for female comedians to seek out a supportive community or a safe space where they can truly flourish. Recognising the immense challenge of crafting jokes and generating ideas, she empathetically expressed, “It’s already so hard to have to come up with jokes and thinking of ideas requires a lot of energy. Find yourself another female comedian to share your jokes with so you can just laugh and not worry about people judging you.”

Regarding the ever-evolving landscape of comedy, particularly with the increasing prominence of women and people of colour, Atsuko acknowledges the positive direction in which the comedy scene is moving. “In the past, people only knew a handful of comedians but now more people are into stand-up which gives comedians a platform to be seen,” she explained. “The audience gets a choice and they can watch someone that they can connect to.” This shift signifies a positive and inclusive shift within the comedy industry.

Atsuko Okatsuka’s upcoming performance as part of the Dubai Comedy Festival is not merely a showcase of her immense talent and unparalleled comedic prowess; it symbolises a seismic shift in the very fabric of the industry. With her inimitable style and fearless determination to dismantle stereotypes, she is poised to unleash a torrent of laughter at the Dubai Opera this Monday.

GO: Visit for tickets and more information.

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Shaheera Anwar - Staff Writer
From a beautiful childhood in Riyadh to a calm and collected life in Dubai. When she's not busy penning her latest masterpiece, you can catch Shaheera lounging with her family or binging on the latest movies. And as a millennial, she's got her sights set on TikTok - hoping to go viral someday (fingers crossed).

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