I don’t think you can print this,” Joel Kim Booster warns, as a prelude to the tale he’s about to tell. One time, the comedian says, he was at a pride party and saw a man on the dance floor waving at him. He walked over and the stranger shouted, “Oh my God, you’re Joel Kim Booster! What you’re doing for our community is amazing.” Something was off, though. “He was holding my hand while he was fully being penetrated by another human being,” Booster says. “I don’t think I’ll ever have a better story of being recognized in my entire life.”
As a gay Korean American who was adopted by white evangelicals and raised in west suburban Plainfield, Booster is used to adapting to unfamiliar situations. It’s a valuable skill for the 31-year-old standup, whose stature has ballooned since the release of his 2017 debut album, Model Minority. Having appeared in the Hulu series Shrill and the Netflix movie The Week Of, Booster, now based in L.A., takes on his biggest project yet: a starring role in NBC’s new ensemble sitcom Sunnyside.
Set in New York, Sunnyside explores the agony and ecstasy of becoming an American citizen. Booster’s character is a wealthy narcissist, one of a diverse group of immigrants seeking help from a hard-partying ex–city councilman played by Kal Penn (who’s also the show’s cocreator). It’s a timely topic, which is not lost on Booster. Despite being a comedy, he says, “the show doesn’t shy away from the difficulties that come with trying to immigrate to this country.”
Aside from “the psychic torture that you put yourself through to get the job,” Booster found the transition to prime-time TV easy. He points out that snacks are hand-delivered by crew members. “Don’t let anyone ever tell you that acting is difficult. It’s the easiest job in the world.”
Five More Things to Watch
1 A Sneak Peek at Lilly Wachowski’s New Series
Expanding on her one-woman show, Abby McEnany, a fixture on the local improv scene, plays a middle-aged woman who starts a new relationship destined to change her life in Work in Progress, cowritten and produced by one of the sibling pair behind The Matrix. The pilot, which garnered acclaim at Sundance, will screen at Chicago’s LGBTQ film festival Reeling before premiering December 8 on Showtime.
2 Michael Shannon Inhabits a Tech Trailblazer
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s long-delayed The Current War chronicles the early days of electricity. That may sound dull, but consider this: It stars the never-boring Shannon as George Westinghouse and climaxes in Chicago with a competition at the 1893 world’s fair.
3 Bruce Wayne’s Cousin Fights Crime
Christopher Nolan used our city as Gotham’s alter ego in two Batman films, and Chicago suits up again in Batwoman, a new CW series about Kate Kane (Ruby Rose), a crime fighter with a familiar gimmick. Less familiar: The hero is an out lesbian.
4 A Deeper Look at a Blues Legend
Buddy Guy has been an inspiration to countless guitarists, but he was a student before he became a master. Jim Ferrell’s documentary The Torch, which premieres at the Chicago International Film Festival, explores the bluesman’s tutelage under Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.
5 A Buzzed-About Teen Thriller
Local filmmaker Jennifer Reeder’s Knives and Skin, about the disappearance of a schoolgirl in a small Illinois town, has earned comparisons to the work of David Lynch and John Hughes. Those incongruous reference points, combined with a Berlin International Film Festival screening and IFC backing, make it a Chicago International Film Festival must-see. — Keith Phipps