Everywhere you look, there’s Joel Kim Booster—and we’re certainly not complaining.
This month alone, the actor-writer-comedian can be seen in the instant classic rom-com Fire Island on Hulu, opposite Maya Rudolph’s wannabe philanthropist in AppleTV+ comedy series Loot, and in his incisively hilarious new stand-up special on Netflix, Psychosexual. In this era of streaming wars, Booster is a bona fide triple agent.
And while it’s something of a coincidence that the performer has so many high-profile projects dropping at once, this supernova moment for Booster is far from a lark. It’s the result of years of working hard and working smart, putting in the time with stand-up sets, TV guest appearances, podcast spots, and more. Now, it’s his time in the sun, and we’re officially declaring it: It’s Hot Joel Summer.
Born in South Korea and raised in Illinois by an adoptive evangelical Christian family, Booster has long joked that he knew he was gay before he knew he was Asian. In other words, he didn’t grow up around people who looked like him. In fact, he cites his Fire Island co-star Margaret Cho—particularly her ’90s ABC comedy, All American Girl—as the first person he ever saw on television who looked like him.
“That was groundbreaking for me,” Booster shares with Queerty. “As I got a little older and discovered her stand-up—and how authentically queer and unapologetically queer she was, and the boundaries she was pushing at the time—it was really life-changing.”
That makes Cho’s role in Fire Island an especially sentimental, full-circle moment for Booster, who was inspired to write the feature based on his own trips to the gay mecca, as well Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice. Cho plays Erin, something of a matriarch to the film’s central chosen family, who initially met while toiling away at an NYC brunch spot. Every summer, Erin opens her island home up to Noah (Booster), Howie (SNL‘s Bowen Yang), and their close friends (Matt Rogers, Tomás Matos, Torian Miller), for a week of parties, hook-ups, and counting down the sunset.
But even if Fire Island looks like a loving ode to the titular hot spot—handsomely shot by director Andrew Ahn and D.P. Felipe Vara de Rey—it’s not all sunshine and poppers. Booster was careful to write a script that, while exceptionally funny, felt authentic to his experiences on the island, one that touches on issues prevalent there and within the LGBTQ community at large, particularly the racism he’s encountered as a queer person of color.
“Fire Island [is] a really important project for me,” he says, “because it sort of is the culmination of what I had to learn coming up in this industry as a queer person and a person of color, which is: You cannot wait around for people to create opportunities for you, especially opportunities that reflect your own experience.”
Now that film has hit Hulu after months of anticipation (years, if you count Quibi), the ever-savvy Booster is well aware that it couldn’t possibly reflect everyone‘s experience, and that’s part of his point; he just set out to tell his story as honestly as he could.
“Within our community, there are so many different ways to be a queer person. Sometimes when other people hear, like, ‘Oh, that person’s supposed to represent me? I don’t see myself in that person at all,’ they get very frustrated.” Booster understands that, deeply, but also reminds us that there’s room enough for all queer voices, every experience, every life.
“I hope this movie, even if you didn’t like it, it inspires you to go make your own, or support somebody that you do feel represented by.” (For the record, we like the movie very much.)
As Fire Island begins streaming nationwide, it’s made Booster more visible than ever—on a level he once thought wasn’t possible for a gay, Asian-American man. And while he blushes at the assertion that he’s become a role model within both the LGBTQ and AAPI communities, it’s clear that his work, his visibility will continue to open doors for a more inclusive future in the entertainment industry.
We see you, Joel Kim Booster. And we can’t wait to see so much more.
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