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Bowen Yang Is, Unsurprisingly, a Delight

The SNL star on what makes a good host, his approach for managing chaos, and when it’s okay to laugh about the news.

Bowen Yang has some reservations about the trampoline. The Saturday Night Live star, 33, is mid-way through his InStyle photoshoot, where he’s already gamely posed with balloons and made several whirlwind costume changes. But as the next scene gets set up, an unmistakable look of fear spreads across his face. The finished image will have Yang appearing to float among the clouds, courtesy of billowing parachute fabric, some hard-working photo assistants, and the aforementioned trampoline. Will Yang willingly face the myriad ways one can embarrass themselves on such a piece of equipment, in a room full of strangers, for the shot? Those familiar with Yang’s extreme commitment to character (the Titanic Iceberg and SoulCycle instructor Flint ("like the water") come to mind), probably already know the answer. He’s accustomed to charging head-first into absurdity for the sake of the bit, setting aside ego and control to make space for what he calls “surprise and delight.” 

This Guy: Bowen Yang loewe sweater
Loewe sweater. Zegna pants and shoes. David Yurman necklace.

Jingyu Lin

Surprise and delight audiences, he has, popping up seemingly everywhere to give our funny bone a tickle. In addition to starring on SNL — where he made the jump from writer to cast member in 2019 — he also co-hosts beloved weekly podcast Las Culturistas (“Las Cultch,” to long-time listeners, whom the hosts alternatingly refer to as “readers,” “publicists,” “finalists,” or “Kayteighs”). In 2022, he was widely praised for his turn as Howie, the sweet, “terminally alone” Jane Bennet stand-in in Fire Island, Andrew Ahn’s queer-centered take on Pride and Prejudice. That same year, Yang made a splash with a cameo in the Billy Eichner–led rom-com Bros, in which he played a wealthy would-be museum donor pitching a “haunted house of gay trauma.” He literally played God in October’s Dicks: The Musical, based on a cult classic off-Broadway production; can currently be seen in Please Don’t Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain; and will appear in next year’s highly anticipated Wicked adaptation, alongside Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo. “I’ve really scammed my way through Hollywood,” Yang says of this foray into singing. “Because after Wicked comes out, I’ll be in two musicals where I sing for maybe five seconds total. Now, how did I get away with this? People are going to be mad.” (To be clear, readers: He has a lovely singing voice.)

The point is, Yang has made himself a force in multiple media genres in a fairly short amount of time. This, in spite of a pandemic, unprecedented political upheaval, and long WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, the latter of which ended the night before our interview (enabling him to discuss the aforementioned Wicked movie). So, not to ask the well-worn “how does he do it all?” question but, like, how does he do it all? “The sort of signal for me is when my sink is full of dirty, dirty stuff,” he says. “That’s how I know that entropy exists, and chaos reigns, and I think I just have to give into it. I cannot exert too much control or else I go a little hysterical.” 

This Guy: Bowen Yang balloons
Ami coat and sweater. Uniqlo tank top. Small Talk shirt and trousers. Nili Lotan belt. Camper shoes. De Beers Jewellers ring (his right hand) and Sydney Evan (his left hand). Mejuri earring.

Jingyu Lin

This Guy: Bowen Yang pink sweater
Isabel Marant sweater. Etudes shirt. Ami tank top. Issey Miyake pants. Citizen watch. De Beers Jewellers bracelet. David Yurman & Rockford Collection ring.

Jingyu Lin

Such a laissez faire attitude has not always been Yang’s approach, especially to SNL. “I think I’ve loosened my grip a little recently,” he explains. “I would go into each season with so many promises to myself or really concrete, maybe overly defined goals. I’m trying to not be as self-prescriptive or stubborn with myself because then it leaves room for surprise and delight.” This concept of “surprise and delight” comes up a few times during our conversation, each time in the context of allowing for the unexpected, adapting to new scenarios, and not being afraid to let the audience see the frayed edges. Like when Yang notes that the best SNL hosts (he uses Bad Bunny, who hosted in October, as an example) are the ones who come in with no agenda, and stay open to letting strangeness unfold. “That is the beauty of [SNL],” Yang says. “Nowhere else in the world can you have an idea on Tuesday and then have it be on TV on Saturday. That is crazy, it doesn’t work like that anywhere.” 

This Guy: Bowen Yang red suit smiley face balloons
Toyko James blazer and pants. Ami tank top. Small Talk shirt. Sydney Evan pin. Mejuri earring. Rockford Collection & David Yurman ring. Citizen watch. David Yurman necklace.

Jingyu Lin

Now, publicists, you’re probably thinking: Isn’t it high-pressure to have to come up with new sketch ideas every week and then perform them in front of millions of people after only a few days? Yang doesn’t deny that the show is high-stakes, but he considers it a key ingredient to success. “I’m really starting to believe in this idea that inspiration and genius strike you when you’re open to it, not forcing it,” he says. “And even—I’m going to bring her up—Taylor Swift has described this thing where she’s said songwriting is this cloud that’s in front of you, and you have to catch it and get it down on paper before it goes away. That’s exactly what it is, and I think everyone at SNL has an experience with engaging with that thing of Oh, it’s here. It’s right in front of us and it’s going to disappear if we don’t get this down. That’s a pretty incredible process to go through.” 

This Guy: Bowen Yang Jumping
Moschino shirt and pants. Uniqlo tank top. Brooks Brothers belt. Versace shoes. Mejuri earring. De Beers Jewellers necklace.

Jingyu Lin

This Guy: Bowen Yang Jumping
Moschino shirt and pants. Uniqlo tank top. Brooks Brothers belt. Versace shoes. Mejuri earring. De Beers Jewellers necklace.

Jingyu Lin

Many fans and critics would argue that SNL is at its best when it’s lampooning the American political system. And no time in America is as ripe for political comedy as a presidential election year. Next year is one such opportunity. Despite being just over a month out from the first primaries, Yang says the cast and crew are avoiding making assumptions about what’s to come; the current approach is to see what unfolds, since trying to anticipate the inevitable madness would be impossible. “God, I was thinking back on 2008, and that was a totally different [timbre] of politics,” he says. “You’d have [Barack] Obama show up on SNL, you’d have Hillary [Clinton] show up on SNL, you’d have [John] McCain show up on SNL. That would never happen in this cycle.” Instead, says Yang, “It is such a different environment and climate now that I feel like we have to adapt to it in real-time and build the plane as we’re flying it. It’s changing so quickly and so grotesquely that you’re just like, Let’s get our bearings first, and even that is kind of impossible.” 

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Yet when the news cycle is full of horrors, there’s an expectation that a show like SNL can help viewers navigate it by providing some levity, or at least framing the issues more approachably. In 2021, Yang demonstrated this balance between lightness and gravitas in a “Weekend Update” segment on the rise in Asian hate crimes, advising viewers to support their Asian neighbors by listening to the community, while also admitting, “I don’t even want to be doing this ‘Update’ piece! I wanted to do my character ‘Gay Passover Bunny,’ but it was too smart for the show!” Yang says the question of whether and when SNL will address serious topics in the news comes down to a judgment on timing, and avoiding the instinct to just say something. “It’s like if you’re trying to get on the other side of a six-lane highway or something and you’re running on your feet, you have to find the right moment where there is enough negative space and an opening to rush through,” he says. “My philosophy is that you just get to whatever the truth of the matter is. I know it’s so eye-roll to be all ‘truth and comedy,’ but there is a nerve to hit that can sort of be the release valve, because otherwise [the bad news is] just going to keep building pressure and it’s going to burst the pipe.” 

This Guy: Bowen Yang cloud balloons
YONY jacket and pants. Rhude shirt. Ami tank top. Rockford Collection earring. David Yurman necklace. De Beers Jewellers & Sydney Evans rings. Nili Lotan belt. Camper shoes. London Sock Company socks.

Jingyu Lin

When the grueling SNL cycle kicks into gear, the important thing, says Yang, is to keep sight of the fun. “On the seesaw, where it’s stressful and it’s fun and those [things] may be on opposite ends, the fun should be the thing that has more weight,” he says. “The stress is inevitable, but, water off a duck’s back; focus on what underpins this whole thing.” Although Yang’s plan for his day off (which during a week when SNL is in production is exclusively Sunday), suggests the stress has at least some weight: “Not to bring up this Gen Z phenomenon but it is, like, bed rot,” he says. “I pray everyone across the staff and personnel at SNL is doing what I’m doing on Sunday.”

This Guy: Bowen Yang Sunflower sweater
MSGM sweater. Willy Chivarria pants. Fendi shoes. David Yurman necklace and ring. Citizen watch. Mejuri earring.

Jingyu Lin

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If this all sounds like a very thoughtful and mature approach to burgeoning stardom in Hollywood (well, New York), it is. But Yang admits that the learning curve was steep. He credits getting cast as Edmund in Awkwafina’s Comedy Central show Nora From Queens in 2020 with ushering in the opportunities that followed. “That was the thing that broke the seal,” he says. “It taught me so much.” For example, while filming the pilot, Yang’s more seasoned co-stars taught him an indelible trick of the trade. “It was me, Akwafina [who plays Nora], BD Wong [who plays Nora’s father], and Lori Tan Chinn [who plays Nora’s grandmother], just at a restaurant. And I was eating the food and swallowing it every take. And all three of these people, different generations of actors, were  like, ‘No, no, no, no, no, you can’t do that. You’re going to throw up. You need to ask for the spit bucket and spit it out.’ And it never occurred to me that that existed. It was just these basic things that, in the spirit of generosity and care and love, everyone was like, ‘No, you sweet little zygote, you don’t know what you’re doing.’” The experience helped boost his confidence about appearing on other shows. “[Being on shows] is a series of not knowing what you don’t know and then knowing what you do and then trying to figure out how to make the two coexist,” he says. 

This Guy: Bowen Yang red suit smiley face balloons
Toyko James blazer and pants. Ami tank top. Small Talk shirt. Louboutin shoes. Sydney Evan pin. Mejuri earring. Rockford Collection & David Yurman ring. Citizen watch. David Yurman necklace.

Jingyu Lin

While inquiring Kayteighs may want to know Yang’s big plans for the future, the theme for him appears to be, once again, “surprise and delight.” “The dream is to do SNL for as long as it makes sense and I’m not dead weight,” he says. “What Lorne [Michaels, creator and executive producer of SNL] says all the time is you want to build the bridge out, while you’re here, to the next thing.” Yang doesn’t give specifics on what that next thing might be,  but given how much of the bridge has already been constructed, it’s safe to assume his ascent will only continue. Which would be delightful, though not surprising. 

This Guy: Bowen Yang Polaroids

Bowen Yang

Who is your celebrity crush?

Crush, the turtle from Finding Nemo.

What’s the last thing you do before falling asleep?

The last thing I do before falling asleep is put all my weight on my right shoulder so that I wake up in pain.

Who is your favorite villain?

It’s a tie between everyone in front of me at Trader Joe’s and Jafar. 

This Guy: Bowen Yang Polaroids

Bowen Yang

Can you describe a memorable dream?

Oh my God, I’m so terrible at remembering my dreams, but I fill out this dream journal note once every season. This is the most recent one: November 11th of last year. “I was Spider-Man. My name was Cosmo. I lived in a basement.” 

First album you ever owned?

The score and soundtrack to Titanic.

If you were required to spend $1,000 today, what would you buy and why?

I would go to Costco today and buy—a rotisserie chicken is like $5 there, so I would buy 200 rotisserie chickens from Costco. And why? Because if it’s today, then that’s what I’m craving. I want a nice roast chicken.

This Guy: Bowen Yang Polaroids

Bowen Yang

If you ran for office, what would your slogan be?

“I will spend money on rotisserie chicken.”

Name one place you’ve never been but have always wanted to go.

Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka. If I don’t go to Japan in the next two years, I will write to my senator.

This Guy: Bowen Yang Polaroids

Bowen Yang

Favorite Hollywood Chris?

Christopher Plummer.

What’s your favorite joke?

What is the difference between a hippo and a Zippo? One is really heavy and the other is a little lighter.

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When was the last time you cried?

At the end of [the Nintendo game] The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. By the way, we don’t talk about [desert-dwelling Zelda characters] the Gerudo people enough. It’s a society of all women, and then every 100 years they have a man and that man is the most evil person in the world. I would still move to Gerudo, because what we go through as a society is we have all these genders but all the men are pretty rotten, like just a little rotten. Whereas their society is all women, but one guy has all the rottenness. I would love that model. But anyway, to answer your question, I was in the London airport, finished beating the game Tears of the Kingdom. The end is the most beautiful thing you will have ever experienced in your life. 

Favorite bagel?

This is going to sound boring, but I promise you it’s actually quite interesting if you follow these exact instructions. Plain, toasted first, then plain cream cheese. I know it’s so vanilla, but then you have to put the bagel in the microwave for 15 seconds so that the cream cheese softens and melts, and then it is the softest and still crunchiest thing. The mouthfeel is 10 out of 10. 


  • Photographer:
  • Jingyu Lin

  • Director of Photography:
  • Wolfgang Held

  • Stylist:
  • Michael Fisher

  • Groomer:
  • Evy Drew for Exclusive Artists using Giorgio Armani Beauty

  • Set Designer:
  • Ethan Lunkenheimer

  • Assistant Camera:
  • Ali Cengiz

  • Gaffer:
  • Spencer Manning

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