“What’s Weighing On You?”: On Gaining 6.2 Lbs in 10 Minutes

July 4th, 2013 → Leave a comment


Two nights ago, I got a long festering performance art itch out of my system and gained 6.2 lbs in 10 minutes in front of a live audience. Above is a video of the performance taken from an IPhone.  It’s shaky and doesn’t capture how totally difficult this was on my body or how tense the audience was.  I wish you were there live because I will never do this again.

Initial inspiration for this piece:  At the Ethiopian Market two years ago, I saw this giant tub of shea butter and thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny to rub in that whole tub of butter at once and then weigh myself after?”  I’ve been obsessed with the idea of gaining weight in front of an audience ever since.  I don’t know why.  Was it just the act of watching accumulation?  Was it because my mother told me I was getting fat last year?  Was it the curiosity of how much weight we took on daily from little things like lotion, make-up, a breath of air?

What the hell was onstage weight gain a metaphor for?  I was going to find out.

I don’t know what the point was, I just knew I was really interested in pursuing this idea and figuring out what it all meant in the process.  Everything in my career has been me pursuing these bad ideas and learning new things in the process.

It was a true performance art experiment.  Was this stupid premise going to be possible?  Did it mean anything? Would I die?  I decided that before the performance, I’d ask the audience to write about the “weights” in their life on the slips of paper that Rich handed out.  This would be a thematic parallel to the action.  My performance collaborator Rich Yap was so great in helping me collect these little slips of paper and read them at an even pace.

I spent most of the day leading up to the show terrified that I might die from this. There is no good information about rapid water consumption.  In fact, there are quite a few stories about people dying.  And there was a lot of concern from Facebook friends that I was going to hurt myself.    I came up with a “safe word” with the show producer (“Traci Help Me.”) in case I really was sick and everyone might think I was still performing.

So my strategy for rapid weight gain was:
32 oz of Gatorade (for electrolytes and sodium)
Some water
Lentils (because they are so dense and cheap to cook)
More water
Body lotion
More water

DO NOT TRY DOING WHAT I DID.  I didn’t throw up but I did feel sick the minutes after and was dry heaving.  But then I was ok and ate a full dinner an hour later!  I am not back at 143lbs though.  Still holding that water weight!

Things NEVER to say to me after a performance when I am doubled over on the staircase trying to recovery from a performance that could have killed me:

“I thought I was going to see you do your comedy.” (Actual Audience reaction)

Oh, I’m sorry. Was challenging the limits of my body and doing something you will probably never see anybody ever try again in your lifetime not interesting enough for you?  Did you want to see me tell jokes about my mother’s accent like every other Asian American stand-up?  You want me to talk about dating? Or the original comedy topic of sex?   Guess what fool!  This sick experiment IS my comedy!!!!  LAUGH IT UP!

I am tired of what I feel to be the complete inability of most audiences to experience art without explanation.
As I was telling people about this weight gain performance I was going to do, I was consistently met with “What does it mean?  How?”  People were intrigued by the premise but it was like they needed me to explain to them how it would happen and what it meant in one clear sentence. And then there were other people who would challenge me that I was going to die.  The same thing happened when I showed up at the LINSANITY premiere dressed as Jeremy Lin’s bride.  People couldn’t deal with it and kept asking me, “is this real?” and “Why?”  It’s like the only way they could deal with me is if I said, “I’m an actor. This is a performance.”  I kind of love that it was driving them crazy that I wouldn’t create that line for them.

I always think the magic of performance art is watching the execution of crazy ideas and wrestling with the discomfort of what you are seeing.   And most importantly, trying to find your own meaning in the work, rather than be delivered a didactic agenda of what to think about what you saw.  (Even though asking, “What’s Weighing On You?” hit the thematic point way over the head.)


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