Our 2022 Annual Report continues with the announcement of Joel Kim Booster as our Comedian of the Year. As the year winds down, stay tuned for more awards, lists, and articles about the best music, film, and TV of 2022. Plus, check out our Top 25 Films of 2022 list here.
2022 was the biggest, wildest year of Joel Kim Booster’s career, and he got through it by being in love. “I spent so long looking forward to this moment, and it’s been really hard to try to sort of live in the moment and enjoy it,” he tells Consequence. “And I think the only reason I survived, and it was something that I never expected, was having the grounding presence of my partner and my boyfriend throughout it.”
This was a year that saw the actor, writer, and comedian release his first Netflix standup special and star in the critically acclaimed Fire Island — which, no big deal, he also wrote. In fact, the day after we spoke via phone for his 2022 Comedian of the Year interview, Booster became an Independent Spirit Award nominee in the Best First Screenplay category.
In addition, he was featured on the Maya Rudolph-starring Apple TV+ series Loot, and made a wide range of guest appearances across the television landscape, including his new favorite thing: celebrity editions of game shows. “I’m hounding my reps to see what other game shows they can get me on,” he says. “It’s the best fringe benefit of my summer in general, being on every celebrity version of anything that needs at least one celebrity that 90% of the audience goes, ‘Who is that? How are they a celebrity?’ I’m happy to fill that role in as many celebrity versions of game shows as possible.”
And through it all, he’s been in a relationship, which is something he never expected. “I always pictured myself reaching this success and then settling down and finding that person. But what I realized is that I’m so grateful that the reverse happened — that I found the person and then this all happened. Because without him grounding me on Earth, I don’t know exactly how I would’ve handled or not handled the pressure of this year and the success of this year, quite honestly.”
Booster’s most high-profile 2022 moments all happened to land in June, including Psychosexual, his first hour-long standup special for Netflix. “This special is really sort of a meta-commentary on representation,” he told Consequence earlier this year. “Because I get pulled into being a representative: I represent the gay community, I represent the Asian community… So a lot of the special, through these bits, is very self-aware about what makes me a bad representative and what makes me a good representative and all of these things, and really my struggle to not want to be a representative at all. That’s sort of the throughline of the set.”
With Psychosexual complete, he’s now working on material for a new hour. But, as he says now, it’s “frustrating because my last Netflix special, which is the culmination of a couple of years of work, was crafted on a minute level over the course of several years of going up at bar shows and doing shorter sets. Now, most of the time that I’m doing standup, I’m doing headlining shows and I’m doing an hour’s worth of material, so I’m not getting the same amount of workshop time to focus on those individual pieces. I’m usually just getting to hit them in the context of an entire sort of roughly drawn hour right now.”
In 2023, he’ll be “grounded” in Los Angeles for about half the year, shooting Loot Season 2. “I’m hoping that with that time I’ll be able to find more time to go up regularly here in LA, and get back to that same rhythm,” he says. “Loot is a dream job, but it is also the closest thing I’ve ever had to a stable 9-to-5 job, give or take a few hours on either end. So it’s bringing me back to that time I had a day job and would like clock in, do my work, and then clock out and do standup until as late as I possibly could.”
The funny thing, he notes, is that “for so long, before I wanted to do standup, I wanted to be an actor and I wanted to be a writer. Then standup became this thing that was an outlet for me in Chicago — that was the one creative outlet that I didn’t want to commodify, partially because I just never expected to find professional success doing standup, and so I was like, ‘Oh, what a fun thing that I can do for myself that doesn’t have the same pressure on it as acting and writing.’
“And then, of course, standup sort of slowly took over my life and became the thing I think most people knew me for a long time. And once you become successful as a standup, that is when they come knocking and want you to write and want you to act, and suddenly you have no time to do the thing that gave you the opportunity in the first place.”
Now, Booster is hoping to get back to his roots, and “be able to do some of these more guerrilla, underground comedy shows with people that are coming up now, and just getting an opportunity to really focus on the smaller aspects of my set right now.”
The new challenge is being in a relationship for the first time. “Finding time to split my time amongst all of these things has been really difficult,” he says. But there’s an additional wrinkle. Being in a relationship now gives Booster some new ground to explore, because “not to be completely mercenary about it, but I was sort of pumping the well dry of all of my ‘I’m single’ dating material. So it’s nice to have a new well to draw from.”
The catch? “I’m so used to being able to talk about every quadrant of my life because it’s mine,” he says. “Now, suddenly, I have this other person involved in my life and I have to be responsible with his life as well, and his privacy. And that’s really an adjustment for me, especially. We’ve talked a lot about it. I’ve gotten in trouble a few times for things that I’ve said in the press about our personal lives, our sex life maybe.”
Another change in the status quo: While his own family does not and has not watched any of his work (as an adoptee, Booster was raised by white Evangelical Christians), his boyfriend’s parents do follow his career.
“I’ve never been super worried about talking about my family and/or my life and having my family see it and disapprove, but his parents really love watching and supporting my work,” Booster says. “So when I talk about like having a threesome with my boyfriend, it’s suddenly like, ‘Oh, you realize my mom will watch that now.’ You have to reckon with that as well. That’s something that I think a lot of comedians have struggled with, that I just haven’t had to deal with up until this point in my career.”
As life so often imitates art, the creation of Fire Island, now streaming on Hulu, was directly affected by Booster’s change in relationship status. “I wrote the movie before I met [my boyfriend], but I was rewriting the movie with Andrew Ahn, the director, while I was falling in love. And that changed significant parts about the ending specifically.”
While very much a romantic comedy with a HEA, the film takes a wary eye towards the idea of monogamy. But, Booster says, “It’s significant to me, it might not be to anyone else, but the last line of the movie is Conrad Ricamora’s character saying, ‘What’s now, what’s next, basically.’ And [Booster’s character] says, ‘I guess we’ll find out.’ That line originally was, ‘Who cares?’ It is an adjustment that to a lot of people will seem very interchangeable, I think. But it’s so much more hopeful to me. And I think that came directly because of falling in love with this person. Suddenly my ideas about love and relationships were shifting more towards the hopeful.”
He continues, “It was interesting to be working on a rom-com while you were falling in love, because it changed the perspective on the movie for me completely. We’re not monogamous and that’s one of the things that we navigate frequently through communication, but I think in many ways the relationship looks like what I was hoping would come away from thinking what the relationship between me and Will would look like in future installments of this world.”
Does “future installments” mean a Fire Island 2? Booster says that “there is definitely a lot of interest from both people who like the movie and the studio, but for me, I don’t want to start by saying, ‘Okay, let’s write a sequel,’ and then try to reverse-engineer a story. Because I don’t want to have a sequel just to have a sequel. I think if there’s a story that I think needs to be told with these characters and a continuation of this story, and I find that, then I would love to write a sequel and work with these people again because it was the most fun I’ve ever had on any job ever. So it’s definitely something I would love to do, but I want to do it the right way.”
He does think that while the original film was a Pride and Prejudice pastiche, he probably wouldn’t follow the same pattern for a sequel. “I think if I were to go like an anthology route — different characters, different story completely — I would do that. But I think if I were to do an honest-to-God sequel to Fire Island with these same characters, I would probably have to let go of the Jane Austin of it all, because most of her books are marriage plots, and I’m not exactly sure where we would start within this existing world with another Jane Austin book. But it’s definitely something I’ve thought of doing, like an anthology series for sure, because I think there’s a lot of interesting insight from a gay perspective on her work.”
Meanwhile, he is interested in exploring some of the film’s other characters in a potential followup. “I got some criticism for under-writing certain characters, which in my defense, I think there’s a lot of stuff on the cutting room floor that through the business of making a movie, we had to let go of,” he says. “But I have a deep affection for every character in this movie, pretty much, and I think I would love to explore Tomás Matos’s Keegan or Torian Miller’s Max. I would love to really dig into those characters a little bit more, given the chance.”
Fire Island, along with the Billy Eichner-starring Bros, both received a lot of media attention this year as gay rom-coms produced by major studios — a major milestone for the industry, though the films had major differences in their distribution: Fire Island was released first, but was streaming-only, while Bros debuted in theaters this fall.
When it comes to measuring the impact of a streaming release like Fire Island, Booster says, “It’s hard to gauge quite honestly, because there was obviously a lot of chatter and a lot of attention right around its release. And I think part of it has to do, quite honestly, with Bros’ release; I think our movies, a little unfairly, were compared and contrasted a lot by both critics and casual viewers. I sort of understand why, because of the timing of the releases of those movies.
“But Billy’s movie really helped spark a second wave of people watching my movie, which was really great because it was super-accessible at a time when I think people are still not going to the theaters to see R-rated comedies in general, whether they be rom-coms or otherwise. And so I think it was really interesting to see just how many people were willing to see my movie just because of its accessibility.”
The one major downside of Fire Island’s streaming debut: Booster doesn’t possess a physical copy of his movie. “With all of the mergers and the business with HBO Max, I’ve been hounding Searchlight to give me a thumb drive with my movie on it, just in case something happens. I don’t want it to be lost to the ether forever. But that is the risk you take, I guess, with streaming. It’s really accessible — until it isn’t.”
Oh, and if you’re wondering: His boyfriend’s parents did like the movie, with caveats. “They’re like moderately conservative people — they’re lovely, but I was a little nervous about some of the material in Fire Island. I think his mom did say to him at one point, because we were on Fire Island when they watched it, something like, ‘I think I learned a little bit too much about your life in that film, if any of it’s to be believed.’ So I think they watched it the one time. They did enjoy it. They liked seeing me. But I don’t think they’ll be returning to it anytime soon.”
In 2022, Booster did get to do something that he can share with his own mother: Appear on Celebrity Jeopardy! and the celebrity edition of The Great American Baking Show. “In the length of my career, since I’ve been working for over a decade, these are the only things that my mom will have watched and will be allowed to have watched,” he says. “I think she was very proud of me on Jeopardy, and I think she’ll be very proud of me on the baking show. It’s just nice to be at a point in my career where I can finally say to my mom, ‘Hey, you can watch this finally.'”
On Celebrity Jeopardy, he made it to the semi-finals after beating Ray Romano and Melissa Rauch in Round 1 (the experience, he says, was “very fun and very nerve-wracking — I’ve been a Jeopardy watcher my entire life, and so it was a real dream come true”). The Great American Baking Show was a different sort of challenge: Streaming now on The Roku Channel, it features Booster attempting to bake despite claims that he’s never baked a thing in his life before, and also ripping his pants during filming. (It’s a great deal of fun.)
Looking forward, Booster wants to wear as many hats as possible. “I want to continue to be known as a multi-hyphenate. I look at people like Issa Rae and Michaela Coel and Phoebe Waller Bridge, and even Lena Dunham, and I think like what they have accomplished as writers, performers, and producers is really amazing,” he says. “I want a full Joel Kim booster takeover of the industry in that way, and I want to be known as not just one thing, not as a one trick pony either. And I’m really excited to get the opportunity to flex all of these muscles eventually.”
All of those people have one thing in common: They’re the creators of TV shows, something that Booster is definitely eager to explore. “Fire Island was originally pitched as a television show. TV has always been sort of where my interests have always, I’ve always been drawn to TV. It’s my favorite way to tell a story, I think, and to experience stories. And so I’m really excited to get the opportunity to hopefully play in that sandbox eventually.”
In the meantime, Booster’s big takeaway from 2023 is a simple one: Be sure to savor the moment. Right now, with the holidays approaching, he says things are winding down a little bit.
“I’m getting a chance to read and take it all in for the very first time. Because I feel like ever since the movie premiered, it just has been go, go, go — I have been going pretty nonstop all summer and fall. So it’s nice to just sort of be able to sit in my home and really just, I don’t know, enjoy my life for a minute.”