Movie about Jack Soo, the first Japanese-American comedian

Yesterday at SFIAAFF, I saw a documentary about Jack Soo, a comedian/singer who was famous in the 60s and 70s. Jack Soo is actually Goro Suzuki, a second-generation Japanese-American who grew up in an internment camp and changed his name to sound Chinese to avoid being sent back to camp after he wiggled his way out. He did stand-up in San Francisco and Chicago, and was in a bunch of TV shows. It was really good—I didn’t know anything about the guy before, but I learned that:

– He was the first Asian American actor who refused to play stereotypical, derogatory roles. He also spoke English with no accent. Opened doors for lots of other Asian actors.
– He married an Eastern European model and has three kids, and a granddaughter who lives in San Francisco.
– He was an awesome singer. One of his co-stars of Valentine’s Day equated his skillz to Frank Sinatra. In fact, he was recording some super famous songs but ultimately they gave the gigs to people like Stevie Wonder, possibly because that was more marketable.
– He died at the height of his career of cancer.

In the Q&A following the screening, director Jeff Adachi noted that there was very little information about Soo out there–but he managed to find a good number of old friends and family and put together an insightful tribute to the guy.

You Don’t Know Jack: The Jack Soo Story

3 thoughts on “Movie about Jack Soo, the first Japanese-American comedian

  1. I fondly remember Jack Soo as one of the original and best characters on “Barney Miller”. For those unfamiliar with the show, it was based upon a rather eccentric group of cops in the 12th precinct of NYC. He was Detective Yamana. Look for the show where he mistakenly eats a bunch of hash brownies.

  2. Jack Soo was wonderful in Barney Miller. When he died a few years into Barney Miller’s run, they did a special episode, where each of Soo’s fellow actors on the show broke character and talked to the viewers about his contributions to the show and the incredible void left by his passing. I’m glad to see he is still remembered.