Much of Joel Kim Booster’s life has changed since his last stand-up special. From his home in Los Angeles, the 36-year-old comic, writer and actor tells Broadsheet that his 2022 Netflix special, Psychosexual, was something of a final chapter.

“The special came out, and it was like saying goodbye to that era – that voice and perspective and POV that I was writing from for so many years,” he says. “This last year has really been a rebuilding period for me. I’m figuring out what this next iteration looks like and who this new person is going to be onstage, because there are certain aspects of my onstage persona that just don’t feel interesting to me anymore.”

When he returns to Melbourne International Comedy Festival this month, for a series of co-headline shows with fellow comedian and actor Zainab Johnson, audiences will witness “a whole new guy, in many ways”.

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It’s not just behind the microphone that things are moving rapidly. Booster was nominated for an Emmy this past year for Fire Island, the rom-com he wrote and starred in, adapting Pride and Prejudice through a modern, queer lens. It takes its name from Fire Island, its setting off the coast of New York, which is known for its gay resort towns. He’s also been playing Maya Rudolph’s right-hand man on the TV series Loot, and will soon move into production on his second film, a wedding rom-com called Again Again Again.

Broadsheet caught up with Booster ahead of his trip to Melbourne to talk stand-up, awards season and returning to Fire Island.

It’s been a few years since you were in Melbourne for the comedy festival. Is there somewhere in the city you’re keen to revisit?
I love Melbourne. I am constantly evangelising for Melbourne. I’ve been a couple times and I think it has some of the smartest, most comedy-literate audiences you’ll get to perform for.

You go to certain clubs in the US where the audience has never really seen stand-up before, and so really simple, hacky jokes will work on them. Whereas I find in Melbourne, they’re ahead of you. Every time I leave Melbourne, I leave a better comic.

And Melbourne, the city, is amazing, too. This is a hot take: I prefer it to Sydney –

That’s, like, our whole thing.
Got it. Just culturally it’s a little bit more my speed. It is, outside of Asia, the most Asian people I’ve ever been around in my entire life. So that’s always comforting. And the festival does a really great job of planning things for us to do. I’m always being forced to touch a koala at some point.

Your show is at Town Hall, so you’ve got your pick of restaurants and bars before and after. What is your pre- or post-show routine? Do you have a drink beforehand?
I am not a drinker anymore – there are plenty of other things I do that make me not sober – but especially pre-show, it would just make me a little too nervous. Immediately as I step off stage it’s like, where’s the pizza? Where’s the Red Bull? Where’s my joint? Where are all of the things that I want?

I follow you on Twitter and appreciate your reality TV takes. What corners of pop culture have you been obsessed with recently?
Oh, I mean, nonstop Traitors. Especially the first season in Australia, first season in UK – huge. Australia edges it out as the best one – and I’m not even saying that because I’m speaking to an Aussie. These people are playing chess, the Americans are playing checkers.

I saw your incredible red carpet look at the Independent Spirit Awards recently. I’m curious to know what movies you were rooting for?
May December is the snub of the century for me. I think the fact that Charles Melton, especially, is not in the discussion for the Oscars is insane. It was one of the best male performances of the year.

Anatomy of a Fall is one of my favourites. We’re talking about the horse race between Lily [Gladstone in Killers of the Flower Moon] and Emma [Stone in Poor Things] right now – who both gave performances I loved – but I think it is sad that Sandra Hüller isn’t a bigger talking point.

I’m so happy for Colman Domingo. I think [Rustin] was a movie that sort of flew under the radar but was so wonderful and is elevated beyond just a standard biopic. And I’m really excited to see a gay man get nominated for playing a gay person, and doing it well and slaying the red carpet every single time.

What was the reception like when you went back to Fire Island after the film came out?
It is obviously a little weird. I do feel a little bit like Mickey Mouse at Disneyland.

That first summer [back] was wild, but it’s certainly calmed down. I think people are actually somewhat chiller on the island about it than they would be otherwise because it is summer camp – they know they have to see me for the rest of the week.

I will say: no one is more willing to give me a note about the movie than a drunk gay guy. They’re very free. They feel very free to say how much they disliked parts of the movie – or the entire movie in general! I’ve had every single kind of conversation about what is wrong with the movie Fire Island on Fire Island.

You really can’t control people’s reactions once it’s out, but I’m sure it’s tempting to have a response for every criticism.
For me, it’s really easy to separate the criticism that comes from people who are upset that it maybe doesn’t represent the universal queer experience in the way that they would like it to, versus people who have criticisms and edits they might have made. The former is really easy for me to dismiss because I’m like, “I never said that this movie was supposed to represent all of us.” That is something that maybe you read in the media, and unfortunately you should be mad at them.

What were some of the little throwaway lines or references in the film that you were surprised people latched onto?
I think the biggest one, honestly, is the Marisa Tomei scene. I loved writing that scene. I wasn't sure how it would play. One of my favourite things to come out of the movie is how celebrated that scene is. I think that is my magnum opus.

Well I just want to thank you for the joke about the wi-fi password (“It’s Cherry Jones, but the E’s are threes”). That meant a lot to me.
It’s actually my wi-fi password in real life. It predated the movie.

Joel Kim Booster is at Melbourne International Comedy Festival from March 28–April 7.

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