By Angelina Silvester
Welcome to NYWIFT, Kilara Sen! Kilara is a Japanese female stand-up comedian and actor, moving to New York this summer. Kilara currently is hosting “Japanese Whisky Lockdown” and “Japanese Whisky World” on Dekanta TV. She also appeared on international TV such as Asia’s Got Talent, Paul Hollywood Eats Japan, and Welcome to the Railworld. Kilara is gender non-conforming (she/they), a “hikikomori” survivor (a form of severe social withdrawal), and had a wonderful year at Historically Black Colleges.
Based on her experiences, she shares her strong and funny voice on mental health, feminism, and diversity. She believes that everyone should be as special and unique as a unicorn. Also, she is the voice breaking stereotypes of Japanese women: the New Pink. Kilara thinks of herself as a Pink Unicorn.
Kilara spoke to us about breaking down stereotypes, community support, and finding liberation through comedy.
Tell us about yourself – give us your elevator pitch!
I am a Japanese comedian, actor, and writer who moved to New York last year with my TV pilot, to share my funny voice telling the truth with the world! My goal is to have my own comedy TV show on mental health, women’s empowerment, and diversity, which are also the brand of my comedy. Now, I am very passionate about working in any part of the US TV industry. I believe my uniqueness, experience, and polished humor will bring outstanding outcomes.
I studied theatre arts at HBCUs, and I have a very famous mom (nepo baby!). You should know her by her stage name: Godzilla. I survived depression and hikikomori. Hikikomori is a Japanese term to mean people who don’t go to work, who don’t go to school, who stop everything, which in America is known as a comedian!
I am a Japanese woman who breaks stereotypes, speaks up, and tells the truth.
What is your favorite project to date?
Asia’s Got Talent. Any shows/projects [I worked on] were amazing so it was very hard to choose…but Asia’s Got Talent was my very first international TV show! Honestly, it taught me lessons about my mindset and the differences from Japanese TV production. Also, I was very impressed by how happily all crews were working for such long and hectic filming every day (Japan’s TV studios are usually very [anxious].) All crews at AGT never lost their smiles and communication with all performers and teams. I loved it and have tried to keep that attitude in my work ethic, too.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
“The story is already inside of you.”
During the pandemic, I took a TV pilot course by Guillermo Escalona at UCLA. As the deadline for the pilot assignment approached, I got more nervous and started watching more comedy shows to study. Though I already had basic ideas, I wasn’t confident if my story could be wrapped as a pilot and a pitch because of many reasons (a.k.a excuses): English is not my first language, lack of US TV knowledge, lack of knowledge of how much American people can relate to my story based on my experience while I lived in Japan…
But Mr. Guillermo told me this. It changed my perspective on creative work 180° now. Now, I first focus on the output and then study others’ works in the process to make it in the shape. I’ve come to believe in my own voice.
Although they are well-known sayings in art, feedback from the audience such as “Thanks for being yourself” and “Keep being yourself” were also super powerful. Because in Japan we like to advise on what not to do and what to change.
(The worst advice I received was: “You’d better have long black hair to get more popular. Because men prefer it.”)
What brought you to NYWIFT?
My goal is to have my own TV show. I would love to connect with the most creative people in the world, learn about the industry, and get any single opportunity I can [to] help.
Also, I have a reason for joining this [specifically] women-led organization. Before coming to the US, I accused an old guy who was the director of an artist support organization in Japan of sexual harassment. For young talent, there is a cliche that If you want to be successful, be liked by Japanese old men in power. But the allies who really held me back were female & LGBTQ entrepreneurs. This experience made me realize that the bond between motivated, smart, and talented women and minorities is very important to each other.
Also, during the pandemic, I was very impressed by how many brave and talented women’s stories achieved great outcomes over the world. Although we all are in different environments, I could feel something in common as a human. I am super excited to be inspired by the most talented and inspirational people in the industry!
What made you want to pursue standup comedy?
Since I was a little kid, it’s been my dream to become a comedian (inspired by Japanese-style comedians back then). Later, while I studied abroad at an HBCU, I saw Chris Rock’s live performance and was so stunned and decided to do THIS!
Although I worked as a Japanese-style comedian for a while after coming back home, I got more attracted to standup comedians, especially female standup comedians. Because they had a voice and are valued by what they said, not (only) their looks. I wanted to express myself more in my words and stories, too.
Then I totally changed my comedy to standup comedy for the international audience. I love the moments to connect with people from all over the world via my jokes!
How do your lived experiences influence your set? Has your routine changed over time as a result of those experiences?
Being funny was the survival skill of my tough childhood. Comedy is all about my life.
I’ve tried to polish my own funny point of view on everything and performing skills like impersonation all my life. And my routine has changed a lot between before and after I got aware of my boundaries and who I was. Especially, it was a clincher analyzing the previously mentioned sexual harassment and the harasser. I realized how much the social system had influenced my life and even my “Godzilla mom” and that it had kept [my] inner voice silent.
Actually, I subconsciously followed a lot of advice or clichés from even those who didn’t know standup comedy (I didn’t follow the advice to have black hair, though). I stopped following them and caring about how others think.
Especially since I moved to New York, I’ve been talking about topics that people used to tell me not to talk about in public: mental health, feminism, and diversity. Also, I am honest with who I am and recognize myself as gender non-conforming. I have many female friends who found their sexuality and gender in New York. Living in New York is like our gender-reveal party!
What do you think makes writing for comedy unique?
It might be how [many] risks you have taken or how much you are not afraid of taking risks in your life. To think out of the box, we sometimes need to take risks taking a step aside the safety zone.
In Japan, since childhood, many people prefer the option of going to good schools, joining a good company, and getting married; this is called “running the rails of life.” And once they go off the rails, they consider it a failure and despair.
I also entered high school at what is considered the most elite school in Japan, but I suffered from mental health problems and eventually dropped out. Although I went to college, I failed to develop a healthy sense of self-esteem and a vocational outlook, so I wandered the streets and later became a hikikomori.
Rather than going off the rails, I fell off the platform and lay on my back. But looking back, it changed the angle from which I viewed the world. Looking up from the bottom of the platform, you see people from angles you wouldn’t normally see. I can see the thickness of the flesh on their belts, the split crotch of an arrogant old man’s suit. And best of all, the sky is above the platform, and airplanes are flying. I can see that the ride is more than just rails. I think the “angle” gained from overcoming such risks is what makes it unique. Oh, but don’t get hit by a train!
Welcome to NYWIFT, Jaya Mahajan! Originally from Mumbai, India, Jaya is a filmmaker with Executive Producer credits for documentaries and factual shows that have been on networks such as CNN, BBC, Discovery and the National Geographic Channel. She spent the initial part of her career as a business reporter and producer with CNBC and Bloomberg. More recently, she has been running an award-winning production company, creating films and documentaries and teaching journalism students in Malaysia and Singapore. Jaya recently moved to New York and is looking forward to focusing on projects that highlight and amplify traditionally underrepresented, diverse, and marginalized voices.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Jasmine Yeshan Zhang! Jasmine Yeshan Zhang was born and raised in Xinjiang, China and is now based in Brooklyn. She graduated from the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media department at School of Visual Arts in 2021. During her studies at SVA, she expanded her interests on making documentary films. She has been working as an Assistant Editor for documentaries since graduation and is currently working on an archival-heavy doc-series. She is always looking for more opportunities for documentary/film editing. Jasmine spoke to us about how her upbringing influenced her interest in other cultures, her transition from still photography to video, and what she hopes to achieve next.READ MORE
Meet NYWIFT Member Sweta Keswani! After starring in some critically acclaimed and hugely popular prime time television series in India which made Sweta Keswani a household name, she moved to New York in 2010 for love. She was seen on The Blacklist with James Spader, was recurring on New Amsterdam and AMC’s supernatural thriller Nos4a2. She had a fun role on Apple TV’s dark anthology series Roar and Mayim Bialik’s first directorial feature, As They Made Us, with Dustin Hoffman and Candice Bergen last year. Sweta also appears in The Beanie Bubble, which was released late July in theatres and globally on Apple TV. Sweta continues to hone her craft as an actor, whether it’s being in a stage combat or acting class, working on plays locally, or helping with R&D and as social media consultant for the Remarkable Women docuseries.READ MORE
Let’s give a warm NYWIFT welcome to new member Myra Velasquez! Myra Velasquez is an indie filmmaker and playwright whose films have been screened across the country and abroad. Some of her awards include the Lawrence Kasdan Narrative Film Award, the Grand Prize Chicks with Flicks, the BIFF Golden Honu Audience Choice for Best Short, the HIFF Gold Kahuna, and the BIFF Family Favorites. She has also been a finalist for the Sundance Lab, the BlueCat Feature Screenplay Award, the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference, the Big Apple Screenplay Competition, and a Cinequest Short Screenplay semi-finalist, among other notable mentions. Myra spoke to us about her latest audio drama, the best (and worst) advice she’s received, and what she hopes audiences will take away from her work.READ MORE