Quick Quarantine Questions: Esther Chen

The second edition of our new series where we talk to people who moved to Taiwan during the pandemic sees us hurl some questions at Esther Chen, a Taiwanese actor and comedian who until March last year was based in New York. She’s been seen on shows on HBO, Hulu, Amazon and MTV, as well as being a dialect coach for the hit show Mr. Robot, but nowadays is seen on stage at Taipei’s Two Three Comedy Club, as well as offering acting classes to those looking to break into the industry. Enjoy this clip of her appearing in the trailer for Jerry Seinfeld’s latest Netflix special below and read on for the interview. (Read more: Quick Quarantine Questions: Clarissa Wei)

When did you arrive in Taiwan?

The second week of March [2020].

You were only planning to stay for a month or so?

I thought I’d be here for three weeks. My apartment [in New York] is so small and I thought, yeah, since I’m gonna be stuck at home for three weeks – it had just been announced that New York was to go into lockdown – I might as well be in Taiwan. And flights were really cheap because no one was flying. I bought my flight on the way to the airport. It’s been 13 months. I didn’t pack clothes because I had some at my parents’ house.

What do you do here in Taipei?

Comedy, podcasting, teaching, and eating.

What are your feelings about living in Taiwan, where life is “normal” during a global pandemic?

Of course, we’re super lucky to be here. Lucky not to be stuck in our apartments. We have no idea how lucky we are. I’ve not lived in New York at all during the pandemic. It was flopped upside down. What is New York City without tourism? What is New York City without Broadway? Without comedy clubs? All this happened and I didn’t get any bit of it. The New York that I last experienced was still hustling and bustling. I never lived a second of it [the pandemic]. 

Do you feel like you’ve missed out in a way? As strange as that sounds.

There’s a shared pain, like a sense of bonding between the comedians [in New York]. “We went through this sh*t together. We survived this.” People are depressed, seriously having issues and I don’t feel that sense. I don’t share this remorse with them. I can’t relate. I can’t relate with the anxiety of every time you leave your house you think you might have caught it. Everyone I know has had at least seven [COVID] tests. My boyfriend gets like one a week from work. Here I even have the privilege of not knowing what the test feels like. 

You stayed at home for a month after arriving. How did it feel to finally start coming out more?

I did my show (headline at Two Three) at the end of May and even then, I still did the show with a mask on. I was cautious. 

When do you plan on going back to New York?

I don’t know. Why does everyone keep asking me that? [laughs]. The thing with New York is you don’t know what it’s going to turn into. Things are so up and down, I’m not gonna put a date on it. You can’t. Everything is so up in the air. 

(Cover photo: theestherchen.com)

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