Calgary·Q&A

Kim's Convenience co-creator on anglicization, role models and comedy as a uniting force

He might be best known for co-creating Kim's Convenience but there is so much more to Ins Choi, including an accidental name change involving an immigration official when he moved to Canada.

Ins Choi wanted to believe Mr. Dressup’s Casey was Asian, because of lack of representation

Ins Choi was Danny Choi through high school in Canada. He reverted to something closer to his Korean birth name later in life. (Ellis Choe/CBC)

He might be best known for co-creating Kim's Convenience but there is so much more to Ins Choi, including an accidental name change involving an immigration official when he moved to Canada.

Choi shared that story and a lot more with The Homestretch.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. You can listen to the complete interview here.


Q: What is the story behind your name when you moved to Canada from Korea?

A: The closest English spelling would have originally been Insub Cheh. I don't know who was working at Immigration Canada that day, but they heard and wrote Insurp Choi.

They stuck an R in the middle of my name. The R sound doesn't even exist in the Korean alphabet. I was anchored, burdened by the name Insurp for most of my life.

I didn't like it. It sounded so weird. It wasn't Canadian or Korean. Then I saw a movie, Grease. I was so inspired by John Travolta's portrayal of the character Danny Zuko, in Grade 9 during roll call, the teacher read my name and I said, "that's pronounced Danny Choi."

Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in Grease. Travolta played Danny Zuko, which inspired Ins Choi to adopt the first name Danny in school. (Paramount Pictures)

For most of my high school life I was Danny Choi. Then later in life I got a little artsy and Danny was too boring.

I reclaimed Insurp and my friends started short-forming it to Ins. I like it because it rhymed with Prince and I love Prince and it sounded like I was in a club when people would say it in succession.

Q: How does changing your name impact your life?

A: I wanted to be less Korean and more Canadian. I didn't want to have to explain my name or who I was. It's a familiar immigrant story.

Q: Did that affect your sense of humour, other aspects of your life?

A: Absolutely.

I talk about trying to find a role model, trying to find someone who looks like me on TV, in media, someone who I could cling to. "You kind of look like me and I like you, I want to be like you."

Eventually I found them in professional skateboarders like Steve Caballero or professional wrestlers like Ricky (The Dragon) Steamboat — this is going way back.

It is a painful experience, but through humour, I put it in perspective.

Q: Kim's Convenience started as a stage show. Talk about the evolution of it.

A: When I was little I thought Casey from Mr. Dressup was Asian because he was a little bit yellow hued. I was so desperate, I would take Casey because there was a lack of representation.

Now, my kids and their friends don't think seeing an Asian on TV is a surprise, it is not a unique thing, which is amazing.

Puppets Casey, centre, and Finnegan with Ernie Coombs, who portrayed Mr. Dressup on the iconic children's show. (CBC)

Q: Are we getting a little more diverse, with shows like Fresh Off the Boat and Crazy Rich Asians?

A: This last summer was a big summer for North American Asians, with Crazy Rich Asians and Searching. There were online celebrations.

There's a lot of work to be done but it's great to see things are changing.

Q: You were searching for a role model and now you are one. Do you see yourself as a pioneer?

A: I will take it. It's great to have a platform where all of those artists can shine, that other people see.

In the realm of comedy, it allows people to understand that we are all one, humankind.

There is so much division in the world today and politics. Comedy can show that we are different but we can get along.

Ins Choi is probably best known as a playwright and creator of Kim's Convenience...both the stage version and the hit CBC television show. He is also a poet and actor. In his new show he is a storyteller. He'll be sharing some of his personal stories in a show called "Songs, Stories and Spoken Words" in Calgary tonight. 7:47

With files from The Homestretch.