The day we photographed Naomi Watanabe standing in front of a Manhattan billboard for her new podcast “Naomi Takes America,” she was wearing a floral checkerboard sweater in hues of bright blue, orange, purple, and pink. But after chatting with the comedian, it became clear that her vibrancy didn’t stop at just her wardrobe; she radiated charm both in the retelling of her past creative experiences, and unique outlook on life.
Having moved to New York City from Tokyo last year, Naomi’s podcast is an exploratory effort to connect with her U.S. fans and learn more about their culture. But her podcast follows a laundry list of accomplishments: being the most followed account on Instagram in Japan, reaching over 1 million subscribers on YouTube, and producing her own clothing brand, PUNYUS.
We caught up with Naomi about comedy school, missing a Rihanna concert, and much more.
Tell us about how you grew up.
Naomi: So, my mom’s Taiwanese and my dad’s Japanese. I was raised by my Taiwanese mom in Japan. I wasn't a good student, but ever since middle school I knew I wanted to be a comedian. At 18 years old I became one, and I’ve been one ever since.
How did you get into podcasting?
Naomi: I can't speak English very well yet, so doing standup was intimidating. I do think that when people come to watch things, they have certain expectations. But I wanted to show myself speaking English and communicating with people from all over the world, and this podcast is my platform to do that. I want to do standup comedy in English someday, but first I’m going to start with this podcast.
How does it feel to be a creator in NYC? What’s special about New York for you?
Naomi: Everyone is very free. They do what they like, say what they like, and lots of funny incidents happen on the regular. So it's very refreshing and fun. I grew up with Taiwanese and Japanese culture surrounding me, so this move has immersed me in New York culture—not just in fashion, but in the strength that people have. For a creative person like myself, it's great because I get to see and try different things.
How would you describe your personal style? Does it influence the way you create?
Naomi: Basically, I wear what I want, and I just try to be conscious of that. I do end up wearing things that are pretty colorful and that stand out, but that doesn't necessarily mean I only like fancy things—it's more about the story behind it. I feel the same about my creativity. I like to have a story behind whatever I'm doing.
How do you find inspiration? And once you do, how do you stay in that creative headspace?
Naomi: I actually get a lot of inspiration from sadness. People might be surprised about that because I try to keep my Instagram and YouTube pretty positive. And don’t get me wrong, I love being positive too. But I value the times I feel negative, because feeling that way helps me learn how to cheer other people up—whether it be from bad relationships, or just a bad day.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever received?
Naomi: When I moved to Tokyo, I was attending a comedy school with about 1,000 students and everybody thought they were the funniest. As time passed, about half of them quit and I almost did too. I was talking to a friend and he said, “People haven't seen your 100% yet, so I don't understand why you're trying to quit. Give it your 100%, and if you still don't succeed, then you can quit.” Now in New York, when I'm feeling down, I remember these words.
I value the times I feel negative, because feeling that way helps me learn how to cheer other people up—whether it be from bad relationships, or just a bad day.
What advice would you give to someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
Naomi: I’ve had a pretty unique life, but then again, every person in the world has their own story and their own life. I only know what I’ve gone through, so I try to communicate to learn from others and I think there's a creativity born from that communication. Nowadays people compare themselves a lot to others, but maybe instead of comparing they should try to compliment each other. Have fun and enjoy life.
If you could have a conversation with anyone, who would it be?
Naomi: Rihanna. I love her music, fashion, identity, and her creative skills. There was one time she was doing a show in Japan, but it was sold out during the days I was doing a comedy show.
Is there anything that you want to try creatively that you haven't tried yet?
Naomi: I’d love to try behind-the-scenes work, whether that be camera work, photography, lighting, sound, directing, or producing—everything interests me. I’d especially like to do camera work and shoot something someday.
Interested in being a guest on Naomi's podcast? Submit your interest here!