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Suzanne Whang 86 ScM drives a bright yellow Toyota Prius with a custom frame around the license plate that reads, A Yellow Girl Needs a Yellow Car. It makes me laugh, she says.

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Whang likes to confront ethnic stereotypes head on. She developed an award-winning stand-up comedy act as the character Sung Hee Park, a Korean woman fresh off the boat, who wants to be a comedian but tells old hack jokes, says racist things, and does everything wrong, Whang says. The act has earned her both the Best Up-and-Coming Comedian of 2002 award at the Las Vegas Comedy Festival and the Andy Kaufman Award at the New York Comedy Festival in 2004. In creating Sung Hee Park, Whang followed the advice of her acting coach, who encouraged her to embrace the character based on all the stereotypes she hated about Asian women: they speak in broken English, dress in traditional Korean garb, and fumble to fit into American society. Its my favorite thing to do because I created, wrote, and produced it, Whang says. It breaks all the rules and sparks dialogue, and people go home thinking, Am I racist?

Sung Hee Park is a far cry from Whangs guest roles on The Practice, NYPD Blue, and Still Standing,or her sleek alter ego as the host of House Hunters, the number-one rated show on the Home & Garden Television Network (HGTV). In fact, Whang says, viewers often dont recognize her as the same actress. On TV, Whang is polished and poised as she introduces each segment of House Hunters and its spin-off, House Hunters International, both of which highlight real people shopping for and buying a house.

House Hunters has won Whang a sizable fan club; she says she receives mail from little kids as well as grandparents, and a rap musician wearing a lot of bling once stopped her at a Hollywood party. She attributes the shows popularity in part to voyeurism. People love to look inside all these homes, she says. Its the same reason they like going to open houses. The show also highlights home buyers from all walks of lifedifferent income levels, ethnic groups, ages, sexual orientations, and geographic locations. Thats one of the things Im really proud of, she says. Everyone wants to own a house and fix it up the way they like. Its part of the American dream.

Whang didnt set out to be an entertainer. A psychology major at Yale, she earned a masters in cognitive psychology at Brown and worked in public health for two years. But going to the same place day after day proceeded to drive me slowly crazy, she says. On a whim she got a part as an extra on the 1980s television series Spenser: For Hire, which was shot in Boston. A character actor she met on the set encouraged her to pursue acting, and within a month she was earning a living at it. There were probably only about five Asian actresses in Boston at the time, she recalls, and I was booking everything I auditioned for.

Eventually Whang moved to New York City and then to Los Angeles, working as a roving reporter and a host on cable and network shows, including Lifetimes New Attitudes and NBCs TV-Censored Bloopers with Dick Clark. She has hosted House Hunters for five seasons now and is coauthor (with a real estate agent) of Suzanne Whangs Guide to Happy Home Buying, just out this fall.

Whang says she plans to continue her multifaceted career on all fronts. House Hunters has been renewed for four more years, she has several more books in mind, and she has taped three television pilots, including one based on Sung Hee Park. I like to do a lot of different things, Whang says, understating the obvious. Theyre all different expressions of me."

 

Carrie Printz is a freelance writer in Denver.





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