50 years. 50 queers.

Andy Cheng

Andy Cheng

May 7, 2013

Name: Andy Cheng
DOB: June 20th, 1983
Occupation: Actor, comedian, dramaturg
Favourite Book: The Museum of Love
Favourite Movie:
Alien
Favourite Music: Whatever is on constant repeat on my iPod right now
Favourite Person over 50: Kathy Griffin
One word about 50: Blam!

“Just shut up. Stop wasting your time, because you’re going to look at yourself in the mirror one day and you’re going to realize, ‘my god I wasted this time’.” That’s a wise piece of advice a 42-year-old friend of Andy Cheng gave him when the actor/comedian was fretting a little about getting older and losing his youthful lustre.

Cheng will be turning 30 this year and for most people when confronted with a fresh decade, there is a little peripheral anxiety about what the future holds. However, Cheng is not one to be too hung up on the concept of aging—he is too busy tending his burgeoning showbiz career. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have his moments. “I’ve only recently begun to realize that you have to stop wasting time worrying about whether you’re pretty enough or you’re beautiful enough,” Cheng observes. “My life was pretty controlled by that in my 20s, especially in the industry and performing and, you know, I’m not as pretty as a lot of the boys out there. Nor am I the most straight-acting, most talented, funniest guy. So I think that it mostly manifests itself, like with so many gay guys, we start looking at our looks as the one thing we get the most down on.”

“If I turned 50 tomorrow, I’d hope I’d be having as much sex as my friends who are at 50 are having right now.”

Putting the obligatory surface concerns of youth aside, Cheng has been developing a more upbeat outlook on getting older—when he actually takes the time to think about it. Like most people in their 20s, the concept of 50 is barely something one spends time pondering. “I’m lucky, I have some people who are a little bit older than me so I’ve been able to see what they’re going through,” he explains of his newfound perception of aging. “I think that when you’re in your early 20s you just don’t think about it. Then, as you approach 30 you start thinking that you’re really, really, really old. But then you look at other people who are very close to you and people who you look up to and you look at their level of experience and you go, ‘wow, that’s awesome’. Let’s put it this way: if I turned 50 tomorrow, I’d hope I’d be having as much sex as my friends who are at 50 are having right now,” he concludes with a laugh.

Cheng—like many young people queer or not—is very conscious of the power and value of youth in our culture. Couple that with being in entertainment and the prospect of sagging assets can be a source of consternation at best and a deeply rooted obsession at its worst. It’s a topic that comes up with friends when they ponder themselves 25 years hence. “My friends and I sit around in our 20s, and we’ll literally have that conversation, ‘if you could have one cosmetic procedure, what would it be?’ he says laughing. “I’ll say, ‘it used to be tits or ass, and now it’s all face work.’ So, I think that we speculate what we’re going to be like when we’re 50 and I think most of us are like, ‘well, I’ll be surprised if I’m still alive because of all the crazy stuff I do.’ Or we’ll be like, ‘well, you know, I don’t know what I’m going to look like because probably my face will be a little pulled’. We say we’ll age gracefully, or just have a surgeon that’s good enough so that it looks that way.”

“I think the now, particularly because I hang out with a lot of actors, we are very conscious of a younger generation coming up,” Cheng continues. “So, I’m not sure if it’s looking at the age of 50 being daunting or being older being daunting. I think it’s realizing that a younger generation is coming in that’s freaking us out even more. Suddenly you’re part of the older generation. I think we were all used to saying, ‘move over, it’s time for us to come in’ and now we’re getting to the point where soon we’ll be moving over and we’re not the youngest, greatest thing. You’re no longer the demographic that advertising is advertising sexy stuff at any more.”

“I want to be one of those people that I looked up to and really make an impact on our society and even if it’s just telling or reminding the gays today, the youth of today, the new generation, where we came from.”

Cheng and his peers are finding that one of the surprising things that come with getting a little bit older is a greater sense of freedom. While recalibrating the value of a pretty face and balancing that with increasing wealth that comes with life experience, he finds himself adopting a slightly new attitude. “You start going, ‘oh fuck that shit.’ Or you start using the phrases, ‘I’m too old for this shit’”, he says of how he and his friends are now facing some of their fears of aging. “That’s a big thing now. I was having this conversation with my friend, he’s in his late 20s as well, and we literally started talking about ‘kids these days’. We realized it’s upon us. We’re getting there,” he says with an ironic chuckle.

Though Cheng may not be ready to whole-heartedly embrace the spectre of middle age, he does have an admiration for people older than himself that manifests both in his professional life as well as his personal life. “I don’t think I’ve ever dated anyone who was younger than me,” he admits. “I’ve always been drawn to people who have a certain life experience and looking to teach people. I think that I’ve always been afraid of dating people who are younger because I just didn’t feel like I was going to learn from them.”

“Now I’m getting up there, I’m realizing that I’m older and now I’ve had some of the experience of others, I think moving forward is realizing now there are more important things,” he explains. “There is politics; I am a big consumer of media, but I’m realizing as I’m getting older now is that age does command a certain amount of respect. I want to be one of those people that I looked up to and really make an impact on our society and even if it’s just telling or reminding the gays today, the youth of today, the new generation, where we came from.”

“You only live once, just get out there and do it and keep doing it and no matter what people say to you, you have to keep doing it, because that’s the only way you can achieve something great.”Sir Ian McKellan to 19-year-old Andy Cheng.

Mentorship and joining the past with the present and future are important to Cheng. He has had the good fortune of benefiting from the experience of those older than himself and it’s helped him navigate his way through his career—and his life. One of the most memorable of those ‘pay it forward’ moments came when a younger Andy Cheng reached out to queer icon and celebrated actor Sir Ian McKellan. “I remember writing Ian McKellan a letter when I was 19 years old and he actually wrote me back and he gave me good advice,” he recalls of his brush with the legend. “I was very afraid and very concerned going to theatre school when I was a teenager because suddenly you start to realize everyone knows [I’m gay],” he continues. “They may not see it but they can hear it in my voice. Everybody knows that I’m gay. So I’m very limited as to what I can do and I looked at Ian McKellan and here’s someone who’s gay and, in my opinion and in the world’s opinion, is a master at what he does. So, I wrote him and I explained my situation and I said, ‘look I’m also half Asian and you don’t turn on TV and see Asians much.’ It’s either very stereotypical or a supporting thing. Again, this was 10 years ago. I said all that and that I’m gay. What do I do? And he wrote back, and this was right before he did X Men, and he had just done Gods and Monsters, which really had an impact on me. He said, ‘the best thing you can do is to look at actors whom you like. This goes for your life as well, look for people in your life that do something that you think is extraordinary and think to yourself, how are they doing it? Then ask yourself if you had to do the exact same thing, what would you do? It’s going to be different because you put your own spin on it’. He also said, ‘you only live once, just get out there and do it and keep doing it and no matter what people say to you, you have to keep doing it, because that’s the only way you can achieve something great.’

In the context of his art, Cheng has been fortunate to find role models both globally and locally. One of the people he admires most—and who is over 50—is Sky Gilbert. “I really admire is Sky Gilbert as a director, writer and playwright,” he says with great affection. “Sky, thank you! You’ve done a lot for us in this industry and a lot of things that have helped people. He wasn’t one of those people who pretended to be something he wasn’t. He did things that were unapologetic. I’ve had the great pleasure of working with him closely in his process, and observing him. He recognizes the power of art,” he continues. “You can’t ever say his art was just up there to make money or look pretty, it was there because it trying to say things. Sometimes his work was successful and pretty and made a lot of money and there were times it didn’t, but he did it anyway and was unapologetic.”

With mentors who have helped him along his way either personally or by example, a growing sense of self as an artist and as a gay man moving through life, Andy Cheng is looking ahead to 50—and beyond—with more anticipation than antipathy. And how does he envision turning the Big 5-Oh? “I would really like to be able to party really hard and be able to laugh at everything that’s happened so far to me in my life. To still have humour and to still have what my family instilled in me.”

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