When the entire drama class howled with laughter at Ken Kirby’s apron-wearing impersonation of chef Martin Yan from “Yan Can Cook,” Kirby knew he would make people laugh for a living. “When you get people to laugh, you start to chase it,” Kirby said. “You just want that feeling again and again.”
In 2010, more than a thousand people came to watch Kirby’s one-man show at the Vancouver Comedy Festival. “The truth is that I went around town selling the show and hustling to sell tickets,” said Kirby, “and people showed up!” Encouraged by that unexpected success, he drove south to Los Angeles to embark on an acting career. Since then, Kirby has landed spots in TV productions including Freeform’s “Famous in Love” and Fox’s “The Gifted.” He recently appeared in “Good Trouble,” a spin-off from the popular Freeform show “The Fosters,” as Benjamin, an ambitious Harvard-grad law clerk who would do anything to climb the professional ladder.
Born and raised in Vancouver to a British father and Chinese mother, Kirby grew up feeling the pressure to pursue a “safer career” and studied business in college. “Traditional Asian parents never really chill out,” Kirby said, laughing. “Whenever I would book a job, I would guess how many sentences I could get in before my mom would ask me how much I’d be making.” But his parents no longer need to worry—Kirby has booked multiple recurring roles for 2019, including ABC’s “Grand Hotel” and another season of “Good Trouble.”
But it wasn’t easy. Kirby described the show business system in Los Angeles as “almost built to break you down.” Once, Kirby had to navigate the sprawling, and the mind-numbingly traffic-congested, L.A. area for four auditions all in one day. “It would drive anyone crazy if you don’t have the right mindset,” said Kirby, explaining the lesson he learned from one of those auditions. The casting director noticed his frustration before he had to read a long medical monologue and asked him to come back the next day. Although Kirby still didn’t get the role, he was grateful for the second chance. “I sent her a thank you card and flowers because it was such a nice moment to slow down,” Kirby said. “You have to enjoy the journey.” Even while stuck in traffic.
In addition to acting, Kirby is writing his second feature with his writing partner. “If there is a tree, you just want to work every branch possible. You have to grow as many branches as you can,” Kirby said. “Before you know it, you are on top of the tree.”