Actor Lei Zhou came to the United States for a better life.
After starring in television roles in China, Lei came here on a student visa and attended Brooklyn College. He fought through a language barrier, learned English and was accepted by several high-profile theatre instructors such as Austin Pendleton and multi-Emmy and Tony Award winner Helen Gallagher to quickly earn his chops.
His real passion, however, is comedy. Think about reels of Charlie Chaplin and Three Stooges reruns. Clean, simple, physical funny. The funny bone stuff.
“Joy of comedy is powerful,” says Lei, who has applied for his U.S. citizenship. “It arouses your harmony. It makes you feel more human, more alive.”
So when Lei heard about a new dramedy web series, COVID Ditty, that his friend Steve Greenstein was developing—they met a few years back at a street-theater production—he said sign me up.
What Lei didn’t know, however, was how Episode #3 would really hit home, as in his new home… America.
The episode is an eight-minute microcosm of a crisis, which sets the table for fear of uncertainty that ultimately alters everyone’s behavior, driving some people to do bad things that they would never do under normal circumstances, while compelling others to do nice things that they would never do otherwise.
Playing The Blame Game
During the week of March 15, prompted by President Donald Trump’s choice of words during public events, the terms “kung flu”, “Chinese virus” and “Wuhan virus” spiked on Google Search results, going viral on social media and cable TV like a new deadly strain.
Civil liberties groups warned that such terms would incite racism against Asian Americans.
Stop AAPI Hate, a national group created to address anti-Asian American discrimination during the pandemic, reported 2,583 incidents against Asians Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States from March 19 to August 5, 2020. The data revealed that 70% of incidents involved verbal harassment and 9% involved physical assaults. The racist activity occurred at places of business (38%), public streets (20%) and public parks (11%).
Episode #3, “Me and Mr. Lee”, wraps COVID-19 and discrimination into one real-world snapshot told through Lei’s character who owns a Chinese restaurant in the Kingsbridge neighborhood of the Bronx.Coming out of the first pandemic lockdown, business remains bleak for Mr. Lee although it appears customers have retuned to other eateries along the Bronx’s Broadway. “Trump’s calling it the Chinese