NAKED IN A HOT TUB WITH MICHAEL CERA? Okay, we're still looking for that photo.
Who exactly is Charlyne Yi? Two years ago, she appeared — seemingly from out of nowhere — in a brief but memorable turn in Judd Apatow's Knocked Up. A closer look at Apatow's new Funny People, however, might provide a clue as to where he discovered her. Over the past few years, the physically slight, awkward performer has been building a cult following on the Los Angeles comedy-club circuit, a world in which Apatow cut his teeth, and one that's featured in his new film.
In Boston for a press tour with co-star Jake Johnson for Nicholas Jasenovec's Paper Heart, Yi tells me that even though she plays the clubs, she doesn't really consider herself a comedian. "When I perform at comedy clubs, I perform music. [She wrote music for the film with her other co-star, Michael Cera.] And I do, like, funny music sometimes, or I'll do games with the audience."
What kind of games can you play in a comedy club?
"I do this thing with a Dating Game show — with audience members — and we do this whole thing with Dating Game music. At the end, the winner of the contest . . . the bachelor gets to win a date with me, and we actually take like a half-hour of 'going on a date' on stage."
Of course, it's no ordinary date, since it involves sword fighting. And she wonders why she can't quite figure out this crazy thing called love, the backbone of Paper Heart, which she refers to as a "hybrid documentary" because of the way it fuses a fictional romance with Michael Cera (playing, in essence, himself) and straightforward documentary segments where she interviews regular folks and asks questions about love.
Speaking of which: it's been widely reported that Yi and Cera were an actual item. In a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, a caption beneath a picture of the two of them reinforced the idea that they used to date.
"There's actually a shot of them in the front of Entertainment Weekly?" asks Johnson, his mouth agape.
"Craaa-zy. I don't read that . . . thing," says Yi, adding that the magazine is in the business of printing gossip.
So, there's no truth to it?
Johnson steps in with his own response. "I just want to end the rumors. Michael and I have not dated. We're very close friends. We've vacationed together, but enough! So there's photos of us holding hands. So what?! Get over it! There's photos of us kissing. There's photos of us naked in hot tubs. There's photos of him sitting in my lap . . . and we're both naked. Get over it!"
"I used to baby-sit him," Yi finally confesses, saying that it was weird having to play his love interest. (In fact, Cera is only two and a half years younger than Yi.) She grows wistful: "He loved baby bottles."
"Let's just stop her now," says Johnson, "before we get to the changing of the diapers, and his favorite warm milks . . . "
Having made this film, has Yi found her answer? Does she believe in love?
"I think you changed a lot," says Johnson, turning his head to face Yi as he becomes serious for a moment, concluding, "from just you and me talking."
"Yeah, the road changed me a bit," she concedes.
Johnson thinks love "is what it is. It might not be great, but love is . . . "
Yi bursts out laughing. "It might not be great!"
But she must have been in love, at least once?
"I'm not sure. Maybe . . . maybe a little bit."
With Michael Cera, maybe, or is that too . . .