Jodi Long talks about TBS’s “Sullivan and Son”

Jodi Long

The multi-talented Jodi Long returns as “Ok Cha”,  the always amusing Korean immigrant mother of Steve who believes in tough love, for a 3rd season of TBS hit comedy “Sullivan & Son”.

Jodi’s illustrious career started at the age of 7 on Broadway, and she has not slowed down since.  TV credits include “Sex & the City”, “Desperate Housewives”, “All American Girl” along with  film credits such as  “Beginner” & “Hot Chicks” to name a few.  Not only is Jodi an actress, but she is also an award winning writer and filmmaker.

TBS’s comedic show “Sullivan & Son” premieres on Tues., June 24 at 10/9c.  The comedy is set in a Pittsburgh bar owned by the Sullivans and their son Steve.  Jodi took time to talk with Eclipse Magazine to talk about this hit comedy show and her other upcoming projects.

Sullivan and Son

Thank you Jodi for this interview.  I want to congratulate you on 3rd Season of Sullivan & Son!

I know! Amazing!

I see there is more diversity on tv like on “Sullivan and Son”.  It is groundbreaking. 

On Sullivan and Son, we are a mixed race Asian American family.  Our whole bar is mixed. We have African American, Arab American… It’s just great. I love it.

Tell us about yourself.  You’ve been doing Broadway and you come from a theatre family, correct?

That’s right.  My parents were entertainers. Vaudevillians. They were on “The Ed Sullivan Show”.  I did a documentary about them called “Long Story Short” which you can go rent at  It’s only an hour.  You can get the whole deal right from the web site.  I did a lot of Broadway, a bunch of television shows.  It’s been fun.  I’ve been very fortunate and I keep working.

We you know you are an actress, but at the same time  you are also a filmmaker and a writer too.

Yes, I did a documentary.  I wrote and produced that.  I wrote my own  one woman show called “Surfing DNA” which is about all the different DNA which runs through my blood. My mom is Japanese-American born here and my dad is Chinese-Australian.  It is all that mutt syndrome…  Sometimes it collides in you,  so you’re like, why am I so goofy? (laughing)

Can you tell us more about the show and the character you play?

Dan Lauria calls me the “Bar nazi”. I don’t really see it that way. I’m the immigrant mother who wants the best for her children, which in part is to get an education and make a lot of money. She’s thinking, “How is Steve going to make a lot of money as just a bartender even though he bought the bar from us?” She is constantly pushing for that.  As Steve’s mother, it is based on Steve’s real mother who is an immigrant.  The most important thing in her life is money.  She came on our show.  A little cameo.  I said to her “Are you having fun yet?”  She goes, “I’m not making any money.  I would be having more fun if I was making money.” I asked, “But they’re paying you aren’t they?”  She said “Oh no.”  And I said “I’m sure they’re paying you.” Finally she realized she was getting paid so she was happier. (laughing)

I play his mom.  For the readers who are familiar with our show, it has really gotten fun.  Last season, they got me drunk on kim chee.  I let my hair down.  I thought how can I ever recover from this?  Ken Jeong plays my son-in-law.  My daughter confesses that even though she is married and has children, she never had an organism. Ok Cha dispenses her own form of advice, which you’ll have to tune in for. That will be in the upcoming show.

Ok Cha Sullivan & Son

Your character in this show is hilarious.  I love her!  Do you find any part of yourself in the character you play on the show.

I’m a very strong person or at least I’m a strong personality. People tell me I’m very strong. I think that translates into Ok Cha who’s a pretty strong, dynamic kind of person.  I’m not that interested in money.  If I was I probably wouldn’t have been an actress.  I don’t think my philosophy is quite hers, but a lot of me comes out in her even though I don’t have an accent.  I grew up with these Asian mothers who are tough because they want you to do well in life.  I did a play by David Henry Hwang once and the grandmother turns to the grandson and said “Suffer, good for you.  Makes you stronger to go out in the world and be something.”  My mother, even though she wasn’t quite like Ok Cha, had a bit of that philosophy.  She came down on me hard pretty hard in order for me to try harder.  In one of the episodes, I do the same thing to Susan.  If I wasn’t hard on her, she wouldn’t be as successful as she is.  It is a kind of mixed bag. It is a tiger mother type of thing.  It is not a stereotype.  It’s real, you know? That’s why we have so many successful Asian Americans.  We still float in the background though.  I don’t think people see us as mainstream in a way.  We are not in the consciousness, so to have it on television is good.

Oh yes, absolutely. Do you have any favorite episodes?

I think the one that is coming up.  The big O.  The season opener.  It’s pretty fun. I also really liked the episode last year where Susan gives me a credit card.  I become obsessed with using the credit card.  She would only be obsessed with the credit card if she gets a good deal. She thinks she is saving money so that’s why she’s spending.   It is called “Rum Springer”.  I like the karaoke episode… There is another episode where I keep throwing myself in front of cars in order to get insurance money to pay for things.  “Like Jackie Chan, I need to throw myself in front of the car, like Jackie Chen”! Those are all really good episodes.

Sullivan & Son with Ok Cha

It must be a blast working with the cast.

Yes, it’s great.  It’s one laugh fest. We have four comedians on the show. If you walk in with a polka dot tie, they will do five minutes on your tie. We crack each other up. They tour during the summer to promote the show.  While I was in New York, Steve said “I want you to introduce Owen”.  Valerie was there too.  We had gone out to eat and we were a little drunk. Somebody bought us drinks.  I got there and said, “I can’t get on stage” and Steve insisted, “You’re going to introduce Owen”. I get up there, and I decided to go up as Ok Cha. Steve looked at me and said, “ You’re Ok Cha aren’t you?”  I said “Yes”. I said “Steve is the next guy any good?”  He said, “What?”  And I said, “If he’s not any good, we’re going to give everybody’s money back”.  (laughing)  I can give him one look and he knows when I am Ok Cha.  He knows the character. When I give him that look on stage he cracks up.  That’s the story with that.

We talked about diversity at the beginning.  Do you see a trend for Asians not just in acting but in filmmaking, writing, producing? Do you see a trend of that rising in the entertainment business in general?

There are more actors being used in auxiliary roles. Sandra Oh’s character in Grey’s Anatomy was a incredible breakthrough. She just happened to be Asian American and was just a woman just like any of the other doctors there. I think it goes in and out.   We are obviously not as represented as African Americans – even Latinos have outpaced us.  Asian Americans also includes southeast Asian.   I work with Visual Communications which produces the LA Asian American Film Festival.  I just had a film “A Picture Of You” which is actually coming out in June 20 premiering in New York at the Lowe’s AMC.  It is a little independent Asian American film by a Chinese American writer, director, producer.  I love the script because even though they are a Chinese American family, they just happened to be Chinese.  They are American.  Their mothers died and they are going back to the house to clean out the house and what they find out about her and what ensues.  I just love the script.  When I went to the festival, I said this is the next generation because it is a modern story.  It is not internment camps or about immigration.  There is progress, but you have to realize Hollywood is a business, tv is a business, and they are going to put on tv what they think sells.  There is “Fresh Off the Boat” which is an ABC series. I hope it does well. I did “All-American Girl” playing Magaret Cho’s mother years ago.  We only did one season.  We premiered #1.  That was when you could get 18 million people watching a tv show.  We still didn’t make it to season 2. It is a different environment now. There’s much more content.   There are many more venues for content to be displayed like TBS, cable, online videos. It is more spread out and there can be more diversity.  It’s gotta be that those projects get the viewership not just because it is the flavor of the month, but because they really want to see these people who are human beings.  That is what they start to connect to.  That is my hope and my goal.

On another note,  I just did an audiobook called China Dolls that was written by Lisa See who did Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. You can look it up.  The novel and the audio book came out.  The book is set during that time of Asian American entertainers in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. It is a fictional account. Lisa saw my documentary.  She was really fascinated by it.  She decided to do a lot of research.  She talked to my mom and other surviving members of that era. She wrote this wonderful novel set during that time.

All this stuff is weaving together for me.  I’m really just so happy that I’ve survived this long to still be talking about it and having fun.  I am so blessed to get to do what I love, which is what my father always told me to do.  My father said, “Do what you love, and everything will fall into place”.

Jodi Long

You can catch “Sullivan And Son” at 10/9c every Tuesday night on TBS.

 Official web site:


Twitter: @SullivanTBS  

 Photos by Peter Svenson/Courtesy of TBS