Yi’s inability to find love is hard to watch; she is self-defeating and often says exactly the wrong thing.The audience really wants to root for her, but she keeps getting in her own way.The comedienne is wearing low-top sneakers, a scraggly ponytail, and a baggy T-shirt—one of many outfits in her tomboy oeuvre.“I have guy friends who have been dating a girl for six months and our other friends don’t know her name. ’ And I want to scream, ‘OK, her name is Sally, and she’s awesome, and you’ve known her for months. ’”It’s no surprise that Yi, 23 years old, should feel vexed by this classification.Although she is certainly rising as a writer and actress in her own right—and her debut film, Paper Heart, out this weekend, should cement that—the reason we are sitting together in a sterile glass box is her various stints as someone’s “girlfriend.”First there was Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, in which she came out of nowhere to play the adorable stoner girlfriend hanging around Seth Rogen’s apartment. When Yi and Cera started filming Paper Heart, they both played fictional versions of themselves—falling in love.Instead, her power comes from being odd; she’s a guy’s girl with a nervous laugh and a penchant for weird experiments: “I did a show once where I used these really tiny puppets,” she giggles. And the audience was like, ‘Oh, we get it, it’s funny because you can’t see them.’ But then I let it go on for another half an hour.”Paper Heart is full of pregnant pauses and smirky exchanges between Yi and Cera—each trying to top the other with clumsy gestures.At one point on a date, Cera pretends to leave the restaurant, leaving Yi sitting despondent for a full minute.“And then I did, and it was so strange, because I didn’t know how to confess to my guy friends that I also happened to be a super fan.It was awkward.”Awkwardness is certainly part of Yi’s primary charm as a comedienne—she isn’t brash or sharp-tongued.
It can feel a bit like a bait-and-switch; are we seeing Yi’s true search for love? Almost all of Yi’s friends in the movie are male—Rogen, Martin Starr, Cera—and they call her “Chuck” for short.It was precisely because I was rooting for her that I was disappointed to find that Yi and Cera were never a real item; I hoped at the end of the film that she had transcended her insecurities and made romantic progress.But after meeting her, it is clear that Yi is not the timid girl from the film.With almost every teen in American harboring a secret crush on Cera, the tabloids couldn’t help themselves; they proclaimed Yi and Cera an item, rocketing Paper Heart from a tiny DIY film to a Sundance catchphrase.“We were never together,” Yi says. And thank God, because it would be devastating to promote this film if I was heartbroken.”“We were never together,” Yi says of Cera. And thank God, because it would be devastating to promote this film if I was heartbroken.” While the Cera rumors may not be true, Yi—who got her start as a performance artist and goofy standup comedienne on the L. circuit—acknowledges that being considered “the girlfriend” has done her plenty of favors.