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Chinese comedy on the rise in Britain

By Angus McNeice in London | China Daily UK | Updated: 2018-10-01 23:47
Comedians Phil Wang, Nigel Ng, Ken Cheng and Evelyn Mok (from left to right) perform in London on Friday. [Yang Yilin/China Daily]

An-Ting Chang assembled an all-East Asian lineup for a night of stand-up comedy in London over the weekend for one simple reason.

"I wanted to show that Chinese people are funny," said Chang, who is the director of performing arts organization Chinese Arts Now, also known as CAN.

"Lots of people have said to my face that Chinese people are not humorous," Chang said. "It's because there is a stereotype of us being serious and hardworking, and we are viewed as a minority group and not as individuals with different characters."

To combat such prejudice, CAN, which is funded by the British Arts Council, enlisted the help of four comics of East Asian heritage who performed to a sold-out audience of 260 people at the 99 Club in London.

Evelyn Mok, a Swedish Chinese comic who lives in the United Kingdom, hosted the evening that featured British Chinese comedian Ken Cheng and British Malaysian performers Phil Wang and Nigel Ng.

"I'm a Swedish, Chinese, immigrant, plus size, bi-curious woman who is lactose intolerant - my cup overfloweth with identity," said Mok, who recently completed a month-long run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

"I've been affected by the 'model minority' stereotype, where Chinese people aren't expected to go into the arts or comedy, that they are too serious," Mok added. "There is nothing true to that perception. My Chinese family are so witty. That's how you bond when you are Chinese - through humor and banter."

Cheng, who won best joke at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017, said he believes his current success forms part of a wider trend in the entertainment industry.

"With East Asian comedians and actors, there is a big upsurge right now, it's happening in many different places," said Cheng.

Over the summer in the United States, the hashtag #AsianAugust trended on Twitter, prompted by the release of three films featuring lead actors of East Asian descent: the teen romance To All the Boys I've Loved Before; the thriller Searching; and the romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians, which is the first all-Asian Hollywood studio movie in 25 years.

Meanwhile this Autumn, entertainers of East Asian heritage are getting an unprecedented level of concurrent air time on British television and radio.

Wang is currently a panelist on popular British game show Taskmaster, and Ng is set to appear on Rob Delaney's Stand Up Central in a week's time on Comedy Central. This month, Cheng will front an eponymous BBC Radio 4 series and co-host a game show on E4 called The Hangover Games, while Mok is set to appear in new sitcom The Reluctant Landlord on Sky One and new Channel 5 series Outrageously Funny.

"It's an exciting time, and I'm excited to be part of this wave," said Cheng. "If you go back 20 years you just don't have this kind of landscape."

Cheng will feature in CAN's next major event, a festival of contemporary British Chinese performance art in London from Jan 23 to Feb 3.

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