Comedians: Evelyn Mok, Phil Wang and Ken Cheng
One of the early jokes going around the comedy circuit during the first lockdown went as follows; ‘There’s only one thing sadder than a Zoom funeral; a Zoom comedy night!’ A rapport is hard to create online, and it’s tricky for a stand-up to know whether their jokes are landing or bombing when the digital audience have their mics and cams switched off. So perhaps to ward off these problems, Chinese Arts Now’s Comedy Night is more discussion than it is gags.
Comedians Evelyn Mok, Phil Wang and Ken Cheng dial up from home to chat about how their Chinese identity is reflected in their performances and, crucially, in Mok’s case, how audiences receive them. Instead of delivering their routines online, clips of the comedians performing in front of a live audience are shown, interspersed with conversation between the three of them.
It’s an approach that is a little frustrating; the clips are very short, and Cheng’s clip is an audio one, and it’s quite difficult to hear. Wang’s clip is from Live at the Apollo, and in it he describes how his parents met, wincing at the stereotypes it perpetuates. His father was his mother’s Kung Fu instructor. Cheng’s piece is about online dating and the objectification of Chinese people, as women contact him saying that they have ‘a thing’ for East Asian men.
But the most enlightening and eye-opening clip comes from Mok performing in a club in Covent Garden. In the middle of a joke about sausages, she is heckled by two members of the audience spouting racial slurs. Mok deals with the situation admirably as other members of the audience start to heckle the hecklers. ‘I don’t want a race riot’ she proclaims. It’s Interesting to hear later how she felt it was her duty, as the person on stage, to protect the couple despite what they had said.
Racism takes other forms, too, and in their talk between clips, Cheng mentions how on Twitter he is often asked to publicly denounce the Chinese Government, as if, somehow, its human rights record is his responsibility. Wang adds that he is often sent pictures of dog-eating festivals, as if he is the organiser or could single-handedly ban them. All three agree that with him that it’s odd being in a minority in Britain when, if world populations are taken into account, he’s obviously part of the majority.
This show-and-tell structure does have its limitations though, as discussions meander and further clips are jettisoned in order to fit the 70 minute-running time. Rather like last week’s Stand Up 4 Women at the Phoenix Arts Club, CAN’s comedy night needs to be arranged more tightly with a closer eye on the clock.
Fortunately, the three gel well on Zoom, and Phil Wang is as quick and funny as ever, still managing to throw out a few hilarious one-liners. But as the end is in sight, you can’t help but wish this night were more amusing. Longer clips and less discussion would have helped, but it’s still good to know these comedians a little better.
Reviewed on 12 March 2021
The Chinese Arts Now Festival runs here