fri 21/06/2024

Chinese Arts Now Festival review - comedy of the diaspora | reviews, news & interviews

Chinese Arts Now Festival review - comedy of the diaspora

Chinese Arts Now Festival review - comedy of the diaspora

Clips and chat from comics of Chinese heritage

Evelyn Mok, who describes herself as 'Scandinasian', introduced the event

Chinese Arts Now was founded in 2005 and aims to produce and present work that explores Chinese themes, stories and art forms in the UK. Its annual festival includes a comedy night (presented in conjunction with Soho Theatre), and this year three comics of Chinese heritage – Evelyn Mok, Ken Cheng and Phil Wang – performed.

The event, livestreamed from the comics' homes, was in a novel format; Mok (who was born in Sweden and describes herself as Scandinasian) introduced, and we saw clips of them performing, followed by them discussing the themes in their material.

It kicked off with a clip from Wang, which he chose because it was relevant to a festival that celebrates global culture and the Chinese diaspora; in it, he talked about being mixed-race. His dad is Chinese-Malaysian, his mother “normal” – white British. Wang, just in case you're about to be outraged, is very dry. Mok matched him for that: the clip came from the BBC – which stands for “British-Born Chinese”, Wang said, while she chimed in sarcastically: “On which we never see any.”

They talked about the benefits and disadvantages of being of Chinese heritage in comedy; it provides material but people make assumptions about who you are. Mok, whose sets often have sexual references, stopped herself a couple of times from throwing in gags, which was a shame – but a good reason to see her live when we can, of course.

Cheng, who is British, moved the conversation to comics being expected to denounce the Chinese government or aspects of Chinese culture, such as the animals that are eaten in China. There were murmurs of agreement but frustratingly, this line of conversation didn't go anywhere.

Chang's clip, recorded at one of the few live gigs he did last year, was about being on a dating app, where users could choose which ethnicity to swipe through. Racists were getting more sex than him, he joked. After Cheng revealed he was unsure if he could do the dating app material now that he's in a relationship. Wang said he had to tell the truth on stage and Mok exclaimed: “I lie all the time!” But they agreed that context is all. In real life the construct in which something happens can be boring, but the point you want to make about it is funny so it's OK to make stuff up, said Cheng.

Mok's clip was a doozy, recorded in a comedy club. When she did some material about blow jobs, a rather refreshed guy in the audience made a comment about the size of Chinese men's penises, only to then double down by making another about black men's members.

Mok dealt with what could have been an explosive situation very well – somehow managing to get her material back to talking about her love of cakes – and the three comics then talked about how they deal with hecklers (worse at the beginning of their careers than now) and the casual racism in some comedy audiences. It was illuminating.

The pandemic has thrown up some unusual gigs, and this was one of them. Slightly off the wall, but fun to watch.

It led to an interesting exchange about authenticity in comedy


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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