#4 IN A SERIES... HBO's U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, the annual comedy festival in Aspen,
Colorado, was the launching pad for many a comedy career. But the
festival was recently shuttered by HBO, leaving the West Coast lacking
for a place where a comedian can get noticed by the industry. So
what's a comic to do? Simple: head East.
No, not to Montreal and the Just For Laughs festival. Not even to New
York's ambitious upstart, the New York Underground Comedy Festival.
Try even further East. Like all the way to Hong Kong.
That's right, Hong Kong, the little island off the coast of China.
Home of Bruce Lee and fake Rolex watches. You're probably thinking
1. "There's a comedy festival in Hong Kong?"
2. "Seriously, you mean there's a festival in Hong Kong for
3. "Wait... so you mean there's a comedy scene in Hong Kong?"
(Comedians will be adding a fourth question, "Who books that?")
Here are the answers to your questions.
Yes, this year will be the first Hong Kong Comedy Festival. There will
be improv shows, The Funniest Person in Hong Kong comedy contest (with
separate divisions for English-speaking comics and Chinese-speaking
comics), as well as shows headlined by an American comedian. (That
would be me!)
As far as the comedy scene in Hong Kong, it isn't quite as storied and
long-lived as the San Francisco scene, the New York scene, the Los
Angeles scene, or even the Paducah scene. In fact, it's fairly new.
New Yorker Jami Gong is the mastermind behind the Hong Kong Comedy
Festival. In fact, he's the mastermind behind the entire Hong Kong
comedy scene. Gong began producing shows under the "TakeOut Comedy"
banner in New York in February of 2003 as a way to bring entertainment
and nightlife back to a post-9/11 Chinatown.
Gong on stage at TakeOut Comedy
Gong parlayed his first shows into regular shows at a larger venue,
and turned that into a nationwide tour of TakeOut Comedy shows,
predominantly featuring Asian-American comedians. And soon thereafter,
Gong put together a TakeOut Comedy tour of Asia, with shows in
Singapore and Hong Kong.
It was while performing in Hong Kong with TakeOut Comedy that I was
witness to Jami Gong hatching his master plan for getting into the
hugest untapped market of them all... China. The plan was simple,
really: bring American-style stand-up comedy to the 1.3 billion
Chinese. Except that it was pretty much a foreign concept there, since
there was only one club which brought in comics from the West. And
that was only once a month. No, to operate full-time, Gong realized he
needed to have a stable of local comedians. (It turns out that airfare
to Hong Kong from the US is a little pricey.)
But with no local comedy "scene," no pool of local comics from which
to draw, that meant Jami Gong had to roll up his sleeves and start one
by himself. Which is exactly what he did. He began offering classes
and workshops for anyone interested in doing stand-up. Gong even began
conducting improv classes and workshops. Months later, voila... a
In the few times I've been there over the last three years, I've seen
the scene grow from me being the only guy on stage in the entire
country to meeting a thriving comedy community, teeming with the
energy of new comics. Jami Gong now has regular shows on the weekends,
as well as open mic nights for both English and Chinese language
comedy during the week. He is, as he proudly proclaims, the only
full-time comedy club in Asia.
And now, he can lay claim to being the only comedy festival in Asia,
as well. While Aspen was a stepping stone to success for some, perhaps
this will be conducive to my career in a more round-about way. Maggie
Q (the actress from "Mission Impossible 3," "Die Hard 4," and "Balls
of Fury 1") became a huge movie star in China first, then returned
home to do big parts in American movies. Of course, she's roughly ten
zillion times more attractive than I am. But a boy can dream, can't
I am eager to get out there again this October to headline the
festival. Not just for the cut-rate designer knock-offs, but to soak
in the raw, innocent, altruistic energy from these comics that Gong
has cultivated. Plus, it's only a matter of time before they get jaded
(it is China after all, home of jade) and develop the same snobberies
we have here. I can hear them now:
"Ugh, another zither act."
"Menxiao isn't even his real name."
"Was Bokchoy-Top always roided out like that? That's creepy."