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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.

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#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 three things:

1. "There's a comedy festival in Hong Kong?"

2. "Seriously, you mean there's a festival in Hong Kong for English-language comedy?"

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 comedy scene!

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 he?

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." HOME Back to the Top