How not to be not funny, Asian style
By Nury Vittachi
There was a heated debate the other day on the internet. “Asian comedians are retarded,” complained Wah Jai on Asian-Central.com. “They give Asians a bad name. Anyone who finds them funny are only laughing because they make fun of the Asian stereotype with the retarded accents they have.”
A guy called Ray fought back, but didn’t sound very convincing: “Some Asian comedians are funny. At least the Japanese ones. Don’t like too many of the American Asian comedians. Some of the Filipino ones, umm, yeah, they were ok.”
A response from one John Lee said: “You are clearly jealous of the Chinese because we have the real Buddha and your Indian religion is a fake! Or as we say in Beijing: ‘Shur shur shur she shar’.”
The odd thing is that “Asian comedy” was defined as North Americans who mock the culture of their parents, such as Russell Peters, born in Toronto.
But in fact there are actual Asian comedians—Japan has dozens, and even Hong Kong has a few. Some are legends in their own country, such as Dolphy in the Philippines. But none are internationally known—yet.
I went to see a British comedian the other day who shall be nameless (and who should for his own good always forget to reveal his name).
His act consisted of shooting out the sort of puns you have to think about. “When a clock is hungry, it goes back four seconds,” he quipped.
The audience stared back at him blankly.
“A bicycle can't stand on its own because it is too tired,” he offered.
The audience stared back at him even more blankly.
Now I can well imagine that a few hours later, some members of the audience may have thought hard about his routine (although I doubt it). It “goes back four seconds” could also mean it goes back for second helpings. “Too tired” could also mean “two-tired”.
It’s no use doing this sort of joke. By the time the audience gets it, the joke-teller has been sacked and is tucked up in bed with a nice cup of hot strychnine.
I also saw some good comedians. Wilson Dixon, a cowboy, talked about his family. You knew he was making it up but it was so silly you had to laugh. “My uncle Cleetus is illiterate and ambidextrous which is a double tragedy,” he said. “He is unable to write with both hands.”
Some performers make serious points. One group of actors and dancers is living in a cage at Edinburgh zoo this month. They have relabelled it “Enclosure 44: Humans.” It was a visual statement on the complex relationship between humanity and other animals—oh no, it wasn’t. Zookeeper Angus Balbernie told the media: “This particular species, the dancer, is disappearing off the planet due to a problem called arts funding.” The group was after more money.
The best performers manage to be topical and funny at the same time. British comedienne Bridget Christie is doing a show in which she imagines that the world’s first diarist, Samuel Pepys (born in 1633), is transported to the modern day and introduced to the modern equivalent of the diary – blogs on the Internet. He comments: “August the second. Ate a stick of celery. See, it’s rubbish. Stop blogging.”
Have a nice cup of strychnine instead.