“Hey Mum, I want to quit medicine and follow my passion for stand-up comedy.”
With a tone of disapproval, mixed in with unconditional love, my mother replied, “you da very funny man!”
As a son of Vietnamese refugees, my duty as a son of migrants was to “study hard, get a good job and start a family”. My parents escaped war-torn Vietnam in search for a better life and freedom. They left Vietnam on a tiny, wooden fishing boat with 250 other people, including my older brother who was only one month old.
What would compel my parents to take such a journey and risk not only their own lives but that of their first-born son? What would compel me to risk my professional reputation and job security, for the laughs and adulation of an anonymous audience at the local open mic night? My own leap towards artistic freedom and self-expression can never match the danger my parents made from Vietnam to Australia.
I can understand my parent’s strategy to put me on the path of higher education and job security. However, the wider Australian audience have progressed far quicker and further than that of the Asian community. The local Adelaide comedy circuit has been very supportive of me since day one, but I feel as though the Asian community are still behind when it comes to supporting the local arts.
Historically, the Asian community simply do not appreciate paying for the arts, let alone comedy. Only since I’ve become an artist, do I now understand that a $15 entry fee to a local show does not feed me physically, however, it does feed my soul (and my hunger to perform).
In Asian culture, comedians are normally portrayed as buffoons with buck teeth, or the village idiot. Humour and laughing at oneself is seen as a vector of shame, dishonour and loss of face to your family. Entry into medicine, law or engineering are seen as respectable tickets towards success. However, I know countless Asian doctors, lawyers and engineers who are dissatisfied with their life choice in their chosen fields. Many have found my story of breaking the mould, inspiring. It is hard as a person of Asian descent to find the courage to resist the wave of expectation of not only your parents and family, but your community.
Truthfully, as a minority grouping, finding our place in society, we need to be open to other occupations, especially in the arts. We can start changing our narrative, by coming out to support artists not only Asian artists at Oz Asia festivals and Lunar New Year, but the arts regardless. Only through bums on seats in the comedy rooms and pubs around the city, will this translate to bums in arts courses.
Gerard Matte in the Australian Journal of Comedy highlighted, “If comedy is a way of saying the forbidden, if it is, in Freudian terms a way of disobeying the internalised parent – the internalised authority system, then multicultural comedy in Australia has evolved to deal with two separate authority systems. One authority system is the culture of the country of origin; the other is that imposed by the local culture. The ethnic comedian has, in effect, two sets of parents, two political imperatives. One imperative is the pressure to respect and conform to the culture of the natural parents, the other is the pressure imposed by the wider culture to reject the natural parents and become part of a wider more homogenised society.”
Last year, I produced and promoted a comedy show dubbed “Pho Real”, featuring a line-up of all-Vietnamese stand-up comedians. It was an experiment to see if there was an audience from within the local Vietnamese community. To my delight, many of my Vietnamese friends and family came out to show support and enjoyed the night. I felt even more validated, that there was a row of Caucasian audience members who came because they simply loved comedy, regardless of the race orientated theme of the night.
If you would like to support local and interstate Asian comedy acts in the upcoming Adelaide Fringe here are my top three picks.
MJ Wong: In the Wong Family
MJ Wong was born into the w(r)ong family, then he fell in love and got married to the w(r)ong woman.
Will he ever belong, will two w(r)ongs ever make a right?
I have a show! Come see me!
Patrick Golamco is a regular on the Sydney open mic scene, performs improv comedy, and studies sketch comedy and scriptwriting. He has been a finalist in several U.S. scriptwriting competitions that recognised his knack for capturing the absurd!
If You Laugh It’s Comedy And If You Don’t Laugh It’s Art
Fresh from Point Blank Music School (London) Loc Tran presents ‘If You Laugh It’s Comedy And If You Don’t Laugh It’s Art’, part comedy show, part DJ performance incorporating such hits as:
Words by Dr Kim Le
Dr Kim Le is an Adelaide based psychiatrist, TEDx speaker and stand-up comedian. He will be performing with Adelaide Comedy’s Next Generation show, featuring a diverse line-up of Adelaide’s best up and coming stand-up comedians. His parents will be at his show.
Photo by israel palacio on Unsplash