Co­me­dian Vivek Mah­bubani on be­ing “That In­dian”

Com­edy was just an item on Vivek Mah­bubani’s to-do list un­til he won the Chi­nese divi­sion of the HK In­ter­na­tional Com­edy Fes­ti­val in 2007. Hong Kong born and bred, he now splits his time be­tween run­ning a web de­sign busi­ness and mak­ing peo­ple laugh. He te

HK Magazine - - NEWS -

I grew up in the best of times in Hong Kong: The 80s.

When I was lit­tle, I wanted to be a bus driver.

Bus driv­ers were to me the clos­est thing to a race car driver.

They would de­cide if you got to your des­ti­na­tion fast, or slow. I liked the idea of be­ing in con­trol.

Be­ing a kid is cool be­cause it’s sim­ple: You get up, go to school, meet your friends, watch car­toons, play games out­side.

With­out the in­ter­net, it was ob­vi­ously even bet­ter. To­day, kids have to deal with a lot more peer pres­sure be­cause of the in­ter­net.

To those liv­ing over­seas, hap­pi­ness is a walk in the park, a coffee with a friend.

But hap­pi­ness to­day in Hong Kong is when you’re alone in the lift with your fin­ger on the “door close” but­ton as you see some­one run­ning to­wards it.

As the doors are clos­ing you’re like, “Oh my god, I’m get­ting bet­ter at this!”

Co­me­di­ans joke about th­ese things, but then you re­al­ize it’s ac­tu­ally pretty tragic. Hongkongers are too com­pet­i­tive, but in­stead of be­ing com­pet­i­tive with the rest of the world, we’re com­pet­i­tive with our­selves.

If you asked me if I’d leave Hong Kong, five years ago, I would’ve said no. Now, I can­not say I’ll never leave Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has evolved. The men­tal­ity has shifted, ev­ery­one is think­ing a cer­tain way. They’re think­ing about China is­sues. But life is much more than pol­i­tics.

The more I travel, the more I re­al­ize that Hong Kong has got a lot of good stuff as well.

Why are we all com­plain­ing? Rather than whine about not be­ing able to buy a flat, let’s en­joy what we do have. You’re never go­ing to have ev­ery­thing per­fect, any­way.

I was in Sydney and had a cou­ple of hours be­fore a gig, so I wanted to go ex­plore. I looked at the sign and it said, “Next train: 28 min­utes.” Then I came back to Hong Kong, where we com­plain about the next train tak­ing three min­utes.

Things here are de­clin­ing in no­tice­able ways. Do I want to raise kids in an en­vi­ron­ment where English us­age is get­ting worse?

I’d want them to grow up in a more in­ter­na­tional, mul­ti­lin­gual en­vi­ron­ment, but nowa­days ev­ery­thing is sub­ti­tled, trans­lated, and there aren’t many English TV pro­grams any­more.

But I would want my kids to go to a lo­cal school. I firmly be­lieve that if you’re in a dif­fer­ent coun­try or city, you must blend in and be as lo­cal as the next guy.

I went to a lo­cal school. Af­ter I came in sec­ond from last in Pri­mary Two Chi­nese, I spent three hours a day af­ter school prac­tis­ing my Chi­nese at a tu­to­rial cen­tre, right up to Pri­mary Six.

There were no celebrity tu­tors back then, just a bunch of aun­ties and un­cles mak­ing sure you wrote Chi­nese char­ac­ters in the cor­rect or­der.

I hated it. While my friends were like, “Woohoo! School’s over!” I was like, “Nooo—can I get de­ten­tion?!” just so I could avoid hav­ing those af­ter-school lessons.

There have been times when I’ve been with my Chi­nese friends and just wanted to fit in. I try to re­mind my­self what my mom told me, that my race is not my fault.

I get the ben­e­fit of be­ing ap­plauded for speak­ing Can­tonese, but when a lo­cal per­son speaks English, peo­ple ask them if they’re “too good” for Can­tonese.

Nine years ago, peo­ple saw me and went, “In­dian.” Now, they’re like, “Is he that In­dian?”

Peo­ple now know I speak Can­tonese, so my jokes have to be more than just an In­dian speak­ing Can­tonese.

I used to talk about the weird mis­un­der­stand­ings peo­ple had about me. Now, I talk about life in gen­eral, and peo­ple iden­tify with that.

With­out re­al­iz­ing it, I’ve been build­ing bridges. We’re all the same. We all want to get on that train, or that minibus.

I ap­pre­ci­ate it when peo­ple come up to tell me I’ve done a good job: In Hong Kong, it’s not com­mon for peo­ple to come up to say some­thing.

The most dif­fi­cult part about be­ing a co­me­dian is peo­ple ex­pect you to be funny 24/7, and they get dis­ap­pointed when you aren’t.

I was booed off­stage once, like no­body cared whether I ex­isted. There are mo­ments when I get re­ally an­noyed, but never to the point of quit­ting.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from the City Univer­sity of Hong Kong, I taught cre­ative me­dia there for one se­mes­ter. Then I got can­cer. I learned that time is valu­able and you’ll never be ready for stuff.

Maybe if it wasn’t for can­cer, I’d still be wait­ing to be ready for com­edy. If can­cer didn’t kill me, what’s a room full of peo­ple not laugh­ing go­ing to do?

What I love most about my job is that I’m in con­trol. No­body can take my re­wards, but at the same time I have no one but my­self to blame.

When you die on stage, you can’t be like, “Oh, that’s ‘cause the lights weren’t good.” No, dude, you were not good. You just have to suck it up.


Mah­bubani per­forms in Can­tonese at the monthly “Vivek n Friends” show at Think Cafe in Cause­way Bay, and in English at Take­Out Com­edy. See de­tails at fun­ny­

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