Meet Van­cou­ver’s cur­rent wave of comedians — di­verse, nu­anced and fear­less

StarMetro Vancouver - - FRONT PAGE - JENNY PENG

An­drea Jin had just talked about pee­ing her pants in a cloth­ing store. And about get­ting a bikini wax.

From some­where within the Revel­stoke, B.C. bar, she could hear a few faint chuck­les from fe­male voices; but what Jin mostly saw from her stage were the blank, un­der­whelmed stares of a blue-col­lar crowd.

This is the life of a standup co­me­dian — some days it works and some days it doesn’t.

But Jin couldn’t help but think that part of her dis­con­nect with the crowd this night was that it just wasn’t ac­cus­tomed to hear­ing from a fe­male Asian co­me­dian.

Jin says she doesn’t think it was racism. It was just a re­ac­tion to the kind of per­former small­town crowds see less fre­quently — some­one who isn’t a white man.

“Once you go into a blue-col­lar area, they don’t re­ally want any­thing dif­fer­ent,” says the 23-yearold, whose fam­ily im­mi­grated from Shang­hai, China, a decade ago.

“When they see some­one like me, they will as­sume that I’m not go­ing to be as funny as, like, a white, male comic that they’re used to see­ing.

“Back in the day, dif­fer­ent races were made fun of. They were the punch line of jokes in­stead of me be­ing able to tell the joke my­self now. Me be­ing the per­son in con­trol.”

For now, she knows her reach may be strong­est in metropoli­tan ar­eas, such as Van­cou­ver, where there’s a grow­ing ap­petite for di­verse comedians and the per­spec­tives they bring to the stage.

It’s an age when au­di­ences are see­ing an ar­ray of com­plex iden­ti­ties in artists who bring nu­ance to chal­leng­ing top­ics, says rookie co­me­dian An-te Chu, who also per­forms with An­drea Jin and Alis­tair Og­den in their show “Lil Com­edy.”

Chu points to comedians such as Ali Wong, who is able to talk about racism with a dose of hu­mour while rais­ing aware­ness of is­sues that can go un­no­ticed by some.

“This is what she says, ‘The fancy Asians are the Chi­nese, the Ja­panese, that do fancy things like host the Olympics,’” re­calls Chu.

“She was mak­ing fun of the whole idea (of racism be­tween cul­tures). Be­cause I heard about it in that spe­cial, I talked to my Filipino friends about it, and they were like ‘Yeah, it to­tally ex­ists.’”

Chu, a first-gen­er­a­tion Tai­wanese-cana­dian, says that he has also made an ef­fort to in­cor­po­rate nu­ance in his own ma­te­rial.

He is crit­i­cal, for in­stance, of

jokes that per­pet­u­ate the no­tion that all Chi­nese-cana­di­ans are to blame for the sky­rock­et­ing real-es­tate prices in Van­cou­ver.

In turn, he makes the point of dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing be­tween the Chi­nese govern­ment and its cit­i­zens in his standup.

Dino Archie, a vet­eran standup co­me­dian in Van­cou­ver, said di­verse per­form­ers have al­ways been work­ing in and around the Lower Main­land, but the lineup of is in­creas­ingly start­ing to re­flect the de­mo­graph­ics of the city.

“Van­cou­ver is a di­verse city, but the ma­jor­ity of the comics would be white. That wasn’t on pur­pose … that wasn’t a dis­crim­i­na­tory bias, from my ex­pe­ri­ence. Some­thing shifted in the last few years, where peo­ple started break­ing the norms, break­ing the tra­di­tion of a cul­ture,” said Archie.

Sev­eral comedians have also ac­knowl­edged that the tide of change has been ac­cel­er­ated by shows such as “Mil­len­nial Line” and “Fox Hole Com­edy” that fea­ture per­form­ers who are queer and peo­ple of colour.

Com­edy clubs and venues that book com­edy shows are also as­sert­ing “top-down” pres­sure from man­age­ment to show­case di­verse line­ups fu­elled by pres­sure from the pub­lic, says Ab­dul Aziz, co­me­dian and op­er­a­tions man­ager at Lit­tle Moun­tain Gallery, one of only two com­edy clubs in Van­cou­ver.

Although strides have been made in the in­dus­try, for some comedians of colour, the bat­tle starts at home.

When Jin told her par­ents she was pur­su­ing com­edy as a ca­reer — some­thing, she pointed out, that doesn’t re­quire a for­mal ed­u­ca­tion and of­fers no as­sur­ances of mov­ing up the ca­reer lad­der — they were be­wil­dered.

But she found in standup what she felt she lacked grow­ing up in a home that didn’t en­cour­age one to be opin­ion­ated, funny or overly artis­tic, she said.

“If I said how I felt, they would just say ‘Go eat your food and go to sleep,’” Jin said. “They don’t un­der­stand a job where you don’t need a for­mal ed­u­ca­tion and there’s no guar­an­tee (of suc­cess) ever.”

To Chu, cul­tural dif­fer­ences are what makes artists such as Jin and him­self “mem­o­rable.”

His un­usual up­bring­ing has wound up sur­fac­ing in his per­for­mances, of­ten to thun­der­ous laugh­ter. He’s talked about be­ing forced to wash his laun­dry on a wash­board by hand or lis­ten­ing to base­ball on the ra­dio be­cause his “no non­sense” im­mi­grant mother didn’t al­low him to use the in­ter­net or watch TV.

“Our sto­ries right now are not heard as much. … It’s a lot more per­sonal ver­sus tra­di­tional standup of, like, Jerry Se­in­feld, (which) is very much … ob­ser­va­tional com­edy,” Chu said.

Co­me­dian Alis­tair Og­den also wants to change the cul­ture of standup com­edy that has his­tor­i­cally been per­ceived as an “ex­clu­sive” art form spo­ken mostly by “straight, white guys.”

“There def­i­nitely have been a lot of racist and sex­ist comedians in the past. You look at com­edy, you look at the his­tory of the peo­ple who have been made fun of … even just go­ing back 10 years, the stuff peo­ple were say­ing back then was not stuff any­body would get away with to­day.”

He said he fol­lows a sim­ple rule when it comes to be­ing funny re­spect­fully: If it’s a joke that he would not want to tell in front of the peo­ple he’s talk­ing about then it’s not a joke he should tell at all.


Stand-up comics Dino Archie (left), Alis­tair Og­den and An-te Chu are among a ros­ter of Van­cou­ver comedians that is grow­ing to better re­flect this city’s de­mo­graph­ics.


“Back in the day, dif­fer­ent races were made fun of. They were the punch­line of jokes in­stead of me be­ing able to tell the joke my­self now. Me be­ing the per­son in con­trol,” says co­me­dian An­drea Jin.


Sev­eral lo­cal comedians say that the tide of change in com­edy de­mo­graph­ics has been ac­cel­er­ated by shows such as “Mil­len­nial Line” and “Fox Hole Com­edy” that fea­ture per­form­ers who are queer and peo­ple of colour.

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