The first all-East Asian comedy show in Canada
RICE: The Asian Comedy Showcase is really for everyone, Asian or not.
A year ago, Vong Show organized and hosted the very first all-East Asian comedy show in Canada. Since then, the RICE showcase continues to fill up every month. It's all leading up to a Chinese New Year edition in Toronto featuring himself, Cassie Cao, Jennifer Hsiung, and Leonard Chan.
"In all my years doing comedy, this is the first time I can say my three favourite comedians are Asian," Show told CBC Comedy. "I thought, I need to do this now before everybody gets famous and moves away."
Who is Vong Show?
Show got his start in comedy as an engineering student, when he worked part-time writing the obituary section for the Calgary Herald.
"I had so much material from that environment. It's so tense, if you take it so seriously every day, then you're not going to make it through, so you have to find some levity to talk about different stories, different pictures people submitted, or misspellings of names."
In Alberta, Show started to incorporate his comedy on stage at human rights conferences he organized.
"I found that when you're on stage, whether its HIV or cancer, you have to be a little bit funny," said Show.
The only non-white comedian and the only gay comedian in Alberta at the time, he packaged up his message and went into small towns. His writing style developed as he was mentored by Mike MacDonald, the "king" of Canadian comedy who passed away last year.
Show describes himself as the "official spokesperson for young, gay super-cute Asians."
Show has been doing comedy for 15 years, so to him, knowing when to cut the tension with the punchline is the easy part. He believes it's more important to think about what is meaningful to say.
"One of my proudest moments was when I had this super-butch, straight, older white guy come up to me in Red Deer, and said 'damn, nobody's ever made me wish I was gay and Asian before, but you make it look fun.'
"I thought, wow if I can make this guy feel this way, imagine if there was an Asian or gay person in the audience, who sees themselves represented on stage."
Who is Leonard Chan?
Chan, a former screenwriter with two engineering degrees, says the art of comedy is getting people to relate to your perspective, even though they may not have the same experience. The emotional core is the entryway for the audience into the joke, says Chan.
"I have a joke about getting mad about that Asian stereotype that Asians can't drive, and because I got into a car accident. The audience won't know what it's like to be an Asian sitting on the curb and watching everyone walking by going 'of course.' But anger and frustration is the emotional core of the joke, and everyone has that emotion, even if they don't have the experience."
"A club owner said to me once, 'We already have an Asian, we don't need another, we'd only be talking about Asian stuff,'" said Chan.
"I was like, 'what the fuck is Asian stuff?' We can just talk about things that happen to us because we're just people, and there are things I'll talk about that have nothing to do with being Asian."
Who is Cassie Cao?
"It's a cool time in history where it's the first time diverse audiences are demanding stories about other types of perspectives and things that reflect their own upbringing," said Cao.
Two years ago, Cao left her day job as an economist working in Toronto's financial district.
She had already started doing stand-up, and in her first year, she says she did hundreds of shows.
Although she thought she would find another job, things started happening for her when she was unemployed. She became the first female Chinese comedian selected to be part of the inaugural group of New Faces at Montreal's Just for Laughs Festival in 2019, and a recipient of the 2018 NBC Second City Diversity Fellowship. Cao also featured in a TallBoyz episode.
"Because she does improv, you give her a microphone and she shines, her likeability is off the charts," said Show.
Who is Jennifer Hsiung?
Jennifer Hsiung is a dynamic performer who is physical and raw in her humour
Hsiung grew up in Scarborough, in a broken family, she says. "Talk about trauma. It was kind of like the Asian Jerry Springer family."
She was about to go back to work as a TV anchor for CCTV, and just had her second son when her friends told her to try comedy at a dive bar in Beijing that was having an open mic.
"They said, 'You're vulgar, funny, and smart,' so I got up on stage with liquid courage, and I've been hooked ever since," said Hsiung.
Hsiung says s show like RICE gives more Asian-Canadian comedians a platform to speak up and dispel stereotypes, and she's an example of that.
"Stereotypes like we're bookish, shy, we're really into math, we aren't deviant or sexual: that's all BS. People are surprised because I look prim and proper, I'm a mom, and I swear like a truck driver."
Hsiung says now is the time for Asian representation in the entertainment industry, and points to other Asian milestones in comedy like Fresh off The Boat, SNL casting its first East Asian member, Awkwafina, Kim's Convenience, and Simu Liu landing the first Asian Marvel superhero role.
"If you don't see yourself represented in society or mainstream media, you feel like your existence doesn't matter. Having this show is like saying, no, be proud of your heritage, be proud of your culture, it's beautiful."
Headlining the monthly shows at The Rivoli will be Cassie Cao on Oct. 24th and Jennifer Hsuing on December 1st.