I am an immigrant (I'm legal though, so suck on my papers, immigration services!), but I don't really understand the comedic sensibilities of my home country. In my case, it makes sense because I came here very young. But Joe Wong's story interests me, because he is thoroughly Chinese, born and raised, and yet, as a comedian, he is an American.
Wong has been on Late Show with David Letterman and performed at the Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner in front of Vice President Joe Biden, but he is not as big a hit back home. A Wall Street Journal piece explored how poorly Joe Wong's comedy translates to the people of China, contrasting it with his success in America.
…in China, where Mr. Wong grew up, people were puzzled from the start. "How come the first sentence, 'I'm Irish,' can make Americans laugh?" one viewer asked in the comments on a subtitled video circulating in China. Because everybody in America is from Ireland, someone theorized. "It has nothing to do with that," said a third. It's because being "Irish itself is hilarious."
According the article, the cultural divide stems from things we take for granted in our stand-up style. For example, comedy in China is not as self-deprecating or focused on misery.
Mr. Wong's first live gig in Beijing, in late 2008, was "not successful," he says. In America, he says, it's funny to poke fun at yourself. But in China, there's no humor in misfortune. The audience struggled to grasp the punch lines, and Mr. Wong recalls looking out on the blank faces of a "polite but serious" crowd.
Joe Wong's story is interesting, and I highly recommend you read the rest of the piece, but what interested me the most was how someone from another country could come here to attend college and suddenly find themselves in tune with a specific American way of seeing comedy.
After the jump, I've posted some clips of Joe Wong's stand-up.