Jokes aside (South China Morning Post 2003/3/26)


Hong Kong has many entertainers claiming to be stand-up comedians, but Dayo Wong is the original – as he has proved again with his latest run of shows.


DOES TUNG CHEE-WHA deserve a second term as Hong Kong’s chief executive? The best way to find out is not through an election says stand-up comedian Dayo Wong Chi-Wah. “Just let Mr Tung walk into any public housing estate without his bodyguards and walk back out into one piece. If he makes it, then he deserves to be chief executive for another term!”

The gag on the opening night of Wong’s show last week won the comedian some of his biggest laughs; political and social satire is what his audiences have come to expect – and the reason his show are such hot tickets.

It is also what sets him apart from many of Hong Kong’s 10 other stand-up comics – most of them disc jockeys and actors, such as Sandra Ng Kwun-yu and Leung Sze-ho – who have popped up since 1990, when Wong shows that stand-up shows could actually spin money at the box office.

“Initially, I had thought of doing something personal instead of taking of more political and social stuff. But if I didn’t do it, no one else would. Someone has to set the stage. I think I have to bear a little of that responsibility,” Wong says backstage.

In person, Wong – like most intense comedians – presents a more serious and solemn front than his stage and screen persona would have fans believe. Words are chosen carefully and answers to questions are thoughtful.

It isn’t surprising that it has taken four long years for him to get the necessary material together for his new run of stand-up shows, which continue from tomorrow to Match 30, and from April 3 to 6. The show I titled Mo Tan Yung, the Cantonese double entendre that can mean “ no bloody use” or “no coal to use” )a reference to suicide by burning charcoal).

Wong starts his show with an acknowledgement of Hong Kong’s economic woes: ” In Hong Kong we always dream we can stop working. I guess Hong Kong’s dream has come true!”

Over the two-hour show, Wong also takes his audience through Hong Kong’s suicide “trend”, slimming craze, new accountability system and Article 23,a topic of several other comedians have recently chosen to mine, including Jim Chim Shuiman. Wong also pays a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the late singer Roman Tam and a jest about the public’s fondness for seeing others fall flat on their faces. One surprising omission is Financial Secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung’s car-buying woes.

Overall the show was a success, with Wong’s barbed comments mostly hitting home. The audience, however, wasn’t quite sure how to react to his banter about Tam being one of the first local entertainers to bare his bottom for a coffee-table book- but not have his career suffer for it. Nor did they quite get a reference to Michael Jackson during his accountability system skit. Still, Wong declared he was “ quite happy” with the outcome.

Considered Hong Kong’s best in the field, Wong is one of the few who can claim to be a stand-up comedian in the true tradition. While many who followed in his footstep shave tended to turn their shows into short skits strung together with a common theme – which works well with family crowds – Wong produces solo works that are adult-oriented (indeed Mo Tan Yung comes with a PG rating). “The for this show is definitely more for adults in terms of maturity and, in some ways, intelligence. Adults tend to want to see something nearer to their way of life.”

One highlight From Wong’s previous shows has been his impromptu sessions, with the audience shouting out suggestions for topics, a challenge few comedians dare take up. This year’s audiences, however, don’t have that privilege.

“It’s difficult because you never know what they are going to ask for. One time… they want me to say something about firemen,” Wong explained on an interview with Commercial Radio recently.

The firemen request hit a raw nerve with Wong who, at the time, was trying to salvage his relationship with Singaporean model Sharis Lau, who had allegedly been cheating on him with a fireman. It certainly wasn’t something the comedian found funny.

Getting laughs is not something Wong trained for. Armed with a degree in philosophy form the University of Alberta in Canada, he entered show business as a radio disc jockey and scriptwriter.

While Michael Hui Koon-man was the entertainer who made comedy an art on the screen with gems such as The private Eyes, Wong has the one who breathed life into it on stage. Since his first stand-up show in 1990 he has done seven productions – which Hui makes it a point to catch – including one with comedian Cheung Tat-ming, and The Stubble Show, with Cheung and actor Francis Ng Chun-yu.

Despite being the most experienced performer on the stand-up circuit, Wong is still plagued by nerves before his shows. “Like the lyrics from Eminem’s Lose Yourself, you only really get one shot. If it doesn’t work, I don’t have time to rewrite the show. So I always worry whether I can do it, and whether the audience will react. The audience reaction is just as important as what I have to say,” he says.

“I usually have the same dream before my shows: I would go on stage and be totally unprepared, and I would just plunge in and try to bluff my way through. But, in general, I am 98 per cent confident.”

His most frantic moment before a show was battling with a bout of food poisoning. Wong instructed a stage hand to pop in “some music, any music” to keep things going if he suddenly ran off the stage. “Fortunately, however, I managed to finish the show without any emergencies,” he recalls.

Between stand-up shows, Wong has also released an extend play album and appeared in close to 30 films, including Love Amoeba-style by director Shu Kei. His directorial debut last year, Fighting To Survive (starring himself and Kwok Sin-nae), received a lukewarm response, grossing less than $200,000 at the local box office.

Such flops have, however, been bolstered by record-breaking ratings on television with TVB’s 2000 sitcom War Of Genders, in which he plays an exasperating office worker. Last year also saw him host TVB game show Russian Roulette.

Wong is hoping to spend the next year exploring more television work and expects to do another stand-up show “three or four years” From now before calling it quits as a stand-up comedian.

“It really takes a long time for me to get the material together,” he says. “ I just think it’s going to take me longer and longer as time goes on.”