Taiwan-born immigrant pursues a career in stand-up

Updated: 2013-08-23 14:18

By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily)

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Taiwan-born immigrant pursues a career in stand-up

Pursuing comedy was not Sheng Wang or his parents' first career choice.

"It's kind of a crazy fluke that I got into standup comedy," said Wang, who has never utilized his business degree from the University of California, Berkeley. "I was not exposed to a lot of pop culture in general."

After emigrating from Taiwan with his family to live in Texas, the little television Wang did watch growing up was mostly public-access programming, by his own choice.

"I was a weird, little nerd as a kid," the 33-year-old said. "I didn't really get TV, and I didn't really understand what standup comedy was until after I got to college."

Now, Wang has been doing standup for about a decade and last year was named one of 10 comics to watch by Backstage magazine. This week, Wang performed at the Brooklyn Brewery as one of 36 acts lined up for the weeklong, inaugural Brooklyn Comedy Festival in New York.

"To be honest, I haven't been as happy or as focused as I wanted to be in the last couple of years, but that has all changed in the last two months," Wang said. "I've rekindled my love for doing standup and for writing jokes."

Wang started his career in San Francisco, but began to feel too comfortable, so he moved to New York four years ago to mix things up.

"After moving, I was sort of inspired and intimidated by the style of some New York comics and it made me want to branch out," Wang said. "I constantly wanted to challenge myself, but it also sort of made me lose how I used to work."

Wang said he likes to write jokes at home to their completion, so that they are tight and use an economy of words that "trim all the fat." Wang said he found himself starting to deviate from this and begin to ramble more onstage while doing more headliner shows the past couple of years.

"That's not how I started comedy and that's not what's gotten me to where I am now, so I've just suddenly started getting back into just writing every day," said Wang, who now abides by Julia Cameron's method in The Artist's Way and spends about 40 minutes first thing every morning to write three pages of whatever pops into his head.

Among Wang's career highlights, he has toured with the Comedians of Comedy and American Eagle's Campus Comedy Challenge. He has appeared on Comedy Central's Live at Gotham program, as well as had his half-hour Comedy Central special aired in 2011. Also in 2011, Wang landed a holding deal with NBC Universal after winning the company's seventh annual "Stand Up for Diversity" comedy competition. As part of the contest deal, Wang toured with eight other comics for NBC's "Stand-Up for Diversity College Tour".

"That was a great opportunity," Wang said. "They gave me a good amount of work, although none of it really panned out into TV work or scripts."

These are areas Wang said he is potentially interested in pursuing; however, he is focused right now on his standup.

Wang said he knows of only a handful of other Chinese-American comics on the comedy circuit.

"It might just be how we're raised, like just being exposed to the culture of standup comedy, and also just the fact that there aren't that many Asian faces in comedy or in media in general, so we're not drawn to look for it there," Wang said.

The comic also said Asian parents, particularly first- or second-generation immigrants, are typically not going to encourage their children to pursue careers in comedy.

"Can you imagine, you move to a completely foreign country just so your offspring can have more opportunities, and then your kid goes into standup comedy," Wang joked during a standup act for Comedy Central in 2012. "You're like, 'Dang, son, that's too much opportunities. We didn't come here for that. We wanted you to not work in a factory. We didn't want you to follow your dreams, you [idiot]."

In his case, Wang said his parents have been supportive of his career choice. He also said he has mostly steered clear of referencing his racial background in his material.

"That was a deliberate choice in the beginning because I felt like that's what people immediately wanted or expected to hear when I got onstage," Wang said. "I just didn't want to pander to those expectations."

These days, Wang said he's keeping busy with shows around the New York area. He also expects to head to Asia later this year to do shows in Singapore, Malaysia and Australia. By the end of the year, Wang said he hopes to record and complete a comedy album.

"I'm kind of on a kick right now," he said. "I just want to stay focused and driven on writing standup."


(China Daily USA 08/23/2013 page11)