It is an awesome thing when I run into more Asian Australians doing their own thing and telling their authentic stories through different art forms. Recently, I ran into an article in PERIL MAGAZINE which spoke about a comedy show (one man show) titled: “Sweet and Sour Dilemmas: untold story of riches to rags migrant story” which was playing at the Victorian Trades Hall ( I believe today is the last day of it, as it runs from September 15 – September 20) as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival.
The idea sounds pretty interesting and it does target important issues that many Asians in Australia face. As I have said in past articles, comedy which is done well is one of the most authentic ways to tell stories and bring up issues to do with identity, race etc. Where Wan is Australian born, the story is about his father leaving Indonesia, looking for better pastures in the land of Oz – so this is a story he tells through comedy which is definitely personal to him.
Here is a small snippet of what is it about before I get into my chat with him:
Through storytelling and the delicate preparation of dumplings on stage, Wan delivers the unspoken story of a well-to-do migrant man leaving behind a life of wealth and comfort for Australia but quickly realising the challenges of reluctantly accepting lousy ‘migrant’ jobs, losing status and dealing with everyday racism.
I had the opportunity to speak with Wan about his show and what it means to tell this story through comedy and what is the scene like:
1. What inspired you to write the comedy sketch “Sweet and Sour Dillemnas”?
WAN: First all, it’s a comedy one-act play 🙂 Sketch show is a totally different beast! haha. The main inspiration is really my dad and all the little bits of information I could get on his experiences coming to Australia. The ‘standard’ narrative of the migrant story from Asia is usually: ‘came here with only $100 and found a better life in Australia’.
Although that certainly is the case for many migrants such as my mother, it wasn’t necessarily the case for someone like my dad who came from a pretty privilege background in Indonesia. I found this interesting because here’s a guy who pretty much had a comfortable life but left all that to be with my mum and start from the ‘bottom’ so to say.
2. What attracted you to comedy? Was this something you always wanted to do?
WAN: Comedy’s the art form that most naturally suits my personality but it’s definitely not something I thought I could do! I enjoy making people laugh – it’s a high like no other. To be successfully make a room full of people laugh is exhilarating, and you just feel powerful!
What I love about comedy is the way a comedian can take grand big ideas and break them down through humour – ie John Oliver in last Week Tonight, Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock with black race relations in US, Michelle Wolf on inter-sectional feminism, etc. I love learning and the best way to learn for me is through comedy!
4. What is the comedy scene like in Australia? Do you find your audiences are culturally diverse, or do you feel there is more work to do to get more culturally diverse audiences? How about the Aussie comedy scene? How culturally diverse is it?
WAN: The comedy scene in Australia is still prodimnately stand up but recently there’s been a growth in different comedy scenes (ie improve, sketch and cabaret).
In terms of cultural diversity, it’s still very white but this I feel is part of a larger problem with the creative arts in Australia. Definitely there’s more work to do to make the arts more culturally diverse. Actually earlier this year, I created Ethnic City which is a live comedy variety show exclusively featuring Performers of Colour. Launching that was a huge success cause the audience that came were the most culturally diverse mix of audience I’ve ever seen in a standard comedy night. Luckily, it’ll be coming back in November later this year for 2 more shows so watch out for that!
Just a final reminder he is performing his final show at the Victorian Trades Hall tonight, but I am sure there will be upcoming shows to come, so if you can’t make it tonight then check out the upcoming ones – he is definitely an Asian Australian to watch out for!
Images via Melbourne Fringe Festival and Brendan Wan Facebook page