Edinburgh Fringe 2019
This talented young comedian bring us his very funny show about what it is like to live and work in the UK when you are a British born Chinese. Highlighting the absurdity of racist behaviour, with humour and pathos, this show is also an education.
Edinburgh Fringe is awash with stand up shows. There are many acts, featuring fine comedians talking about their lives, telling about the difficulties they face in getting older and wiser. Few are tackling difficult and contentious subjects head on.
One such comedian is Ken Cheng.
Ken is British Chinese, he was born and raised in Britain where he lives and works. His chosen career is in stand-up comedy and comedy writing. This show is based on the racism he receives and it is both a revelation and an education.
He tells us of his travels, of how different audiences respond to him and his comedy. Racism comes in many forms, it can be overt, clear and hostile or insidious, and sneaky. We learn of different types of discrimination and how racism varies against different ethnic minorities. Ken also asks if it’s possible for whites to be victims of racism.
It is inevitable that the viewer has to question their own understanding of racism, if we would always recognise it and whether we can differentiate between intentional and accidental racism. He also brings to our attention the changing nature of racism, how definitions are being contested and evolving, and how evermore complicated the subject has become. The basic question is; What does being born British Chinese actually mean?
Ken also talks about online abuse and how it got so bad that he had to take a social media break. He’s back now but blocking trolls could become a full time job.
There is a moving account of how he directly encountered a racist attack and how his understanding of racial issues subsequently changed.
But remember, this is a comedy show and it is a very good one, at that. Ken is a skilled comedian and this is a clever show. It has a solid structure that follows a clear path. We are treated to a collection of anecdotes, one-liners, jokes, puns and word play. His personal revelations are in keeping with his message, and his memories of childhood just definite enough for us to picture them without being mawkish. He highlights the absurdities of racist comments, thoughts and behaviours and turns them on their head, making something good out of something bad. Never is the show preaching, moralistic or self-righteous, in fact just the opposite.
His manner is diffident, he is soft spoken and talks with a smile on his face. In this venue a radio mike would have aided the sound quality.
As for the audience, they laughed heartily in all the right places. They were on board with the message, hardly surprising for an Edinburgh Festival audience. The show rattled through at pace and we gave a rousing applause for what we had seen.
Spoiler alert, he leaves us with a positive story of how small changes can have a big impact.
Comedy has a long history of speaking truth, challenging orthodoxy and aiding cultural change. This show is a worthy adjunct to that canon. It’s an important show, with a serious message, delivered in a very funny way. Hopefully Ken will continue to bring this show to non-Edinburgh audiences. It is very definitely recommended.