Words by Helen Knott
Phil Wang emerges on stage at The Glee Club to the strains of ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, setting the scene for an evening where the influence of his East Asian heritage is never too far away.
During this 90 minute show, titled Kinabalu – named after the highest mountain in Malaysia, Phil Wang covers a multitude of topics, from Chinese New Year, to his aim to die a hero’s death, to his dislike of scary movies (which he dismisses as “a purely western privilege” as no one needs to watch scary movies in Syria). Wang‘s on-stage persona is of a 28-year-old man who is probably not quite as cool as he thinks he is. He may equate buying lube with being a true adult, but he’s buying it in Waitrose and he’s not happy about the high price.
The set is littered with brilliant gags (personal favourite: “You ever done a fart so bad you lose a bar on the Wi-Fi?”) but Wang is most compelling when he concentrates on serious issues. His heritage – he’s half Malaysian, half British – gives him a strong voice on subjects such as Brexit, colonialism, and racism. Wang may have lived in the UK for his entire adult life, but he maintains an outsider’s point of view: for example, he feels more comfortable being patriotic than his British-born friends because he knows what it’s like to live somewhere without the things we take for granted. In short, “You can drink your tap water!”
Wang’s section on Brexit may include some fairly straightforward quips (“I voted remain, as you can tell by my vocabulary”) but it comes through the filter of his childhood in Malaysia, which was part of the British Empire. He argues that globalisation, which brought his parents together and Wang to the UK, came about because of entities like the British Empire. Therefore, in his eyes it’s not a wholly negative period of history, for Malaysia at least. He suggests that the EU is “the first empire built by peace instead of war”, and he’s disappointed that the British public rejected it. It’s interesting stuff, and a take on Brexit (a subject that no comedian seems to be able to avoid at the moment) that is genuinely fresh on the stand up circuit.
Despite the show’s focus on Phil Wang as an entity – his family, his career, his relationships – you get surprisingly little sense of Wang the man. He still has his guard up, often referring to himself in the third person and continually punning on his own surname for a cheap laugh. The only part of the show where it feels like you see the authentic Phil Wang is when, after a section about his girlfriend, he admits that they split up a month ago but he hasn’t bothered to change his material. It’s a fleeting feeling however, as the newly-single Wang quickly turns it into a hammy call-out for groupies.
As a show, Kinabalu is a little too long and doesn’t have much of an overarching thrust – it really just peters out at the end. But when you have jokes as good as Phil Wang, it doesn’t matter too much. Although on his next tour I’m hoping for maybe fewer lube stories and more insightful political analysis.
For more on Phil Wang, visit www.philwang.co.uk
For more from The Glee Club venues, including further event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.glee.co.uk