By Tiffany Ran
Northwest Asian Weekly
Comedian Joe Wong grew up in the rural Jilin province in China during the 1980s. During this time, there was a comedy radio show named “Xiangsheng” (“Cross Talk”) that was popular. He often stopped on his way home from school to listen to it, as it was broadcasted from speakers mounted high on telephone poles.
At a young age, he never imagined himself doing comedy, but years down the line when trying to explain to his parents about his new profession, Wong would describe it as something similar to “Cross Talk.”
“I still remember my father saying, ‘You’re an adult now, you’re on your own. I’ll never make any decisions for you.’ And he really kept his promise. He was really supportive, but in the beginning, he didn’t really know what I was doing. I told him I was doing the Letterman show and he didn’t know what that was,” said Wong.
In 2005, only a mere three years after he started performing stand-up comedy, Wong was approached to perform on the David Letterman show.
As an immigrant, Wong was also intrigued with learning about American culture. “I find people and society fascinating. Even though my career is in biochemistry, I always tend to read TIME Magazine and the New Yorker,” said Wong.
“America is a very open society. A lot of things are on TV, the Internet, or the news. There is a lot of public discourse. Those kinds of things make it easier to learn about American history or current politics.”
Wong came to the United States in 1994 at the age of 24 to study biochemistry at Rice University. While learning English at Rice, a teacher gave him a book that contained a humorous article by Woody Allen.
Inspired by the article, Wong wrote a column for the campus paper and was excited to see that his fellow students enjoyed his humor.
“When I first came to this country, I didn’t feel like I had an identity. A year later, when I read my journal, I noticed that I created some observational humor. I felt that I should focus on the lighter side of things. That is part of the reason why I got into comedy,” said Wong.
After relocating to Boston, Wong kept his day job as a scientist and researcher while exploring his interest in comedy during his spare time. He enrolled in stand-up comedy classes and began performing at local clubs where jokes about his social observations and immigrant experiences earned positive responses.
“A lot of immigrant stories are really sad like the ‘Joy Luck Club,’ ” said Wong, referring to Amy Tan’s best-selling novel about four Chinese American immigrant families. “But I didn’t quite feel that way. I feel that though there is struggle, interesting things are happening to you. You’re in a brand new country. In a sense, that is the best way of life, trying to find out who you are instead of already knowing who you are and just going through life.”
Wong, the self-proclaimed “All-American immigrant,” uses a scientist’s eye to study popular news subjects and pop culture. His jokes address issues at the forefront of the American consciousness.
“Most Asian comedians talk about being Asian or their Asian families,” said Wong. “Of course, I tell the stories as an immigrant but on the other hand, my comedy is also kind of a reflection for American society and American culture. The general public can use my comedy as a mirror to see their own lives in it, just from a new angle.”
This year, Wong left his scientific research to become a full-time comedian, performing at different comedy clubs and working with Worldwide Pants, David Letterman’s production company, on a television sitcom. ♦
Joe Wong will headline Bellevue’s Parlor Live Comedy Club on Sept. 23 at 7:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.joewongcomedy.com.
Tiffany Ran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.