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JOE WONG INTERVIEW

Our very own producer and San Francisco based comedian Edwin Li caught up with fellow comedian Joe Wong. Joe discusses political correctness, performing in China, his autobiography, life after Letterman, and more. Joe headlines the San Francisco Punchline September 20th and 21st.

Edwin

You recently did Letterman for the third time. Has your life changed dramatically since then?

Joe
Since my first time on Letterman my life changed dramatically, but there is not much change since my second and third one to be honest. (Laughs)

Edwin
Before you were a full time comic you were a scientist. What was that transition like?

Joe
The transition it take some getting use to because with the 9-5 job you don’t have to plan too much, you know, you have to worry about your kids meals and stuff but other than that you just show up to work and just do it. You deal with the same numbers and same people. So there is a nice structure to it.

Stand Up comedy is a 24/7 hour job. There is always something you can be doing. It’s tough to make a decisions, for example, tomorrow is it best for me to write stand up jokes or write scripts or some other stuff business related? You get more control of your own time but it takes some getting use to.

Edwin
Do you write a lot of scripts now?

Joe
I write a lot in general. I worked on script writing for a while. I’m writing an autobiography in China and that takes up some time. Well, not too much time. I know what happens in my life, so that’s easy. (Laughs)

Edwin
Is it in Chinese or English?

Joe
I wrote it in English because my Chinese typing is excruciatingly slow. (Laughs)
Basically just orally translated taped in voice and send it to China where they type it up. That’s how it works.

Edwin
Can you tell me about it?

Joe
It’s about how I grew up in Eastern China back in the 70’s and 80’s. It’s a very rural area, and a lot of things happening there are very interesting like one of the stories I told on Letterman where I have to pave the road. Then it was about me going to college in Beijing and then coming to the United States. How life in the United States is like. A lot of people are curious because a lot of Chinese people watch American movies and televisions but they want to hear a real person telling about their stories. I also talk about my comedy career. How I get started. The obstacles. That’s basically the content of the book.

Edwin
Do you have any fans in China?

Joe
The correspondents dinner got ten million hits there. China has a twitter but it’s a different kind of twitter. They call it a mini blog or something. I recently started blogging there. It has about 180,000 followers, but I”m not a house hold name.

Edwin
Have you were performed comedy in China?

Joe
I did it once back in 2008.

Edwin
How did that work out?

Joe
I learned a very good lesson. I did about 7 minutes of stand up routine and jokes that rely on play on logic or what I call play on logic or just pointing out the flaws in logic what can be logically inferred on something can always make people laugh no matter what language you are speaking but then the jokes that are based on word play or cultural content, that’s going to be tough.

Edwin
What are some ways you come up with material and what inspires you.

Joe
That is always the hardest question. I think comedy comes out of fascination. I’m always fascinated by people’s lives. I remember watching people go by thinking, “what is this guy thinking? What is motivating this guy to do this?” Sometimes I see people walk around with their dog in day light during the week and I’m like “Wow. How did this person pull it off? I have to bust my ass making a living but he looks so comfortable and at ease. I’m just curios about peoples behavior motivation and the mentality.

Edwin
How do you like performing in San Francisco. What’s the difference between Boston and San Francisco?

Joe
I think people in San Francisco are more nicer and more earnest. (Laughs) And people in Boston have more of a mean streak. Some of the more meaner jokes were taken really well in Boston but when I said it in San Francisco people were pretty sensitive about it. (Laughs) I have a joke about biographies where I say my wife loves biographies but I don’t have that time so I just read obituaries, because they always say nice things. Sometimes I wonder what the obituary of Jeffery Dahmer would have been like if he was executed. It would have been like, Jeffery Dahmer died yesterday after a short battle against an electric chair”. And that joke always gets a big laugh in New England.
Sometimes people are very PC which should be a good thing but comedy is comedy and dark comedy has its place too.

Edwin

What is your take on political correctness on comedy.

Joe
It’s really complicated. I think it’s a double edged sword. In one sense it’s good. The thing I did not like, like some comedians they pick on Asians they would have never have the guts to pick on blacks or Hispanics. Those Comedians I just don’t like at all. When I see them nowadays I confront them. You know just because an Asian person is there you can’t call them China man or something and think you shouldn’t get away with it. That’s just not cool with me unless you’re doing it to a black comedian or something but they don’t have the guts. See that’s the part I don’t like. I can’t stand how much hate is really behind the joke it’s this really heart felt hate, and it’s not comedy anymore, but if you say you suck and I suck then that’s comedy.

Edwin
What do you like most about comedy?

Joe
I guess it’s just a way to make sense of life. If you look at life rationally it does not make any sense at all. I mean you can work your butt off, you can be a saint, but in the end we all die, so what’s the meaning of life? But on the other hand, it’s also the biggest joke ever. Life itself is the biggest joke, and I just feel day to day, life is just a joke.

Visit Joe Wong’s Rooftop Comedy profile.