BRITISH Malaysian stand-up comedian, writer, sketch troupe performer and podcaster Phil Wang is promising his silliest show yet in Wang In There, Baby!, where he will discuss “race, family, nipples and everything else in his Philly little life”.
Nipples, Phil? “The problem with my shows is it’s a string of different material I like to discuss, so when I’m asked, ‘what are the themes?’, I have to think quickly of the topics.
“I’m always talking about race, but this year I also have a routine about nipples and why we censor women’s nipples, but not men’s,” he says, ahead of Friday’s Grand Opera House gig in York, where he will return in the autumn for a September 23 show at York Barbican.
Family? “I talk about my relationship with my father. I’ve always talked about him as being this Asian foil,” says Phil [full name Philip Nathaniel Wang Sin Goi], who was born in Stoke-on-Trent to an English mother and a Chinese-Malaysian father of Hakka descent.
One week after his birth on January 22 1990, the family returned to his father’s home town of Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia, where Phil was was taught in Malay, Mandarin and English, studying at the Jerudong International School in Brunei.
Anyway, back to Wang senior. “During the pandemic, he was in Malaysia where they were very strict about people coming in and out of the country. For two years I didn’t see him, but we don’t have a sentimental relationship, so we’re not very good at expressing our feelings towards each other,” Phil says.
On the phone from Peckham, South London, where he was tucking into noodles and a fried egg, Phil is looking forward to his brace of York gigs. “Yeah, hopefully I’ll have some extremely York observations to make.
“I always enjoy freshening it up with local references. For audiences it shows that you’re present in the moment and not just rattling off a script. You’re taking notice – and British humour can be summed up as ‘our town sucks but the next town over there is even worse’.
“I was actually up in Yorkshire in February with a couple of friends on a gastronomical trip to the Star Inn at Harome – it’s so popular we had to book at the end of last year – then walked on the moors and had the best pint of beer I’ll ever have in my life.”
Phil was the first British comedian to tape and release a Netflix Original stand-up comedy special during the pandemic, revelling in the title Philly Philly Wang Wang, and the only non-American act to be spotlighted on Netflix’s That’s My Time With David Letterman, and he has appeared in a recurring guest role in Amy Schumer’s comedy-drama series Life & Beth for Hulu/Disney+ too.
Then add USA tours, appearances at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Montreal’s Just For Laughs Comedy Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe, and the September 2021 publication of his debut book Sidesplitter: How To Be From Two Worlds At Once, his comic memoir and observational essay on being a Eurasian man in the West and the East.
He is spreading his Wang wings, as it were. “I think we’re lucky to be living in these times: as a comedian, it’s not that we have to do so much, it’s just that we can – and there are more comedians than ever. That means you really have to be present to make an impact,” says Phil. “You never get bored because you’re always doing different things.”
Race, or more to the point, being of mixed race as a Eurasian – or “the two majorities, white and Chinese” as he puts it in one routine – has been a double-edged sword for him. “On the one hand, I don’t have that familiarity with an audience, whether a British or Malaysian one. That is my disadvantage,” he says.
“But, on the other hand, my advantage from the start was being the only Asian on the bill and often I still stand out. I accept I will never completely fit in anywhere; that’s not something I need to change. It’s perfectly OK to be in that position.”
Especially for a comedian, with its role of being the outsider looking in and commenting on the world around him. “Comedians live an observational life,” says Phil. “I’ll often not be able to live in the moment because I’m observing it and over-thinking it, but that lends itself to being a stand-up. Growing up mixed race, that forced me to be an observer too.”
Phil Wang, Wang In There, Baby!, Grand Opera House, York, Friday, 7.30pm; York Barbican, September 23, 7.30pm. Box office: atgtickets.com/york; yorkbarbican.co.uk. Further Yorkshire dates: Leeds City Varieties, Thursday, 7.30pm, sold out; Sheffield City Hall, April 30, 7.30pm; sheffieldcityhall.co.uk.