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Phil Wang: Kinabalu

at The Stand, Edinburgh

* * * * *

Deft approach to weighty topics in outstanding stand-up.

Image of Phil Wang: Kinabalu

Sun 19 Nov 2017

For a person whose childhood, to paraphrase, felt like a 45-year-old engineer struggling inside an immature body; it’s slightly odd that Phil Wang has taken until the age of 27 to feel like a man.  He’s done this through his first purchase of lube he informs us with dramatically childish glee.  It’s embellished with the standard British comedy trope of supermarket embarrassment, but with an impish grin and a curious air of innocence it’s irresistible.

Aptly, this tale eases us in to an effortlessly dextrous show that juggles issues like stereotypes, nationalism and the immigrant experience with the deftest of touches.  This should in no way suggest that his take on these weighty subjects is in any way watered down; merely that he’s become adept at using his geeky persona to present challenging material in a non-confrontational way.

Wang has been called a master of the intellectual dick joke earlier in his career, but beyond an occasional smudge of mild scatology, Kinabalu is much deeper and nuanced, and richly hilarious throughout.  The central thrust of the show is Wang’s take on immigration; and immigration to Britain in particular.  He argues that his impression of the British Empire is more positive than most, especially as he grew up in the developing world.  “I know how bad it can get,” he says.   To prove his point of how good we have it in this country, he picks up on horror film fans as being a cast-iron example of First-World privilege.  We can pay to be frightened, whereas for many not so fortunate elsewhere, it’s almost a default position.  He also states it’s this very outsider status that informs his fierce patriotism.  It’s a fresh, breezy and original approach to these very current topics.

It’s this knack for talking about these themes with the lightest of touches that makes Wang such a great comic.  With this feather-light approach he can easily switch to lighter, fluffier routines without any hint of tonal shifts.  He has the stage presence of a less studiedly self-conscious Richard Ayoade, and the Acaster-like ability to pick at one thread of a routine’s tapestry and tug at it until it almost ceases to mean anything while maintaining the laughs.  “Those of you who weren’t going with this bit already are going to hate me,” he grins, before milking one line of gibberish for all it’s worth.

Kinabalu is surely a show that should catapult Wang into the mainstream.  It was tremendously well-received at the Fringe so tonight’s performance feels like something of a victory lap.  He really doesn’t put a foot wrong all evening.  Clever, confident and consistently brilliant.