How many wang jokes can Phil Wang squeeze into an hour of comedy with his new show Kinabalu? Plenty, that’s how many. With a show so named for the hometown of his Malaysian father, Wang wears his mixed heritage (his mother is from that “dark unmapped corner of the Empire” Stoke-on-Trent) like a badge of entitled honour. Unlike so many of his audience, he enjoys free rein to riff on all manner of racially and culturally sensitive subjects as an apparent birth right.
It’s both barrels for any number of taboo targets, including the lack of appreciation that Brits have for Britain, the legacy of the Empire and the dynamics of Asian comedy as the term is understood by that bastion of forward thinking, the Beeb. In two particularly raucous skits, Wang brilliantly skewers the audience’s unconscious preconceptions on skin colour and his own faltering attempts to show off in Mandarin with a Chinese native.
It might sound like controversial stuff, but with his jokes firmly grounded by his endearingly boobish persona, it’s impossible to see any malice in his act. Indeed, one audience member who arrives late to the party is complimented on his shirt; in another comedian’s hands, they’d be having it off his back. He’s so inoffensive and unthreatening that his edgy material wouldn’t seem out of place in a creche. Of course, the fact that he himself is of Asian descent helps immensely; it’s “one of the Asian perks”, as he puts it, but he remains inclusive of his audience throughout.
So while the show does tread some topical (and perhaps provocative) ground, it’s delivered in such a fluffy package that you can’t help but smile at his easy, self-assured charm. Meanwhile, he’s never very far away from diving back into the gutter, with another mention of his surname, detailed accounts of his bedroom escapades or a lengthy ramble about his latest milestone on the road to adulthood – purchasing lube. It’s astonishing the amount of time that’s devoted to this subject, but as with all other areas of the show, Wang wins through with his precocious whimsy.
With Kinabalu, Wang shows that he remains as steadfastly immature yet searingly insightful as ever – and yep, as in his own words, “he’s smashing it”. Go see for yourself; for best results, wear your Sunday best and arrive ever so slightly after the appointed hour.