City Weekend

Can a Hong Kong comedian become the Funniest Person in the World?

Tamby Chan and Joanna Sio are about to test their stand-up skills in a global competition

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 September, 2016, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 September, 2016, 4:12pm

Local comedian Tamby Chan went to his first open mic show just three years back – and he’s been addicted to stand-up ever since.

“It just makes me feel good,” Chan, who was born in Hong Kong and emigrated to Canada when he was seven before returning in 2008, said. “It also teaches you to be honest with yourself.”

Now he is one of two comedians representing Hong Kong in a global competition to find the funniest person in the world, along with Singapore-based Hongkonger Joanna Sio.

Hong Kong comic Vivek Mahbubani uses multicultural identity to inspire kids

Hosted by US comedy club chain the Laugh Factory, the contest is held every two years and offers the top 20 comedians with the most online votes the chance to take part in semi-finals and finals in Finland from December 4 to 10.

Grand prize winners will receive US$100,000 while two runner-ups will get US$10,000 and US$5,000 respectively. Comedians who make it to the semi-finals will also receive US$1,000.

Contestants must be sponsored by a reputable and approved entity. In the 2014 competition, Hong Kong comedians Vivek Mahbubani and Jim Brewsky advanced to the semi-finals.

As in many Asian territories, stand-up comedy is still an emerging art form in Hong Kong. Most local comedians have full-time jobs and do not make money from stand-up, Chan said.

There are only about 10 comedians on the Chinese-speaking scene and 40 on the Western scene who do showcases, as well as 15 and 30 who perform at open mics, he added.

For Chan, 30, one of the biggest challenges to doing stand-up is time. Now a father, Chan is also a full-time kindergarten teacher, as well as a part-time university student and learning centre employee.

Inspiration for his jokes comes from everyday life observations, as well as his one-year-old daughter.

“[Promoters] are doing a great job at helping out new comics ... and also the festivals. But they are not really focused on doing concurrent shows around town,” Chan said, adding that he encouraged Hongkongers to support the stand-up scene by going to shows.

“I do want to do [stand-up] full time, but right now it’s not practical. There are not a lot of professional comedians who can do it without travelling. The dream is get a writing job ... but that’s super slim.”

Performing shows in both Cantonese and English, Chan said that taking part in the competition was a great opportunity that he did not expect.

“It’s really cool that Hong Kong is a part of this [contest],” he said.

Also representing Hong Kong is 39-year-old Sio, who moved from Macau to Hong Kong when she was 12 years old and has lived in the city on and off for 18 years.

Now a full-time comedian, she has done stand-up for about seven years and tells jokes about the challenges of growing up in Hong Kong, marriage, having kids and more.

Sio became a comedian because she liked the autonomy of stand-up and making people laugh. Having made her start as an improvisational comedy performer while studying at graduate school in the Netherlands, Sio returned to Hong Kong to do stand-up before moving to Singapore six years back.

“Some truths are so obvious that they are almost secrets. As a comedian, you put the truths on the table and tell people, hey look at them, they might make you uncomfortable but you need to hear it,” she said.

“I have made them funny so I can get your attention and make them easier to swallow. I love the challenge and I love risk. I want to let my idea be heard in the form I want it to be.”

Online voting will end on October 1, and voters can see video clips submitted by each contestant and make their vote at: