'STAND-UP comedy is like going out to a pub with your friends and having a real laugh - except you have to make the audience feel that way after knowing them for one minute, instead of maybe 10 years.' That's how comedian Tim Clark defines his stock-in-trade - and he should know what he is talking about, after 10 years honing his craft on the British comedy club circuit. In Britain recently, stand-up comedy was hailed as the new rock 'n' roll, with comics such as Rob Newman and David Baddiel selling out Wembley Arena while others like Harry Enfield, Paul Merton and Jack Dee have been given their own TV series, newspaper columns and plenty of press coverage. Clark has had his fair share of success too: a three-part chat show last year called There's Only One Brian Moore based on football nostalgia, and guest appearances on most of the other comedy shows on British TV. He is also the first to make the journey East to perform in John Moorhead's Comedy Club, a new venture that hopes to give expatriates in Beijing and Hong Kong a taste of what Britain has been getting. Three shows in Beijing last week and two more in Hong Kong this week launch what Moorhead hopes will be a quarterly event. But audiences in Asia are completely different from those Clark is used to. Just before going on for the first time in Beijing, he admitted he was not really sure what to expect. 'I don't know what will go well here, that is one of the nice things. You will probably see me do some internal editing on stage,' he said. In the end, Clark went for early abuse, rounding on a portly American in a striped shirt: 'And where are you from, sir, Atlanta, Georgia? They don't have a lot of fashion shops there, do they?' And later, after rambling on about Swedish policemen, the link between Holland's relaxed drug laws and wearing clogs, and a few toilet gags, he crushed a feeble heckle: 'I think the idea of heckling is to make me look stupid, isn't it, sir?' Clark also tried to rope in the only Australian in the crowd for a bit of audience participation: 'Where are you from, Sydney? I'll talk slowly then.' This is the stuff of British stand-up: absurd observations, cruelty, stereotyping and occasional reminiscences, performed in the uniform T-shirt and dark suit, and in a laid-back drone. Back in Clapham and Islington, it would have gone down a storm, but in Beijing the appreciative but bemused audience of businessmen and Beijingers was slow to respond. Clark had his work cut out. Before the show, a smartly dressed Chinese businesswoman asked her friend to explain 'stand-up'. 'Does he just stand up or what?' she said. Meanwhile, the audience is served a delicate four-course meal to the accompaniment of music from a string quartet. It is not quite the atmosphere of Clark's regular haunt, Jongleurs in London, where the music is loud rock, the food is salad and barbecue, and the crowd young, restless and all native English speakers. But a challenge is what it is all about and Clark says 10 years in the business has taught him to cope with everything. Even heckling, he says, can be part of the thrill. 'I had some of my best moments with a heckling crowd ... it's a great liberation to realise that it isn't as bad as you think it is. Sometimes it's like someone throwing you a line as you go on stage.' Bombing or dying on stage is 'horrible, but even that is not as bad as you think it will be', he says. But that is part of the business of stand-up, where the comedian has to completely expose himself, unprotected by props, instruments or other actors. 'It is a very strange thing to do performance-wise, I mean you don't do anything,' Clark says. 'And the strangest thing about it is that the only way of learning is in front of a live, potentially unforgiving audience. 'With a violin or something, you only go on when you are really good,' he says. 'With comedy, you have to do it when you are bad.' In the early days, after giving up his job as a social worker to pursue his lifelong ambition to perform, Clark spent three years 'just not being very good', trailing around the Northern club circuit. He even braved the now legendary Tunnel Club in south London, which was closed after audiences started to hurl beer bottles at comedians they did not like. 'I did the Tunnel three times,' Clark remembers ruefully, 'and I lasted about two-and-a-half minutes in total.' But he persevered and now, with what he reckons is a mix of 95 per cent technique and five per cent talent, he is enjoying a very nice career. Besides working as compere five nights a week at Jongleurs and the Comedy Store, Clark is also writing a screenplay for Channel 4 television and planning the inevitable next step in a comedian's career - a sitcom. Meanwhile, the Asian experience is proving a pleasant surprise. He reckons just the fact that comedians like him are being invited to perform in Beijing and Hong Kong shows what a boom-time this is for British stand-up comedy. While touring the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square between shows, Clark came in for more than the usual amount of scrutiny from curious Beijingers. 'Everybody says I look like that actor in Farewell To My Concubine,' he says, 'but I don't know who they mean.' But the fans are right: take away the blue eyes and the footballer's stride, and Clark is a dead ringer for Ge You, one of China's most popular and funny actors. Tim Clark performs at the Godown on May 6 and 7 at 9 pm. Tickets are $120 at the door, and $80 for guests with dinner reservations. To book a table, call 2524-2088.