IT'S every comic's nightmare that his routine will be greeted with a stony silence from a straight-faced audience - and that is exactly what happened to stand-up comedian Wu Jiaqi. But that was more than a year ago, and the 27-year-old reporter has refused to let the experience throw him off track. On the contrary, it has spurred him on to sharpening both his material and his delivery for the forthcoming ''Man of Hongkong'' performances at the Hongkong Arts Centre next month. Re-living the painful moment, Wu said : ''I just had to keep going although my instinct was to just leave the stage. The worse thing is you feel guilty because people have paid money to be entertained.'' Luckily, the second half of the show was better received: ''For the second part I use a talk-show format which involves direct interaction with the audience and this worked better.'' STAND up comedy is relatively new in Hongkong and Wu admitted that technically, there was still plenty of room for improvement. But he believes he has improved and is confident the April shows will draw more laughs. Gathering material for the show was a slow process of intensive active research and patient osmosis, but the actual writing took about a month. Wu's inspiration comes from every day life and he is primarily interested in social issues and human relationships. ''Politics is an important part of life and my show will be very topical, but human relations is a universal theme that everybody can identify with.'' Softly spoken and the quintessential boy next door, Wu also draws strength from a more obscure source of inspiration - flared trousers. ''Wearing flares in a performance gives me a sense of energy and confidence. Flares are impractical and inefficient, they annoy your mother. I think that's the attraction - they represent youth and rebellion.'' As comic influences, Wu cites the home-grown talents of Michael Hui and the 50s funny-men Yi Chau-shui and Leung Sing-por. ''I love his [Yi's] delivery - he perfected a neurotic, stuttering, but articulate style that I have tried to emulate,'' he said. Delivery is something Wu has worked hard on to perfect, although he admitted this was sometimes hard to do. ''Performance can only really progress through practice and because opportunities for this is limited, my writing has improved at a quicker pace than my performing.'' Wu has found that videotaping his performances help him to iron out problems and enable him to spot details he might not be aware of: ''With a solo act, the audience can pick up on the slightest mannerisms which might be unintentional on the part of the performer.'' Through this method, he discovered he had a tendency to shake his leg and he has since managed to control the affliction. Another problem he has tried to control is the desire to laugh : ''Being able to keep a straight face is not something which comes easily to me.'' Wu's comments give the impression that stand-up comedy requires immense discipline and this young man takes his art seriously. Another aspect of his act is the build-up of a recognisable image and Wu has paid much attention to this. He is careful to project the right image because he is concerned that once the public has a certain perception of an artist, it is hard to shake off. For this reason, it's strictly ''no sex please, this is Wu Jiaqi''. ''There are basically just three major topics in comedy: politics, relationships and sex. I cover all but sex,'' he said. ''It is important for a stand-up comedian to develop and establish an image because stand-up comedy is all about the performer's relationship with the audience. And for the audience to understand and respond to the humour requires a certain knowledge andunderstanding of the persona.'' For now, he is content to base his image on being Joe Public, ''a small character'' in a big city. Man of Hongkong runs from April 2 to April 4 at the McAulay Studio, Hongkong Arts Centre, 7.45pm, tickets $50.