Japanese-American comedian Paul Ogata has performed his stand-up show worldwide and has appeared on TV networks like Comedy Central and Showtime. Before he comes to perform in Hong Kong, he tells Leanne Mirandilla about his approach to comedy, some memorable audiences and his love of the city.
HK: What did your family think of your work at the beginning?
PO: I think at first they were mortified, because this is not something that Japanese families typically experience—somebody from their family getting up onstage and speaking in front of audiences. Now, when I go back to [my home state of] Hawaii, there will always be some family [members] in the audience. Last year was the first time that my brother actually came to a show. That was nice—to have your older brother say, “Well, up until now I was the respectable one in the family, being a schoolteacher, [with] three kids and a minivan… but you’re doing alright.” That was nice to hear. One of the best things that ever happened to me was this: My whole life, my father never said that he loved me or that he was proud of me.
A couple of years ago, when I was back in Hawaii doing a show and my parents were there, onstage I made a joke about that, that he never said that. So the following day, when I was at their house, he said, “Alright, you know, I love you and I’m proud of you.”
HK: What are some of the best shows you’ve ever done?
PO: The last time I was in Hong Kong, in November, the USS George Washington had pulled into port and a bunch of the sailors came to the show at TakeOut Comedy. They were obviously drunk and out of hand. Usually, I like to do shows where I say things and then people laugh, but this was more a case of babysitting a bunch of hyperactive children who were on fire, and on Red Bull. The show ended with a guy throwing a bottle at me and missing just by a millimeter. [Laughs] They were just a handful. But it was amusing for everyone. Jami Gong, the owner, said it was “the show of the year.” For me, it was probably in the top five shows I’ve ever done.
HK: What about a show that just wasn’t working out?
PO: You get those from time to time. Things just don’t align right in the universe and every now and then you’ll come up with one of these terrible shows. When that happens, I have to literally murder everyone in the audience so word doesn’t get out. [Laughs] The worst one I ever had—I was pretty new to comedy, and I did a show pretty close to a US Marine base, right out of the gates actually. And there was a guy—the runtiest Marine on the base—in the back of the room shouting racial epithets at me through my whole set. I couldn’t get through a sentence without the guy yelling at me. I asked him to simmer down. The management wouldn’t shut him up. That was kind of discouraging on many levels. Finally, after a few minutes of it, I just said, “Well, thanks, goodnight,” and I walked offstage and got paid.
HK: Do you find that you need to adapt your act to different cultures or audiences?
PO: There’s a little bit of that. Mostly I can just leave my act intact. There’re a couple of references that people may not get. On the other hand, sometimes people just laugh because they know that it’s funny. I had a woman come up to me after this show, and she said, “I thought that bit you did about Tourette’s syndrome was so funny, but what is Tourette’s syndrome?” She had no idea.
HK: You’ve been to Hong Kong a number of times. What are your thoughts on the city?
PO: I love the city. It’s efficient; it’s clean; it’s exciting. It’s like New York except it’s been hosed down and shiny. There’s not much I don’t like about Hong Kong. The audiences are the most receptive I’ve ever come across in the world. I think the audiences are more receptive to adventure. They have no preconceived notions about what comedy is or should be, and so they’re willing to take chances with you as a performer. I don’t know what it is about Hong Kong life—what you guys do to people during the day that beats them down so much that they need a good laugh in the evening—but it works out for me.
Catch Paul Ogata’s stand-up show from May 17-20.