Asian Canadian comedy stars use laughter to connect with heritage and audiences

Canadian comedy star Andrew Phung loves celebrating Asian Heritage Month with the community and his family.

To me, Asian Heritage Month is a month to celebrate Asian excellence,” Phung told Daily Hive. “It’s a chance to step back and appreciate what the larger community is doing while learning more about who is doing it.

Growing up, my Vietnamese/Chinese heritage was something I held back on, but as an adult, and someone who’s in the public eye, I’m so happy and excited to share my culture, and include others in it. My older son is 10, and I enjoy having daily conversations with him about life. This is a part of it.”

The Run the Burbs co-creator and Kim’s Convenience star is just one of many comedians of Asian heritage who are sharing their diverse stories in hilarious ways on stage and on screen.

Asian Heritage Month

(Left to right) Andrew Phung, Zoriah Wong, Roman Pesino, and Rakhee Morzaria in Run the Burbs (Ian Watson/Submitted)

This year marks 22 years since the Government of Canada signed an official declaration to designate May as Asian Heritage Month. Each May is a time of reflecting on and celebrating the many remarkable contributions Canadians of Asian descent have made and continue to make across the country.

For stand-up comedian, producer, and writer Julie Kim, the month is also about creating hope for the future.

I think it’s especially great for kids growing up now,” said the Toronto-born and Vancouver-based Kim. “I have a small child, and I love that Asian culture and history are formally recognized and celebrated in the spirit of inclusivity and understanding.”

Kim, whose parents immigrated from South Korea, suggests that celebrating Asian Heritage Month in person is the best and tastiest way to go.

Julie Kim Comedy

Julie Kim (Submitted)

“Meet the people, eat the food, and feel the warm and welcoming vibes,” said the Just for Laughs alum. “There are many great events here in Vancouver like the Korean Culture Heritage Festival, the Chinatown Parade, the Japan Market Summer Festival, BC Dumpling Festival, and Lapu-Lapu Day.

I’ve been fortunate to be part of comedy shows featuring Asian comedians, and it’s been so great to see people of all backgrounds celebrate with. Vancouver audiences are smart and thoughtful, and we’re fortunate to have so many show producers and comedians in town working hard to make the scene happen here. Please support local comedy.”

Another Canadian comedian helping to introduce audiences to performers of diverse backgrounds is Jon Endo, a Burnaby-born comic of Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai heritage.

I look at Asian heritage as one bridge that helps connect people,” Endo explained. Given I’m a mixed Asian, I grew up learning so many different traditions without even knowing it. As I got older, I saw more similarities between all cultures across the board rather than differences.”

Asian Heritage Month

Jon Endo (Skye Portman/Submitted)

Endo is the creator of Funny Dumplings, a monthly Asian comedian showcase at Vancouver’s Comedy After Dark. Though the show is currently on hiatus, he is planning a BC tour titled “Not Your Regulars” in August and September with fellow stand-ups Robert Peng, Abdul Ali and Cory Lupovici.

“To be real though, when I think Asian heritage, I think Asian food,” added Endo. “Shout out to Vietnamese pho, the best noodle soup out there in the world.”

Taiwanese Canadian comic Ed Hill also agrees that comedy can be a great avenue for connection.

“A young lady approached me after a show and shared with me that she was a new immigrant to Canada from Taiwan,” said the Taipei-born, Coquitlam-raised stand-up. “I told her about my family, and she asked about what life is like as an immigrant. She complimented me on my fluency in Mandarin and my knowledge of Taiwan.

“As she was leaving, she said, ‘Thank you for telling our stories on stage. Please don’t quit.’ That was the moment that it all made sense to me.”

Asian Canadian comedians

Ed Hill (Submitted)

For the comedians, their Asian heritage allows them to connect with audiences and themselves in powerful and meaningful ways.

“Stand-up comedy is a solitary art form,” said Hill, author of the children’s book Foreverly Spaceship. “On stage, it’s just you and the microphone. Off stage, it’s usually you and the hotel or the transport of the day. In many moments, the silence of loneliness is deafening.

“My heritage allows me to connect with those around me on and off stage, and it allows comedy to be a dialogue rather than monologue. It is through this connection that I find purpose in my comedy.”

Purpose is an important theme for many, including these comedians of Asian heritage, and they are glad they can share their history through laughter.

Asian Heritage Month

Andrew Phung (Josh Fee/Submitted)

“One of my life’s greatest achievements is not only to bring Canada to the world but Asian Canadian culture as well,” said Phung, who was born in Calgary and is currently based in Toronto. “I want to tell stories that relate to me and my Asian community while reflecting on the Canada I grew up in and currently live in. Audiences crave it.”

The five-time Canadian Screen Award winner is grateful that fans around the world love CBC’s Run the Burbs and Kim’s Convenience, and encourages everyone to continue learning about different Canadians of Asian heritage.

“It’s more than the people at the top, it’s people doing cool things you might not be hearing about. In my own life, it’s just making more of an effort to read stuff online, look up articles, and do some research. With my kids, Asian Heritage Month is a cool opportunity to introduce to them these people, and to have talks about it.”