8 questions with Phil Wang: You need to be arrogant to be a comedian

It’s one space where you can go up on stage and be honest even if your honesty is ugly, offensive or strange. ’’ - BRITISH COMEDIAN PHIL WANG (above) , on why stand-up comedy is addictive
It’s one space where you can go up on stage and be honest even if your honesty is ugly, offensive or strange. ’’ - BRITISH COMEDIAN PHIL WANG (above) , on why stand-up comedy is addictivePHOTO: MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL COMEDY FESTIVAL.

It takes some conceit to want people to listen to you night after night, says British comedian Phil Wang

It was the work hours that attracted British comedian Phil Wang to the funny business.

"I really hate waking up early in the morning so I thought I'd try and find a line of work where I didn't need to wake up early," says Wang, 26, in a telephone interview with The Straits Times from London.

Having dabbled in comedy since the age of 18, he decided to go into comedy full-time after university four years ago versus "becoming a security guard or groundskeeper in a cemetery".

The bachelor, who is half-Chinese and half-English, says: "I got addicted to doing comedy and making people laugh after my first show.

"Also, I'm quite arrogant and I think you have to have a certain level of arrogance to want people to listen to you, night after night."

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Along with four other stand-up comedians, including Singapore's Sharul Channa, Wang will be in Singapore on July 26 and 27 as part of the annual Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow. This is part of the Asian leg of the popular Melbourne festival.

Wang's arrogance is not unfounded. He was the president of Footlights, the comedy and drama troupe at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, whose past members include comedians and actors Stephen Fry, John Cleese and Hugh Laurie.

The bespectacled up-and-comer has also racked up two national student comedy awards and performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Montreal Just For Laughs Festival .

Besides performing stand-up, he also writes and records material for sketch comedy series on BBC Radio and has starred in British sitcom Top Coppers.

This will be the first time he is performing in Singapore and he is excited.

"Singapore is one of my favourite places in the world," he says, before cheekily adding, "And Singaporeans never understand why," when this journalist probes further.

He rattles off a string of compliments about Singapore: "The good food, culture, cleanliness, sophistication."

Because his father is Malaysian, Wang lived in Kota Kinabalu until he was 16 and regularly crossed the Causeway for short trips. He moved to the UK to further his studies.

"I used to think Singapore was the future when I visited during my childhood," he says. "It still is an amazing place."

1. How would you best describe your style of comedy?

Smart but cheeky. I always find it hard to define my style as it is always changing but let's go with that for now.

2. You cover a wide range of topics in your material. Is there anything you refuse to discuss?

No, not really. If I think I can make it funny, I will say anything, anything that doesn't get me arrested. That's where I draw the line.

3. Who are some of your comedy influences?

I enjoy the style of a lot of American comedians such as Louis C.K. and Dave Chappelle. As for British comedians, I think Stewart Lee is excellent.

4. What is it about stand-up comedy that is so addictive?

It's one space where you can go up on stage and be honest even if your honesty is ugly, offensive or strange.

We all lie to one another for politeness, personal gain or whatever, but to have someone be honest, that I find really exciting.

5. What was it like growing up in Kota Kinabalu?

It's a much slower pace of life with nothing much happening.

I do remember that the first comedian I watched live was Malaysian comedian Harith Iskander. He was great.

6. Do you still recall your very first stand-up show? How was it?

I did a five-minute performance of mostly stolen material as I didn't understand how it worked back then.

I thought it was like karaoke but with jokes, so I used some of Russell Peters' jokes but just exchanged Indian for Chinese.

After that, I learnt my lesson and started writing my own jokes.

7. What's the next big thing you hope to do?

I'd love to do stand-up in the United States and maybe China at some point. Eventually, maybe a world tour perhaps.

8. How would you like to be remembered?

As a good fighter, strong father and a pretty decent cook.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2016, with the headline '8Q: You need to be arrogant to be a comedian'. Print Edition | Subscribe