Comic Eliot Chang persisted in his career despite early humiliation

Eliot Chang got his break in comedy when he stumbled upon an open-mic night at a comedy club.
Eliot Chang got his break in comedy when he stumbled upon an open-mic night at a comedy club.PHOTO: LUCAS LAU, COMEDY CENTRAL ASIA

Asian-American comic Eliot Chang may have bombed initially, but his persistence has paid off, with stints on television

Asian-American comedian Eliot Chang was so determined to become a stand-up comic, he humiliated himself on at least 10 occasions before finally getting some laughs on stage.

It started a decade ago when he stumbled upon a comedy club openmic night, recalls the New York native, who was pursuing a bachelor's degree in biology at that time.

"My friends had always told me I was funny, so I thought I'd give it a try. I was by myself, so I thought that if I went in, no one would know anyway.

"I did so poorly that first night - I bombed. But for some reason, it just felt right standing there on stage. I went back to the same comedy club twice a week for five weeks - and I bombed every single time. But I just kept going."

He is aware of how ridiculous his persistence would seem to others.

"Honestly, if anyone else told me that story, I would just say, 'You need to give up.' But some crazy person in my head said, 'Just keep doing it'," says the bachelor, who declined to give his age.

After he finally made some headway, he relocated to Los Angeles to launch his comedy career and has since become successful enough to do comedy full-time, despite getting his degree in biology.

He tours the United States for gigs and has also been featured on television series such as Chelsea Lately (2007-2014) and Minority Report (2015). His latest TV outing is in Comedy Central Stand-Up, Asia!, a 10-part series of stand-up comedy sessions by various comedians from Asia and beyond. Besides Chang, other comedians featured in the new show include India's Papa CJ and Japanese-American comic Paul Ogata.

Chang says his comedy style is "just being honest".

"If a show wasn't doing well, I would just be honest and say out loud, 'Wow, that sucked.' Audiences may not like all of my jokes, but they'll be like, 'Well, at least he's honest.'

"And a lot of it is just stuff that comes to my mind. I have a few one-word reminders about what I want to talk about, and I just go on stage and talk about it. Hopefully, what comes out of my mouth organically is funnier that way."

While his jokes cover every topic from strippers to the obsession with social media, some of his most popular ones have to do with his observations of Asian men living in the US.

His YouTube videos, Girls Who Like Asian Guys and You Can't Reject This Asian Guy, have been especially popular, getting close to 300,000 views each.

He says: "In American media, Asian men are portrayed as sexual weaklings and geeky losers. Of course, I don't feel that way and I know many Asians don't see themselves that way either.

"I think that's why people reacted to these videos. Asians were seeing a video where an Asian guy was not being portrayed in a dorky manner, for once."

Going forward, the stereotype of Asians being geeks or boring will likely continue to break, as more Asian-American comics such as him become successful in the mainstream.

Comedians including Ali Wong, Aziz Ansari and Hasan Minhaj have recently become big hits, mostly thanks to their offerings on streaming giant Netflix.

Chang says: "These people have been funny for a long time, but people are discovering them only now.

"But that's of course a good thing. As more and more people get comfortable with seeing something that they're not used to, it just helps everyone."

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

•Comedy Central Stand-Up, Asia! Season 2 airs on Comedy Central Asia (StarHub TV Channel 516 and Singtel TV Channel 324) on Tuesdays at 8.55pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2017, with the headline 'Having the last laugh'. Print Edition | Subscribe