Ten years ago, Asia didn’t have a single full-time comedy club. Then along came Jami Gong and TakeOut Comedy. Downstairs below Elgin Street, the humble basement institution doesn’t look like much but it was the first of its kind on the continent and remains a trailblazer that paved the way for dedicated comedy clubs from Shanghai to Singapore. “People were shocked that I was opening a club,” says Gong, “and we did this before [TakeOut Comedy] even had any local comedians. I’ll be the first to admit, the first four or five years, those shows were horrible!”
Although his pivot to Asia was a brave move, an American by birth, Gong had cut his teeth years before in New York’s fiercely competitive comedy scene. Setting up in Hong Kong was ‘a roll of the dice’, admits Gong, but, he adds, “I was 36 at the time and I really believed this was my destiny. My mum’s from Hong Kong, so I always had this place in my heart.”
The highlight of the TakeOut Comedy calendar is the Hong Kong International Comedy Festival, which kicks-off on October 13 on Elgin Street, culminating nine days later with a huge finals show in Cyberport. Speaking about this year’s event, Gong is characteristically buoyant: “I’m really proud because the competition is so tough. Fifteen out of the 30 entrants are new competitors. We’ve got more overseas comedians than ever before. There are two winners’ shows where past winners are going to perform, and then there’s Paul Ogata, our most popular act, headlining the club for the 24th time.”
With so much talent on show, here are profiles of just some of the big names competing this year.