Phil Wang is a Melbourne fan, and he's ready to indulge. A staple on the UK comedy scene and well known to Australian audiences through his appearances on Would I Lie To You, The Last Leg, Taskmaster and more, Wang takes the stage again at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival with a brand-new show and a brand-new book.
The Real Hero in All This follows Wang’s hugely successful Philly Philly Wang Wang, a record-breaker at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe and now available on Netflix. Philly Philly Wang Wang showcases Wang’s ability to effortlessly blend incisive considerations on race, morality and the pandemic with jokes about farts and balls. The new show promises to expand on both with routines Wang considers some his favourites to date.
Alongside his two-week run of shows, Wang will appear at the Wheeler Centre with comedian Jennifer Wong in a one-night-only outing to discuss his memoir, Sidesplitter. A 2021 Times Book of the Year, Sidesplitter is a moving and hilarious examination of Wang's British-Malaysian heritage that also offers extraordinary insight into the intimacy and connective power of stand-up.
Time Out interrupted Phil Wang’s sightseeing for a quick chat about his return to Melbourne.
First things first: please tell us your favourite things about Melbourne? What are you most looking forward to on this visit?
The food in Melbourne is insane. Maybe the best I’ve ever come across. I eat so much in Melbourne it is genuinely a detriment to the quality of my performances. I love how nice and sophisticated and good-looking everyone in Melbourne is. I love the perfect climate the city has during festival time. Just warm enough without being oppressive. I love the museums and galleries. What I’m most looking forward to of all is continuing my exploration of Chinatown. It has depths upon depths.
This will be the first ‘normal’ (or semi-normal) MICF in two years. How does it feel to be travelling again, popping to the other side of the world for shows?
It feels fantastic. But a little dream-like too. It at once feels as though I was last in Melbourne a lifetime ago and yesterday. It will be weird seeing everyone again, all my Australian friends, largely the same just with a few new wrinkles (I have gained enough weight to smooth mine out). I will either be very emotional about it or robot myself straight back into Melbourne mode. Either way, I’m thrilled to be back.
What can we look forward to in The Real Hero In All This?
This new show honestly contains some of my favourite routines I’ve ever done. I just love doing them. And I can’t wait to come up with new Australia-specific bits during the run. I think my performance has gotten better since was last in Melbourne too. I’m a little sillier and more cartoony. Maybe the pandemic broke my brain.
We’re also seeing you this visit at the Wheeler Centre in conversation with the great Jennifer Wong about your memoir, Sidesplitter. How are you finding having a memoir out in the world?
It’s nice. People seem to be enjoying the book, and it is nice to have jokes and stories of mine out there in a different form than stand-up alone. I think it also shows a more sentimental side of me which I’m usually too embarrassed to show on stage. I think that kind of thing is more appropriate in the intimacy of a book.
How did you find the writing process in contrast to writing comedy?
I found it wonderful to learn more about my family in the process of writing the book. We should all write a book about ourselves if only to ask our parents questions we’d otherwise never think to! Because of the book I found out the names of my late grandparents on my father’s side. I’d only ever known them as ‘grandfather’ and ‘grandmother’ before. But because of the book I finally thought to ask. Writing a book is different to stand-up in that you get more time and space in the reader’s head to explore ideas more deeply. Stand-up requires you to stick to a particular rhythm of set-up and punchline – which I love – but which makes it harder to get more think-y and reflective.
Has the book informed the new show?
Yes. There’s a bit about my relationship with my father in it which I otherwise wouldn’t have thought anyone would care about.
There’s a beautiful passage in Sidesplitter where you link the ‘electric connection’ of stand-up and the confidence it’s given you throughout your career. How does that continue to impact your work?
Ah, I’m glad you liked that. Stand-up is addictive. Literally. A big laugh triggers the dopamine receptors in my brain like a drug, and I have to keep coming back for more. I think it’s the same with anything – the better you get at something, the more confident you become, and the more confident you become, the better you get. But both elements of that cycle can fall out of place from time to time. You just have to pick yourself up and get back on the treadmill. Because of that ‘electric connection’ of live stand-up, it’s one of the few things in my life I have never (and probably will never) get bored of.
Have you found similar connections with readers?
The feedback is not instant like with live stand-up, but people have messaged me saying they like Sidesplitter, which is wonderful. In particular, mixed-race people have gotten in touch saying it resonated with their own life experiences. That really makes me happy.
Phil Wang is, of course, The Real Hero in All This. He’s set to prove it on stage at Max Watt’s from 31 March until 16 April. He is also appearing at the Wheeler Centre in conversation with Jennifer Wong on 4 April. Book your tickets through the website.