Phil Wang: Kinabalu

comedy review | Read in About 2 minutes
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Phil Wang
Published 10 Aug 2017

Phil Wang is, he states, a "child of Empire". With a Malaysian father and a mother from Stoke-on-Trent, his British Asian-ness functions as a key driver in much of his set. This has potency, because it enables him to explore geopolitics and history in ways that would doubtless be rendered problematic coming out of someone else's mouth. He revels in that licence, arguing for some of the positive outcomes of Empire and mocking liberal Brits whose right-on politics are not supported by his experiences.

But what's interesting about this set is that it engages with these ideas only from the midway point, as if rebutting the idea that Wang is only allowed to talk about identity politics. Which is good, as opening sequences about scary movies and the embarrassment of buying particular items in supermarkets demonstrate skill in spinning out comic yarns from unspectacular experiences.

It's odd, then, that this 'everyman' material is delivered in a comic style that negates that commonality. Everything is a bit too slick, and I was reminded of the polished performance styles of big name American standups. While this indicates a skilful professionalism, it also serves to render everything as comedy alone, rather than as lived experiences. What could be communal observational comedy somehow doesn't offer recognition as one of its pleasures. So there's craft here, but a lack of those guttural, collective moments that bring audience and performer together.