Review: Ken Cheng: Best Dad Ever

An unfurling family history that deserves a sizeable stage

comedy review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
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Ken Cheng: Best Dad Ever
Published 11 Aug 2018

Cheng made headlines last year by winning the Joke of the Fringe competition, which is not necessarily a sign that someone’s full-length show will be worth catching. Best Dad Ever is far from a pun-fest however, as the maths-loving comic is making the most of the Bedlam Theatre’s grand, gothic ambience by giving his show proper theatrical trappings: a little stage-scenery side table, some surprise props and a well-worked finale. Despite the title, much of this hour is actually about his mother, whose remarkable story is well worth such a stage.  

The semi-scripted feel does lead to a slightly stiff start. Cheng launches into an observational riff with little introduction, and sails straight past a couple of audience whoops when he mentions his old hometown of Cambridge, where a response would have warmed the room nicely. But he eventually relaxes into the material, with the aid of some big-screen visual aids, and the show markedly improves as it progresses.

His family background is fascinating – one of his ancestors created one of the first big Chinese productions in London’s West End. But it’s his parents who provide the story here, and both reveal hidden depths, for better or worse. Why did his father return to China, then stop sending money? Was his translator mother having an affair with a policeman she worked a case with? And how did young Ken sort of invent Amazon Prime? This is an unfolding tapestry of a tale, with interesting asides about race, immigration and Excel spreadsheets. Eventually, it all adds up.