Text: | Print | Share

Joe Wong, the 'Yao Ming of comedy'

2011-12-12 13:04    Ecns.cn     Web Editor: Su Jie
With a thick Chinese accent and hilarious buck teeth, Wong, 41, has become a regular on “The Late Show With David Letterman” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

With a thick Chinese accent and hilarious buck teeth, Wong, 41, has become a regular on "The Late Show With David Letterman" and "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."

(Ecns.cn)--Praised as the "Yao Ming of comedy" in the U.S., Joe Wong has won the hearts of many Americans with his funny and satirical jokes, mostly derived from his own experience as an immigrant there, according to an interview with CCTV last week.

With a thick Chinese accent and hilarious buck teeth, Wong, 41, has become a regular on "The Late Show With David Letterman" and "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." He is also working with Letterman's Worldwide Pants production company--the same people who produced Everybody Loves Raymond--on a new sitcom, reported the Georgia Straight, Canada's largest urban weekly.

"It's pretty gratifying coming from a totally different country and you find some common things that people can laugh at," said Wong, who performed at the Radio and Television Correspondents Association Dinner at the White House in front of Vice President Joe Biden in March 2010.

"I'm honored to meet Vice President Joe Biden here tonight. I actually read your autobiography, and today I see you. I think the book is much better," he said to Mr. Biden, which was greeted with peals of laughter.

But Wong's dream did not come true easily. Born in 1970 in a small town in Jilin Province near the Korean border, Wong had a hard childhood.

"When I was a kid, every student had to work in the cornfields and scoop fertilizers into the crops," he told the Los Angeles Times. "Americans can't believe it, but at lunch we'd rinse the same container off in a creek and use it to scoop soup."

Wong eventually got into college and studied biochemistry, and later earned a master's degree from the China Academy of Sciences. In 1994, he left China for Houston, Texas, to work toward a doctorate at Rice University with the goal of becoming a professor. He eventually got his PhD and worked in the field for 10 years.

Wong landed his first job at a Houston company that made DNA chips. When the company went bankrupt a year later, he was picked up by Aventis, a pharmaceutical company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Wong grew cancer cells and decoded genes in a lab.

"I love cancer research and molecular biology," he told Georgia Straight during a telephone interview, "but on the other hand, it's just a job. Comedy's my 'Tao.' Remember Taoism? The way or the path of life. Comedy's just how I see life."

Noble and well-paid as the lab job was, Wong eventually left after getting a taste of standup comedy.

Wong had been to an American comedy club in Houston once, but the comedians talked too fast. "I didn't understand half of what was said," he revealed. So in 2001 he signed up for an adult education school to study comedy.

A year later, Wong made his debut at a sports bar, where he struggled to be heard over the noise of bowling, pool and football games on big-screen TVs.

Wong recalled that it was a lonely five-minute set. At most, eight people watched, and at the end one guy came up to him and said, "You were probably funny, but we couldn't understand you."

Embarrassed, Wong might have hung it up right then and resumed his old profession researching cancer cells in a lab. Yet he was determined to become an American standup comic, a distant dream that finally came true seven years later.

The year 2009 witnessed a turning point for Wong, who was invited to New York's Ed Sullivan Theater to make his debut on "The Late Show with David Letterman."

"Still a small, skinny guy with glasses and a very thick Chinese accent, he had found a way to make it work for him," pointed out the Los Angeles Times. Within less than six minutes, Wong successfully got the audience to shake with laughter.

"Hi, everybody," he said with a thick Chinese accent, raising his right hand in greeting. "So, uh...I'm Irish."

"I had to take this American history lesson, where they asked us questions like 'who's Benjamin Franklin?' Well, I'm like, uhh...the reason our convenience store gets robbed? 'What's the second amendment?' Well, I'm like, uhh...the reason our convenience store gets robbed?"

Speaking of his success in America, Wong said he had heard that Americans laughed a lot. "In China, there is a stereotype that Americans are funny, they like to tell jokes," he said.

Wong added that he would not have achieved so much in comedy had he lived in China, since he could not do there what he does best, or "be ethnic."

"The jokes have to be localized to gain popularity in China. Most of my Chinese jokes are translated from English, which fall a little flat among Chinese audiences," he noted.

But Wong stressed that he is interested in the CCTV Spring Festival Gala, where he hopes to one day stage his standup act.