Saturday, October 25, 2014

Award-winning stand up Phil Wang on Footlights, and why Edinburgh isn’t all that funny

Phil Wang won the Chortle Student Comedy Award 2010. He is involved in multiple productions in the Fringe this year, including the new comedy, The Life Doctor. He is President of the Cambridge Footlights.

When did you start doing comedy, and why?

I was about seventeen and I was watching lots of clips of stand ups and I thought, hey, these people in the audience, they love this guy. He’s great. He’s the most popular guy in the room. I want to be the most popular guy in the room. I’ve always felt I was quite a funny guy. There was comedy club at my school called Ha Ha, and I did a set there, which went down reasonably well, so I continued and at uni I really went for it.

Where do you get your ideas for jokes?

A lot of it comes to me in the shower. I don’t know what it is about hot water and other men, but that’s what inspires me. Things just come to my head and I’ll make a note of it on my phone. I don’t really sit down and write.

Is there anything funny about Edinburgh?

I did write a new joke about bagpipes, but it’s quite a commanding, serious city a lot of the time, Edinburgh, so not that much really. The anti-social drunk homeless people are more distressing than funny, and the drinking culture here is the same, really – more distressing than funny.

What’s so special about the Cambridge Footlights?

The most obvious special trait Footlights has is its history, and because of its history it attracts some of the more dedicated and talented young people in the country. They apply to Cambridge and when they do apply they get involved with Footlights. So I suppose it has sort of snowballed from the glory days.

How has Footlights helped you?

You have these shows called Smokers that happen every two weeks. They’re completely open audition and you’re limited to three minutes to do a song, a monologue, or stand-up. Those three minutes have really trained me to hone the material down. It also got me writing regularly, and working with other people and just performing loads.

What are you up to in the Fringe this year?

I am doing a stand up in The Comedy Zone in the Pleasance Courtyard. There’s also a show that I co-wrote called The Life Doctor which is on at the Underbelly and I also dip in and out of the Footlights’ free stand up show at Ciao Roma the Italian restaurant in town. They’re all going reasonably well.

Has the work for each show been similar?

No, very different. The Comedy Zone one, it’s produced by Avalon. They’re a big powerful company with lots of resources so I haven’t had to worry about anything except turning up on the night and doing my set, and that’s been lovely. The Life Doctor’s almost completely the opposite. We work very hard to get audiences in, I’m on the Mile two hours a day flyering. The Footlights Presents, that’s a bit more relaxing. That’s on the PBH Free Fringe and they organise it for you.

The Footlights Presents you get an audience that’s a little too old. The Footlights name has that effect, unfortunately. But it’s bums on seats, you know. People come expecting top hats and canes and they’re always sorely disappointed. But I think they come out enjoying the stuff we do as well.

Do you have any advice to people interested in student comedy?

Just do as many gigs as you can, perform as often as you can. Don’t get too disheartened by bad gigs, everyone has bad gigs, happens to the best comedians in the world. Just be prepared to work harder than you thought you were going to.

Interview by Julia Rampen

Phil Wang is in The Comedy Zone (Pleasance Courtyard, August 21-28, 22:45), The Life Doctor (Underbelly, Cowgate, August 21-28, 20:10), and Footlights Present (Ciao Roma, August 22-27, 15:20).


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