Each year, the Comedy Festival Roadshow tours to South East Asia and India. This year, the best comedians have hitched a ride back to Australia for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. The lineup consists of Jenhan Kuah (Malaysia), Vivke Mahbubani (Hong Kong), Jason Leong (Malaysia), Brian Tan (Malaysia), Rohan Desai (India) and Joanna Sio (Singapore).
Says Sio, “We’re happy with the show in general. Melbourne has been really kind to us, I think.”
Born in Hong Kong but now living in Singapore, Sio has performed standup nearly everywhere, including in Amsterdam, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Canada and of course, Australia.
The burgeoning comedy scene in Asia is huge – “it’s quite a new art form in Singapore”, Sio notes – and they have open mic about three times a week, giving newbies a chance to get on stage. On Comedy Masala night on Tuesdays, they pull crowds of 100-plus. Coming from that scene to Melbourne, Sio notices a couple of differences. Firstly, that due to the tremendous amount of stand-up Melbourne audiences watch, they’re a little more mature when it comes to comedy. And secondly, that while racial stereotyping jokes go down a treat in Asia, Australian audiences have mixed reactions.
One of Sio’s jokes involves her walking with her white husband and being mistaken for a sex worker or a maid, and she has the feeling “people feel sorry rather than laughing at it, while back at home, people laugh at that…People here are a bit more careful, it’s like they don’t want to hurt your feelings or something. Australians are so nice!”
Of course, the Comedy Zone Asia team has learned to “adjust accordingly,” and race still plays a part in Sio’s standup. Born in Hong Kong, she talks about colonisation, how native Hong Kongers thought about the British when they were young, and how small the apartments were. “These things bothered me when I was growing up, and in my set, I like to talk about it.”
As with many good standup comedians, Sio likes people to know her when she’s performing. “It’s kind of story based, but around myself. So if I want to talk about social issues, I always go from how my experiences where when I was small.”
The Comedy Zone Asia performers are quite a large team, and they get on well together too. There’s no word on whether they might team up for something big after this, but Sio is plenty busy in the meantime. She is one-third of Comedy on Heels, the first all-female touring comedy troupe in Asia (the other members are Sharul Channa and Kristel Zweer), They traveled to Mumbai and Malaysia last year and have been planning new shows for the future.
Sio also does improv, and the next step is writing sketches – “I’ve never tried it before,” she admits, but she’s excited to write them and get them on the internet and into the world.
In the meantime, Comedy Zone Asia is doing well, and Sio implores everyone to go see it. “We hope that we can bring our type of comedy to Australia. We want to do well to give more opportunity for other Asian comics come to Australia.”
Comedy Zone Asia runs at the Melbourne Town Hall until the 19th April. Tickets start from $19.50 – get them online or at the door.