It’s Sunday night, and in a packed basement in SoHo three grown men act out a botched, over-polite bank robbery. Within a ninety-minute span, these same men will portray Socrates singing doo-wop, a communication breakdown during the Jurassic period, a sixties protest song filled with non-sequiturs, and Captain Kirk running into a sketchy DJ on a faraway planet.
Hong Kong’s first ever improv comedy festival is back for the third year running, with fast-thinking performers from Hong Kong, Asia and beyond all at the mercy of their audience’s outlandish suggestions. Sean Hebert gets a sneak preview of the festivities, on until March 10.
I grew up in Hong Kong in an Indian household. I had a whole cultural mix-up—at home we spoke English, whereas when I went to school it was very local. I definitely faced a lot of challenges because I was surrounded by non-Indians.
When I was in primary school, other children thought that I looked weird, but the only reason was because I was an alien.
After winning Hong Kong’s annual comedy competition twice (in Cantonese, then in English the following year), few would argue that Vivek Mahbubani is the funniest stand-up in the city. The homegrown comedian is also an accomplished musician and web designer with his own firm, and he talks to Andrea Lo about growing up in Hong Kong, his comedy career and the differences between performing in Cantonese and English.
I love standup comedy. I grew up watching George Carlin and Stephen Wright, Jerry Seinfeld, Drew Carey, Jim Carrey, Dana Carvey, Alan Carr, Jimmy Carr, Chris Rock, Dave Chapelle, Pablo Francisco, Frank Caliendo, Jeff Ross, Louis CK, Tig Notaro and lots of other names. If by chance you’ve never heard of any of these people I would venture you’re from Hong Kong as Hong Kong by and large sucks at standup comedy.
HK Magazine: Can you give us a bit of background about Improv Everywhere?
Charlie Todd: Yes. It is a New York City based collective that goes around public places and puts on performances. It started with me in New York City; I didn’t have a stage to perform on so I decided to create my own.
Charlie Todd’s pranking career began when he and his college buddies would pull outrageous stunts to make each other laugh. In 2001, the aspiring comedian decided to set up Improv Everywhere, a comedy collective that travels the world performing skits on unwitting passersby. He talks to Jonathan Miller about how these antics have turned his group into a global sensation.