Tackling taboo subjects and social changes through jokes – meet the Taiwanese comedians at MICF

Tackling taboo subjects and social changes through jokes – meet the Taiwanese comedians at MICF
  • PublishedMay 3, 2024

This year, five Taiwanese comedians made their Aussie debut at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival with their Mandarin-only hilarity.

Janice Wu Chia-Yu, a 23-year-old Taiwanese’s go-to topics? Sex, sexuality, and the rollercoaster of dating.

“Cracking sex jokes is my way of serving the public,” Wu quipped.

“Talking about sex as a woman in Asian society is very taboo, as we are so used to seeing women or girls being graceful and confirmative to social norms.

“So, whenever girls express their sexual desire or their opinions on sexuality, it is confronting.

“[One] woman told me she was inspired by my jokes and finally divorced her husband, pursuing her own sexual adventure. I was super happy for her.”

A woman standing on a stage speaks into a microphone.
Janice Wu said a unique perspective was a key element in writing good jokes.(Supplied)

Drawing inspiration from comic icons like Ali Wong and Atsuko Okatsuka, Wu said she also aspired to delve into women’s issues like the gender pay gap.

“…I want to write more on women’s issues, from women’s perspective or maybe something like the environment or other broader and bigger issues,” she said.

“I don’t actually need to live a tragic life to be able to write [good] jokes; the important thing is about your unique perspective, and how you interrogate something in an open and humorous way.”

From the military to the stage

Fellow comedian Huang Hau-Ping had a very different path to comedy, although he too is now performing in Melbourne.

In 2012, he signed up for a stand-up comedy course near National Taiwan Normal University while a university student. 

He also participated in a few varieties and competition shows, doing stand-up and imitation sketches, and officially launched himself into the entertainment industry.

While he briefly “fell out of love with stand-up as it can’t make money”, oddly enough his compulsory military service brought back his passion.

He was prohibited from engaging in any commercial or paid work, but because even the “people from high up” knew he couldn’t make money doing stand-up, it became his outlet.

A man gestures with his hand while standing on a stage and speaking into a microphone.
Huang Hau-Ping believes comedy can change the world.(Supplied)

Post-service, Huang had accumulated enough material and performed his first special, which he considered a pivotal moment in his stand-up comedy career.

“Comedy can change the world and … spread information and messages far and wide,” he said.

Both Huang and Wu were delighted to be in Melbourne to perform.

A man dressed smartly in a yellow waistcoat stands smiling next to a large sign on a TV set.
Huang is a TV regular for various variety shows in Taiwan.(Supplied)

The group’s performance was warmly received, and Huang said it was a special moment for the Taiwanese community in Australia.

“It is kind of like performing to reward the troops [in Taiwan], where everyone comes here to experience and appreciate the hard work of our Taiwanese community,” he said.

‘We’re just here to have fun’

The pair were surprised at how open Melbourne audiences were about talking about sensitive issues — and even wanted them to be bolder. 

“[The audience] is quite open about talking cross-strait issues overseas. People don’t feel like you’re necessarily hurting anyone by discussing things that might be otherwise sensitive in Taiwan,” Wu said.

“Maybe you can’t talk about these things in China, but actually, when overseas, in Melbourne, I feel like we’re all diaspora in a way; we are just here to have fun.”

“I consider the topics we discuss are quite controversial, with high impact already, whether it’s politics or LGBTIQA+ issues,” Huang said.

Both comedians said they would consider doing stand-up in English next year.

Huang said he would like to see more Taiwanese “stepping onto the world stage as comedians … letting everyone know that our comedy transcends national boundaries”.


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