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Did you hear the one about Asian comedy in Boston?

A show with local and national talent could help break out the laughs

Email|Print| Text size + By Nick A. Zaino III Globe Correspondent
November 7, 2007

Funny thing is, if you're a fan of stand-up comedy with an Asian flavor, it's not a lot of laughs trying to find it in the Hub. Outside of a few private functions and a benefit or two, there are no regular "Asian comedy" nights around Boston, and nothing that rises to the level of an Asian comedy scene.

Enter the Ticket to Asia show at Nick's Comedy Stop on Saturday night.

"It's basically catering to an audience that isn't catered to regularly," says Jeet Shahani, who organized the event and is promoting it through his website, highrollerboston.com.

The show will feature Asian comedians from around the country. Joe Wong, one of Boston's best-known up-and-coming comedians, anchors a lineup that includes relative newcomer Shawn Malloy of Boston; Don Diego, who just moved to New York from Boston; and Magic Mike from Los Angeles, who mixes music and comedy.

Shahani, who also books other comedy and music events around Boston, plans to produce more Asian comedy nights in the future. He'd like it to become a semi-regular show, pairing Asian comedians with a live band for a different kind of evening's entertainment. And if audiences come away with something more than a few laughs, so much the better. "It's definitely a night out," says Shahani. "It does bring in [the comedians'] culture, but it's more, have fun and sort of learn something new."

In bigger industry-oriented towns like New York City and Los Angeles, there are more highly developed niche scenes that fall along ethnic or gender lines. That's not true of Boston.

Wong, 37, performs at the few Asian-theme shows in town, like the annual Asian Community Development Corporation event at the Comedy Studio and a recent show at the Kowloon to benefit the Wang YMCA in Chinatown.

"There's not a very mature comedy scene just among Asians," says Wong, who explains that being an Asian comedian in Boston means working any audience you can find. "I you want to survive as a comedian in the Boston area, you have to work in clubs that the majority of the audience are non-Asians."

That's not necessarily a bad thing, according to Diego. During his three years trying to break into the scene, the 23-year-old comic found Boston clubs to be lacking a distinct racial edge. Diego moved to New York in September, and is finding his way around a club scene he sees as having more distinct divisions. "New York's different that way," he says. "There's definitely black rooms and white rooms and Asian rooms. But Boston is just, if you're funny, you'll get time."

Diego believes that learning in Boston actually helped him avoid a niche mentality and develop a broader appeal. "There were no constraints," he says. "You didn't have to go the Asian route. You could go and just say stuff that was personal. You didn't have to be racial or anything."

Wong also tailors his act to a general audience and doesn't bemoan the lack of an Asian comedy scene in Boston for much the same reasons as Diego. "The way comedians develop their material, it's just by trial and error," he says. "If you try mostly in front of Asian crowds, then you naturally get Asian jokes."

That said, Wong wouldn't mind shows that played to a broad audience. "I would love to see more Asian comedy shows and get Asians and whites and blacks to come out and watch Asian comedy together," he said. "That would be a lot of fun."

Wong's act is steeped in subtle and not-so-subtle references to his ethnicity, and the stereotypes that follow (if you tell him you have an Asian friend, he'll just tell you he knows them so you can move on with the conversation). Born in China, he moved to the US for school in 1994, and says he's still exploring the strange ideas people have about him and Asians in general. And while the overall theme of his material isn't educational, he'd love to bust a myth or two with shows like Ticket to Asia.

"I didn't realize this before, but one of the stereotypes about Asian people is that they're pretty uptight, they're very serious about everything," he says. "So I guess the merit of this show could be to change people's perceptions, that Asians can get together and laugh at ourselves, too."

Ticket to Asia with Joe Wong, Magic Mike, Don Diego, and Shawn Mallow, is at Nick's Comedy Stop (100 Warrenton St., Boston) Saturday at 7:30. Tickets are $15 at 617-216-1492 or highrollerboston.com.

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