Comedian Sheng Wang’s narrow exposure to stand-up comedy as a child was commercials for Chris Tucker’s performances on HBO’s “Def Comedy Jam.”
Wang said he never imagined he would pursue a career in comedy until he attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he joined an Asian-American performance club on campus.
The Taiwanese comedian went on to find his home in San Francisco, performing stand-up comedy on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” He now writes for ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat.” Wang will perform at the UCLA BruinFest Comedy Show alongside other comedians such as Moshe Kasher and Taylor Tomlinson on Monday at 8 p.m. in the Ackerman Grand Ballroom.
The Daily Bruin’s Erin McFaul spoke with Wang about his early years in comedy, how he prepares for his performances and his advice for aspiring comedians.
Daily Bruin: When did you start developing an interest in comedy?
Sheng Wang: It was in college. It wasn’t like a lifelong dream of mine. … And then when I came to college, I ended up joining a group on campus that was a very supportive organization just to provide a platform for Asian-American students to do something on stage. You could perform anything, you could write anything, you could sing, dance, do a poem, do some stand-up – whatever you wanted to do, they were going to write a show or platform for you to do that, a stage, basically. … I started dabbling in comedy and I guess that’s sort of when I got interested, hooked on it.
DB: What about stand-up comedy is intriguing for you?
SW: I think it’s a very powerful way to engage a crowd of people. I like how it’s very immediate. It’s very clear where you stand with the audience. I love the immediacy and the real, instant gratification if you can come up with a joke either the day of or even on the stage and throw it out there, see what happens, see how people react. You always know right then and there. There’s no faking it. You can’t just pretend to laugh. You can clap at performances that don’t demand a yes-or-no vote right then and there in terms of a laugh, but you can’t do that with jokes. For me it’s just very fulfilling to write something, create something.
DB: What are the steps you take when preparing for a stand-up gig or writing a sketch?
SW: As a stand-up comedian, I think I’m considered more of a joke-teller rather than a storyteller. My comedy is very observational. It’s mostly personal observations and some tiny anecdotes, but I usually just start with something that’s somewhat interesting. It might not be immediately funny, it might be just a weird feeling, just something irrational or not completely logical. … What about our assumptions as citizens or from society, what is expected of us, what makes these situations weird? Or it could just be something really funny that happened, and I jot that down.
DB: Have you ever had a negative reaction from someone in the crowd? If so, how do you respond?
SW: As long as you were honest with what you wrote or performed then you can’t be worried about people who don’t like your stuff. … It’d be weird if everyone loved it, so I’m okay with that. I don’t have to deal with it, I just let it go. If people don’t enjoy the show, I’ll just focus on the people who are connecting with me.
DB: If you could give UCLA students who are pursuing a career in comedy one piece of advice, what would that be?
SW: You have to get a lot of practice in. You have to constantly get on stage as much as possible. Write every day, practice as much as you can, get on stage and just be honest with yourself and perform what you really want to do, what you really want to say. … Just do the comedy that you would want to see and perform the comedy that is driven by your personal interests and feelings. That way it’s easy to repeat those performances because you’ll be practicing a lot.