Phil Wang: Kinabalu

Kinabalu is an astutely clever and astutely silly hour of stand up from British-Malaysian comic Phil Wang. A routine loosely structured around questions of race, privilege and empire, with a healthy dose of observational material thrown in, this is comedy with substance.

An accomplished hour of comedy from a man most definitely in the ascendant.

Wang bounces into the theatre and takes the time he needs to establish his firmly – but unobtrusively – self-confident stage persona before launching into a string of slick set pieces, creatively linked and executed with panache. Guiding us through the wacky and the weird, Wang eventually lands on his main theme: a geopolitical, postcolonial assessment of the British Empire and its legacy, specifically in Malaysia.

Primarily focused on his own upbringing and his Malaysian/Stoke-on-Trent heritage, he skips from story to story with barely-concealed glee as he takes aim at various culturally and racially sensitive topics. Loaded with charm, and utterly devoid of malice, Wang navigates this tricky terrain with understanding, tolerance and skill.

The writing in this show is polished, clearly the outcome of much hard work. A texture of longer stories peppered with occasional one-liners and plenty of dazzlingly versatile wordplay, the script is rigorously thought through. Wang is clever and makes no attempt to hide it; however, not everything is of the same high calibre. His observational routines are enjoyable but generally less original than his soft political passages.

While no section of the show is poor, and Wang never loses his audience’s faith, he sometimes fractionally misses the mark, as in an extended routine about the initiation rite that is buying your first bottle of lube. Yet even this low-point – which isn’t really a low-point, it’s just not particularly inspiring – is saved by a hilarious parting shot on what Wang describes as an ‘embarrassment tax’. He gives off such a strong visible impression of having fun with himself that any momentary miscalculation is straightaway forgiven.

Wang is unfalteringly funny and his intelligence comes through most sharply when talking about his childhood and when delivering various racial commentaries. Especially brilliant is a friendly quip that exposes many in the audience’s subconscious white privilege, and a comparison between jumper-wearers and jumper-makers. These are well-pitched jokes, and even disruptions from the audience or the environment are adeptly handled, allowing Wang to prove himself capable of quickly regaining momentum.

Kinabalu is an accomplished hour of comedy from a man most definitely in the ascendant. Expect chuckles aplenty.

Reviews by Sam Fulton

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Phil Wang is a son of the British Empire. But in a world suddenly intent on building walls and bolstering borders, what is a Commonwealth man to do? A blistering new hour of comedy gold – that's what. Phil is a laid-back Eurasian stand-up comic with cerebral charm and a dorky swagger. He has been on Have I Got News for You, Live at the Apollo, 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown and the short-lived but much-loved BBC Three sitcom Top Coppers. ‘Certain belly laughs’ (Sunday Times). ‘Brilliant... His technique is flawless, his observations astute’ (Chortle.co.uk).