Phil Wang: I wouldn’t be a comic if I weren’t mixed-race

Phil Wang, the stand-up comic you may recall for his viral video spoofing a Tom Hiddleston advert, has been baring his soul, or at least some of it, in his new book Sidesplitter.

Wang, 31, whose TV duties include Live at the Apollo, 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown and Taskmaster, insists it’s not a memoir, as his life doesn’t merit one.

I haven’t escaped a gulag or revolutionised an industry,” he explains, adding memoirs are a “saturated market” anyway.

What he really talks about in his book of essays is the impact of being mixed-race, of being “from two worlds at once”.

But although it has its serious moments, Sidesplitter is eloquently laced with laughs and bittersweet observations.

Ian Hislop and Phil Wang
image captionIan Hislop and Phil Wang shared a joke on BBC One’s Have I Got News For You
His mother, a white British archaeologist, met his father, a Chinese-Malaysian civil engineer, when she volunteered in Malaysia.

They married and Wang grew up in Borneo with his two sisters, surrounded by family and amazing food (and humidity, which he hates), before his family moved to the UK when he was 16.

So he’s experienced the pitfalls and delights of both cultures, and explores them in depth, with themes in his book including family, food, race, words, comedy, love and history. He explores how being mixed-race “can complicate these facets of one’s life”.

The idea of breaking his book up into chunks appealed to him enormously.

“I love George Orwell’s essays and stuff like that, and I like a book of essays,” he says. “I think it suits my attention span as well.”
But when it comes to talking about being mixed-race, he’s pretty brutal.
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image captionWang talks about the loneliness of being mixed-race
Having felt like he never fully fitted in, either in Malaysia or in the UK, he says having mixed heritage is a “great way to feel foreign wherever you are”.

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This dissonance can lead to feelings of isolation, he explains, adding that the face of “every Eurasian person I’ve ever seen sings with loneliness”.

So is this why he became a stand-up comic, after he completed an engineering degree at Cambridge University?

“Definitely,” he says. “If I weren’t mixed-race, I don’t think I’d be a comedian.”

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