Taiwan’s stand-up scene: a laughing matter

The following article appeared in the July issue of Taiwan Business TOPICS, the magazine of the American Chamber of Commerce in Taiwan. 

Twenty years ago, live stand-up comedy was a rarity in Taiwan. Now, thanks to the efforts of a committed core of performers, things have taken off – though not necessarily in a direction everyone had anticipated.

When I met Brian Tseng more than five years ago at a comedy event in Taipei, he was a rather shy, slightly nervous 27-year-old trying to cut his teeth as a stand-up comedian. Slight and unassuming, he nonetheless had a boyish cheekiness and a twinkle in his eye that bespoke resolution. Not long back from Europe, where he had completed a master’s in neuroscience, he was working as a scriptwriter and producer for Taiwan Bar, an online animation channel focusing on Taiwanese history and culture.

There was a restlessness about him, as he admitted that his work was “not going in the direction I had anticipated.” Tseng had first tried his hand at stand-up in Mandarin during his undergraduate years at Taipei’s first comedy club – then known as Comedy Club Taipei.

“I tried out at their open mic night five or six times, and I was horrible,” he said. “My friends and even my girlfriend told me, ‘Just stop. You don’t have what it takes to be a comedian.’” Military service and postgrad studies in London and Paris ensued before his return to Taiwan and a decision to give things a go in English.

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