When I found out I was going to be interviewing Taiwanese Canadian comedian Ed Hill, I figured it might be good if I tried to make him laugh at least once.
So I came up with what I thought might be a chuckle-inducing comment about the heritage of Aidan Parker, the writer-improvisor-actor who will host Hill's headlining performance at TAIWANfest's Rethink Asia: Dialogue Through Comedy event on September 5.
"I understand Aidan Parker is a Chinese Irish Canadian," I said. "So does he get drunk on ice wine a lot?"
Hill guffawed at that—out of kindness, I suppose, because I'd totally botched my lame attempt at a stereotype-based joke. I'd meant to say rice wine, not ice.
So much for my career in comedy.
Hill's future in laugh-wrangling, on the other hand, is more promising. He currently has a comedy special on Amazon Prime, Candy and Smiley, that draws heavily on how he views his Taiwanese parents and his relationship with them. The film depicts him sitting in a chair, telling stories of his family life to a gathering of about eight friends, coworkers, and relatives—because two weeks before they were gonna shoot it in front of a larger audience at the Chan Centre, the COVID-19 lockdown hit.
"We came up with the idea of a story circle," Hill says from his home in Langley, "like from Indigenous culture, almost, and to have people join the circle as the story goes on. It was different, I have to say that. It had a little more emotional density to it. Every person in the circle knows a piece of the story, so there's that common shared experience to work, while usually when you perform for an audience, a lot of them are strangers, so it's more a one-way type of performance. With this one, you can definitely see the reciprocation."
Hill was urged to find what's funny about family by his mentor and personal friend, American comedian Louie Anderson, whom he met at a workshop at the Comedy Store in L.A.
"Louie talks a lot about his family," Hill says, "and that's one thing he told me to do one time when we were working together. You know, when you're younger you're just like, 'I don't want to talk about my parents; who wants to know about those geezers?,' but what he said was the early experience with your family is what ultimately makes you who you are, and it's something that we all have experience with. Everybody's got a family. It doesn't matter if it was a positive experience, negative experience, dramatic experience, profound experience—they have experience with these people in their lives, and some things will translate as universal. And I took that to heart."
Hill grew up in Taipei, Taiwan, and emigrated here with his family at the age of 10. At the time, his father said they were going on vacation.
"He's not a man of many words," Hill points out. "But I think, deep down, we knew we were leaving [for good], because who says goodbye to everybody?"
Hill moved to Langley with his wife about a year ago—"It's way cheaper out here!"—but before that he lived in Coquitlam and Vancouver proper. His overall impression of the local comedy scene is that there are a lot of funny folks here.
"There's quite a bit of talent in Vancouver," he says. "It's definitely a scene that's resilient and a scene that's very... I mean, the audience is hard to please sometimes. It's hard to make them laugh, but I think it's because there's so much diversity and so much stuff that goes through here. They've seen a lot, so it's hard to impress the people here. If you can do it in Vancouver, you can do it anywhere."
One local comedy act that Hill has grown fond of is Fistful of Kicks, the all-Asian improv group that will join him and Parker at TAIWANfest.
"The show's about having a dialogue through comedy," he says, "and comedy is not just standup. Improv is also a very important part of comedy, so I kind of invited [Fistful of Kicks] to do what they do. They'll be able to show people that it's more than just telling jokes."
As for what Hill will be performing at TAIWANfest himself, people don't need to worry about hearing any retreads.
"The material is gonna be a hundred-percent new," he promises. "It's gonna be the followup to Candy and Smiley. Partially, it's courtesy to the audience, so you don't come watch something that you've already seen on TV. But it will be a different exploration of who I am as a person at this stage, you know, since the pandemic happened. Now the world knows a little bit about who I am and where I came from, and it's more of who I want to be.
"One of the things that I'm going to be discussing is the cultural identity of the Asian person here in North America and what that means to me now as an adult. And also my relationship with the women in my life. In Asian culture, especially, a lot of times we see strength emanate from, you know, the male figures. But what I started realizing as I get older is that true strength came from the women. And these women—whether it's my mom, my wife, so on and so forth—that's what held everything together."
Ed Hill performs with Fistful of Kicks and host Aidan Parker on September 5 at the Annex (823 Seymour) as part of TAIWANfest.