Ken Cheng is the standup comedian credited with the ‘joke of the Fringe award, 2017,’ as judged by comedy TV channel, Dave. This can either be regarded as an achievement or something he feels he’ll have to live up to in 2018. The joke? “I’m not a fan of the new pound coin, but then again, I hate all change.”
Which will give you an idea of how arbitrary the award is in the first place. Every year, we read the results with a general air of bemusement. Who picks the jokes? What qualifies any of them to be dubbed ‘the best?’ I suppose, as any comic will tell you, you needed to be there when it was actually said aloud. And I’ve no doubt that Cheng told it well.
As you might guess from his name, Ken Cheng is of Chinese descent – and much of the subject matter of this sly, erudite set is concerned with his ethnicity and the way it’s perceived by the various people he encounters. He’s very adept at nailing unconscious racism and hoisting the culprit by his or her own petard. His routine about the woman he meets at a party is nicely scathing, pointing out how everything she says is well-intentioned but misdirected. He also talks about his parents’ rather unusual marital arrangements; the fact that he was a bit of a child prodigy when it came to mathematics (and how much of a cliché this is); his giant collection of cuddly lambs – and, at one point, he even treats us to an extract from a science fiction novel he wrote when he was around seven years old, which demonstrates all too clearly what an unusual boy he must have been.
If it’s only occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, it’s consistently chuckle-worthy and Cheng is an affable presence up on the stage of Bedlam, holding his audience’s attention and rarely allowing things to lag. A moment towards the end of his set when somebody has to go out to use the loo, just as he’s building up to his big finish, is handled with remarkable restraint. This is an enjoyable show from a real craftsman – and there are probably several punchlines in here that Dave might like to consider for 2018.