Hong Kong’s Comedy Scene: Still trying to find the punch line

Hong Kong can be described in many ways, but at the heart of it, Hong Kong is a bustling cosmopolitan city with a vibrant entertainment scene and nightlife. Hong Kong, like any other city, comes to life at night with the bright city lights, the live music in bars and clubs, and the buzzing energy of the people who fill the city’s streets. There are lots of things people can do for leisure and fun in Hong Kong. However, unknown on a global level, Hong Kong has a thriving local comedy scene as it is Asia’s first city to ever open a comedy club. But that leaves us wondering who started it? And what is the comedy scene in Hong Kong in comparison to the West? 

The comedy scene has always been a part of Hong Kong’s nightlife throughout the years. While little, it is active, festive, and has a growing community. Although, this wouldn’t be possible without the  ‘Takeout Comedy’ Club


To those who don’t recognize the place, the ‘TakeOut Comedy’ Club is the first and only full-time comedy club in Hong Kong and in Asia,  located at 34 Elgin St, Soho, Central Hong Kong. It was created and is owned by a man named Jameson (“Jami”) Gong, a Chinese-American comedian born and raised in New York City.

TakeOut Comedy is a famous location where many professional comedians have performed and learned how to do stand-up comedy. Since the conception of TakeOut Comedy, it has contributed to the rise and success of the comedy scene where comedians who had their start there have now become renowned veterans in the industry such as Chan Lok Tim, Vivek, Pete Gurella, and more. 

TakeOut Comedy has been responsible for cultivating local and global talent under the guidance of Jami Gong and international comedians he flies in from around the world. In doing so, it has constructed a unique comedy scene that has a wide and diverse range of comedians. The club has existed for about 17 years now and up to this day, it continues to have its weekly comedy shows and monthly comedy classes. 

TakeOut Comedy Club origins began from a rough idea written on a ‘barf bag’ during a flight to Hong Kong. Jami shared that the reason he built TakeOut Comedy Club was that he realized there were no full-time comedy clubs in Asia and he said

I saw the potential and I always live by the motto ‘build it, and they will come’ and who doesn’t wanna laugh right? So we were hitting an untapped market, untapped material.

– Jameson Gong, Owner of TakeOut Comedy Club

While TakeOut Comedy is a legendary spot and a staple in the realm of comedy in Hong Kong, it isn’t the only venue that platforms comedians. As Hong Kong has returned to normal, opened its borders, and revitalized its entertainment industry, the nightlife is in full swing and comedians are back in the spotlight. Restaurants and bars such as The Aftermath or Terrible Baby, have seized the opportunity in comedy and have hosted weekly open-mic comedy shows, comedy competitions, and live comedy show events.

However, comedians don’t only perform in these venues, many broaden their horizons and also participate in comedy festivals around the globe. Comedy festivals are described to be a celebration of comedy that feature a wide variety of comedic performers from around the world who may specialize in different genres, types, and styles of comedy. Many cities around the world celebrate comedy through their own annual comedy festivals. Cities such as Edinburgh, Melbourne, Sydney, Montreal, and New York hold yearly comedy festivals where comedians from around the world come and perform their best acts to laugh-hungry audiences. 

Due to Hong Kong’s unique cosmopolitan nature, the city’s comedy scene is divided into two language-based scenes: the Cantonese scene and the English scene. The Cantonese scene primarily features comedians who perform in Cantonese, while the English scene features comedians who perform in English.

Meet Tim Chan

Tim Chan is a 36-year-old local Hong Kong comedian who performs comedy in the Cantonese scene. He started his comedy career in 2011 as a part-time comedian. In 2016, Tim was a “slasher” as he was juggling his comedy with an IT job. Two years later, a cruise company offered him to perform, but his IT job couldn’t allow him to immediately take the opportunity as he needed to ask his boss for permission to be absent. While he was waiting, the cruise ship company found another comedian as Tim couldn’t provide an exact answer. That was when he realized that he needed to go full time otherwise he would continue to lose opportunities like this.

In the beginning, although the comedy scene in Hong Kong has always been divided by languages. Both Cantonese and English shows performed at TakeOut Comedy, that’s really where it all started. But, the English scene was growing at a much faster rate than the Cantonese scene.  Currently “The English scene is much better, because the experienced comedians (in the Cantonese scene) are around 10, while the English scene has around 30 [comedians],” said Tim. So eventually TakeOut Comedy switched to a primarily English comedy club. “In the beginning of the Cantonese Scene, we (Cantonese comedians) performed over there. It’s over in Soho. So for Hong Kong people, we don’t go over there, [it’s mainly] just the foreigners [that] would go over there. So we found other places to do it. So now we are separated and we do a group called Hall of Laughs that mainly does the Cantonese show,” said Tim. 

Cantonese comedy mainly jokes about events happening in the city. Hong Kong people love talking about whatever is happening in the news. Even negative things surrounding the city, people are happy to laugh about as they just want someone to “just help me talk it out.” They don’t however like talking about some unpleasant matters, such as sex or insults. “In Cantonese shows, audiences don’t like to be too dirty or too edgy. But, they like political things,” said Tim. 

During the pandemic, when the gathering restrictions were at their peak, Tim held comedy classes to teach Hong Kongers comedy. “I wanted more people to do Cantonese comedy, so I made some comedy classes online through Zoom.” When the restrictions slowly lifted, he started taking his teaching to in-person talks such as school talks and graduation shows.

Right now, Tim holds monthly Cantonese shows at his office place which he turns into a performing venue for his comedy.

Metropolitan Workspace or ‘Hall of Laughs’ in Silver Fortune Plaza, venue that Tim Chan books for his monthly comedy shows

Tim’s most memorable and important show was his performance at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. It was a real eye-opener for him as he performed in front of a different audience and witnessed different types of comedy such as clown comedy. 

He will be returning back to Australia to perform at the Sydney Comedy Festival on the 13th and 14th of May. He’s well-known to the Cantonese scene in Australia as he had to make a third show on the second day to perform as the first show on the first day sold out, and the second show was close to selling out as he said in the interview.

Tim Chan holding up a poster promoting his show at the Sydney Comedy Festival (Photo Credit: Andee Capellan)

Tim says that most comedians in Hong Kong are independent, which means they handle their own management, scheduling, administration, promotion, etc. He also mentions that because the comedy scene is relatively small, comedians often help each other out in promoting their shows. “I’m completely independent. In Hong Kong, [we] comedians just help ourselves; It’s a community. Vivek (another local comedian) and I often get called for gigs that we would discuss under the table,” said Tim. 

As an independent full-time comedian, contrary to his line of work, the day in the life for Tim consists of administrative work. “I say I’m a full-time comedian, but I still have a lot of administration stuff I need to do. For example, when I go overseas to perform, I need to get a visa, insurance, [and] deal with taxation.” It’s not only the administration work that he has to deal with, being an independent comedian, he has to edit his own videos and reels for Patreon, Instagram, and even Facebook in order to self-promote his name. 

Although Tim’s day mostly consists of administration work, he still needs to find time to write his materials in order to make jokes and refine them, as after all, that’s what people come to see. “For the writing, because I don’t like to feel bored. So I usually go out to brainstorm what idea I want. So I walk around places I didn’t go before. After I have those ideas, I would sit down and mix and match those ideas and then write the complete paragraph for the bit,” said Tim. Even though the writing is a very essential part of being a comedian, Tim only writes 1-2 hours per week.

Tim is a Hong Kong comedian who is well-versed in the Cantonese comedy scene. But, as previously mentioned, the comedy scene in Hong Kong is split into two. So, how much more different is the English scene in Hong Kong than the Cantonese scene?

Introducing Pete Grella

Pete Grella is a 55-year-old American comedian who has lived in Hong Kong for 17 years and has been in the English comedy scene doing both stand-up and improv for the last 14 years. Before Pete became a Hong Kong comedian, he was doing graphic design and business development. Then at one networking event, he happened to meet Jami. After bonding over the fact they both came from New York, Jami then happened to mention “Hey I’m opening a new comedy club.” Then history practically wrote itself from there on out. 

Pete has performed stand-ups in different venues in Hong Kong. A lot of them are restaurants that hold open mics, but he does most of his stand-up in TakeOut Comedy as it’s a full-time comedy club.

Although Pete regularly performs in a full-time comedy club, he himself is a part-time comedian. Pete teaches full-time at a local primary school, and as much as he loves performing comedy, he does not want to be a full-time comedian. “Well as far as those of us who are doing it (comedy), it’s because this is a passion of ours. We’re not looking to do this full-time, at least not that I know of, no one I know of wants to do this full-time,” said Pete. And as an English-only comedian, it’s even more difficult to be a full-time comedian in Hong Kong as the opportunities to perform are much smaller. Pete has said, “if you don’t speak any Cantonese or Putonghua, it’s even more difficult because the number of English speaking opportunities is much more limited.”

Pete Grella performing at TakeOut Comedy Club on April 14, 2023 (Photo Credit: Brian Cheng)

However, the unique part of the English comedy scene in Hong Kong is the audience. Because Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for crowds in TakeOut Comedy to consist of people from different parts of the world. “Any of our shows here will have a very mixed crowd. It can’t be predicted, you never know, so you have to really adapt to different audiences.” 

But because the audiences in the English scene have various cultural backgrounds, the topics to joke about are usually “universally shared experiences” that are common around the world, or joke about the struggles of living in Hong Kong as an expat. 

Comedians all over the world have craved to perform in Hong Kong as it’s such a unique crowd. The Hong Kong International Comedy Festival is a yearly comedy competition that is held by TakeOut Comedy that involves comedians not only in Hong Kong but from around the world. Comedians from the Philippines, Thailand, China, Korea, Canada, and America came in to compete to be the funniest comedian in Hong Kong. Pete was the previous champion of the competition which was held in 2021. It was unfortunately canceled in 2022 due to the pandemic. 

But similar to the Cantonese comedy scene, the English scene is also a small community where comedians all know and help each other out. Pete has mentioned that normally those who are performing “will help spread the word” to get more people to come to the show. 

Comedy Moving Forward

Although being a full-time comedian in Hong Kong is an incredibly difficult challenge whether you’re in the Cantonese scene, English scene, or even both. Both Tim and Pete are optimistic about the future of comedy in Hong Kong. Tim has mentioned that not only his students are eager to perform, but open mic venues have also been looking for more newbies to perform. 

He has also mentioned that more and more media organizations have recognized both him and Vivek, and have invited both of them to come on and perform. Pete has mentioned that he has been saying much more shows, producers, and variety in the Hong Kong comedy scene. “I think the scene is growing. I think there’s good potential. There’s been times in the past where we were able to do four or five shows, and now with open mics, it’s getting to that point where you can perform and do a lot more. So I do think that there is a good outlook for comedy here,” said Pete. 

Featured Image: Andee Capellan

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