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Comedian He Huang on the criticism her 'Australia's Got Talent' set received


Recently, a comedian on "Australia's Got Talent" made quite the first impression on viewers.


HE HUANG: Hello, everyone. My name is He. It's spelled as H-E. It is my name. It is not my pronoun.


CHANG: Her full name is He Huang. She was born in Chongqing, China, and moved to Sydney, Australia, about three years ago. And her jokes centered around that experience of living in a foreign place and dealing with the kind of ignorance and racism that comes along with that.


HUANG: Yeah, last year I was roaming around the city. And this guy just yelled at me. He was like, yo, go back to China. I was like, sir, there's no flight.


CHANG: The set made a lot of people laugh, including myself. But it also made some people really angry, especially in China.


HUANG: If you're like me, over the age of 27, not dating or not married, in China, you would be called leftover ladies.


HUANG: I know. It is brutal.


HUANG: But I love leftovers.


HUANG: Come on, who doesn't love Chinese leftovers?


CHANG: Online, people took issue with several of her jokes and accused her of playing off of racist stereotypes for laughs. He Huang joins us now to talk about the huge amount of attention she's gotten since "Australia's Got Talent."


HUANG: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: Hi. OK. See, I just want to say that I laughed really hard when I saw your set because it is funny, and I'm saying that as someone who does sometimes feel uncomfortable when I see an Asian comedian making fun of Asians. So I'm just curious, like, how surprised were you by all the anger you got, particularly from people in China?

HUANG: Oh, I'm very surprised because I have been doing this set for quite some years. And since - considering I didn't really talk a lot of controversial issues, mostly just talking from my perspective, what happened to me - so in comedy, we're saying we're punching down myself. You can say it's not funny, but I don't know why people are triggered by that.

CHANG: Well, did any of their comments at any point make you think to yourself, huh. Like, did I go too far? Did I cross some line? Did it make you doubt?

HUANG: Yes. At first couple days, I was like, did I do something wrong? Because people are reacting. Especially back in China, when it first started, it was, like, really hateful and really personal attacks. I was like, did I do something wrong? Did I say something hurtful? But then I start to process and chat with my friends and comedians and other, you know, people who been supporting me from the beginning of my comedy career. And I realized, oh, that's just online right now. It's just very toxic and extreme. And also, it doesn't really change who I am as a comedian. So I was like, yeah, it's their problem. It's not my problem 'cause I didn't change. And I'm not going to change either, so.

CHANG: This is an honest question I have for Asian comedians who use stereotypes in their jokes is - I get it. You know, you don't have to be the single agent of social change in your comedy. But do you worry that because you resort to stereotypes in order to make your jokes more accessible in some ways, that you end up perpetuating those stereotypes? Does that ever concern you?

HUANG: Well, no, I never concerned about that. It's just a joke. And then people who come to see a joke, it's a joke. Never someone come to see my joke and then just go out, punch a Chinese. Because in my set, I also talk about other stuff about Chinese culture and stuff like that. I haven't experienced that. That's just, like, mostly just love, you know. A lot of Asian people come to my show. They feel super relatable, especially Asian women come to my show. It doesn't matter that...

CHANG: Yeah.

HUANG: ...They're from China or not. Most of them from outside China, like Chinese or Philippines, Malaysians, some Muslim woman. They say, I feel represented.

CHANG: Yeah.

HUANG: And they feel - they told me...

CHANG: Yeah.

HUANG: ...It's like, I've never seen someone like this. And then whatever you joking about it, I can understand. And I feel so relatable.

CHANG: So I guess, ultimately, He, what do you take away from this whole experience?

HUANG: I think I takeaway's like my hard work paid off because I do try really hard to work on my craft everywhere I go, and I travel a fair amount. I tried in different rooms in different countries, and they all worked. And I was like, oh, if that - if probably that's the reason why it have so many - it goes viral in so many different countries.

And secondly, like, I realize as a comedian, that doesn't matter whatever they say online. Me, as a comedian, as a person doesn't change. Love me or don't love me, I won't change. I turn off the social media. My life is still as usual. I was - I'm still surrounded by friends who are supporting me and also loving me. And then that's it. I just need to keep doing what I'm doing and be fearless, you know?

CHANG: Fearless - comedian He Huang, thank you so much for being with us today.

HUANG: Thank you so much, Ailsa, for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah Handel
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.