Phil Wang is a British Malaysian stand-up comedian who is also a member of the sketch comedy group Daphne, as well as a co-creator of their popular BBC Radio 4 series, Daphne Sounds Expensive. In 2010, Phil Wang won the 2010 Chortle Student Comedian of the Year Award, which he quickly followed up in 2011 by winning Comedy Central’s Funniest Student Award. In 2012, Phil Wang became president of Footlights, at Cambridge University, where he did a four-year engineering degree. He has gone on to perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringer and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. This year, Phil is performing again at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, at 7pm on the Pleasance Courtyard. Phil Wang has also appeared on The Rob Brydon Show, Have I Got News For You, Would I Lie To You, Live at the Apollo, 8 Out of 10 Cats and more. Phil Wang is an up and coming comedian who I feel is destined to become a household name. Please enjoy my interview with the hilarious Phil Wang…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I tell them I am a comedian. Unless they’re the bank in which case I say I am a doctor/stock broker/Beyoncé.
Geek Sublime by Vikram Chandra. It’s about literature and programming.
What’s your earliest memory of reading?
A series of books about a naughty child dinosaur. His name was Darren or Daniel or something. I loved that fuckin dinosaur.
If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be?
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. It offers some really eye-opening stuff about the nature of values and quality.
When did you fall in love with making people laugh?
As a child. I’d pull silly faces at girls and they’d laugh. I’m still chasing that high.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
Nothing too bad. I’ve been lucky. Worked at a structural design firm (I studied Engineering) for a couple of months. I found that to be a surprisingly lonely experience.
What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring comedian?
Don’t apologise and always adhere to your own standards of taste and judgement with as much honesty as you can.
Who would you say your three biggest comedic influences are?
The Simpsons, Dave Chappelle and my sisters.
Do you read as much as you’d like to?
I read about as much as I can take on. I definitely wish I could read faster. A book can take me ages because I know I’ll never read it again so I have to understand it completely the first time.
Why I Write by George Orwell is extremely informative for any writer. He describes with pinpoint precision the techniques of vague and evasive political language, and outlines some strikingly practical tips for achieving better quality and clarity of writing, e.g. using Anglo-Saxon words over Greek or Latin-root words.
Is there a book that you’ve read more than once? What is it and why did you revisit it?
As I said I pretty much never re-read a book, unless it’s a comic – which can be read pretty quickly. I’ve read The Dark Knight by Frank Miller twice. It’s brutal and exhilarating, even if you’re not into superheroes.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever read. The only book that’s made me cry with laughter, the only book that has forced me to put it down so I could get my breath back.
If you weren’t in comedy, what do you think you’d be doing?
An engineering job probably. Something in software ideally.
What’s your favourite genre of book?
I honestly don’t have one. I alternate between fiction, non-fiction and a bit of journalism, otherwise I get fatigued.
What do you think a world without books would be like?
I think there’d be more trees. And fewer monotheists.
Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?
I’m a little embarrassed to say I read EVERY Dan Brown book when I was a teenager. Then I read better books, picked up The Lost Symbol and couldn’t get through Chapter 1. Less embarrassingly I’m pretty sure I’ve read 99% if not all of Truman Capote.
Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?
I don’t think so. I think as a species we have too much emotional investment in a cover and pages to ever do away with them entirely. There’s no sense of accomplishment with a digital book. No trophy at the end with which to adorn the “Completed” shelf. Books are also the only now-digitised medium that have never required power (unlike film, television, music recordings, video games, etc.), and I think we will hold onto what few portable entertainments we have left that do not need recharging.
Watchmen by Alan Moore. [SPOLER ALERT:] Donald Trump is a giant alien monster that the rest of us must come together to defeat.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life?
Not that I’ve ever read it, but the Bible, I suppose. Geo-politically speaking.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
Deep Sea and Foreign Going by Rose George. It’s a captivating and addictive account of the international shipping industry. It sounds dry (ironically), but is in fact an absolute revelation to read.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
I’d like to get a handle on economics. It’s a glaring gap in my knowledge that I really should fill.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
Soft Hands, Hard Heart: A Life in the Comedy Industry.