An hour of laughs with Aaron Chen

Victoria McGlynn reviews Aaron Chen’s set at the Brisbane Comedy Festival.

It is a Thursday night, and the Brisbane Powerhouse seems like the place to be, with the Brisbane Comedy Festival drawing huge crowds. The building is lit in cool blue light, and buzzes with conversation from patrons bunched in intimate groups.

There is a small crowd to see Aaron Chen, who began stand-up at the age of 15, and was the winner of the 2012 teenage comedy competition Class Clowns at the age of 17. The Graffiti Room makes for an intimate setting with a small stage, a screen and speakers, a change of pace from the vast crowds Chen has seen in the past. His partner in crime, John Lo, is on stage blasting a variety of music, which include the chill beats of Drake and the upbeat disco music of Cheryl Lynn. He browses social media and other sites, (if you haven’t googled “funny frogs” you should definitely do that right now), setting the tone for the sketches to come.

When the room goes dark, the big screen plays a high-energy music video, showing Chen and Lo awkwardly skateboarding over green screen backgrounds, priming the audience for laughs.

Then Chen arrives on stage, delivering a variety of jokes, ranging from his “hard-won” Amnesty International mug to his strange encounters on public transport. He goes to extremes to build rapport with his audience, visibly hurt when an audience member gives him a fake name. He tries to counter this by putting himself on the line, even going so far as to tell the crowd his full name, address and bank card number, including CCV.

Chen embodies what it is to be a youth of today, pinballing between an almost comic megalomaniac sense of self (“I was killing it, like I am right now”), and a self-deprecating need to fit in (“Please like me.”). His generosity as a performer is particularly evident when boozed up hecklers make soft jibes and Aaron delivers witty comebacks in return, after which he kowtows and says “Sorry. I’m so sorry.” His ability to improvise is refreshing (“This show is an hour and I only have like eighteen minutes of content… soooo…”).

Part of Chen’s charm is his ability to deliver a funny story and punch line completely deadpan. “There’s twitch in my face,” he says, taking us on a long, convoluted story filled with repetition. When interrupted by an audience member, he chastises them and recites the whole story again from the beginning, word for word, deadly serious.

Some of the most memorable parts of the performance were jokes punctuated by Asian power-pop and Chen and Lo’s special dance, making for a lot of laughs.

He touches on race in a three-part segment, sharing jokes about his experiences as the child of an immigrant father, their cultural misappropriations and his passion for “white people food and white people food culture”.

Chen is a talented up-and-coming performer and it will be great to see what more he has to come.

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