Kuan-Wen Huang: Ilha Formosa | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review
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Kuan-Wen Huang: Ilha Formosa

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review

Taiwan leads the world in semiconductors, able to cope with trillions of processes a second. And its expat, Kuan-wen Huang, seems to be cut from a similar material with this fast-paced introduction to his homeland, how he came to Britain and his life here.

His delivery is urgent, perhaps a tad on the aggressive side, if not fully focussed. He barely seems to have started one subject before he’s on to the next, although the cumulative effect is to build up a more complete picture as the hour progresses. 

The Economist called Taiwan ‘the most dangerous place on earth’ given its proximity to China, which claims it as part of its territory. Cue jokes about the sinister Beijing regime and its surveillance activities via balloons… and possibly even agents in the room tonight, as he teases the Chinese folk present. In fact, he’s got a ready insult for almost every nationality in the room, compere-style.

Huang knows what it’s like to have a powerful authoritarian force eavesdrop on your every thought, thanks to his overbearing tiger mother, the need for some distance in that relationship being one of the main reasons for him making the 6,000-mile trip to the UK. That and conscription, though it’s a toss-up as to which is more terrifying.

Tongue-in-cheek, Huang says he wants his audience to emerge saying: ‘I didn’t expect to learn so much.’ But we probably did as he skips through Taiwan’s ‘Ilha Formosa’ colonial history and precarious present, highlighted by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s historic visit to Taipei last year which so provoked the Chinese Communist Party.

I don’t know much about Taiwanese culture, but I assume they have no word for ‘segue’ given how fidgety Huang is in leaping from topic to topic, taking in the likes of his accountancy job, his loneliness after being dumped by his boyfriend, passive-aggressive British Christmas gatherings, gay orgies and his collection of 62 teddy bears.  

Huang’s full-on force of personality holds this all together. He just about falls short of being ‘too much’, but it’s a close call. And while his superficial style doesn’t labour any points, he does cover identity, family dynamics and geopolitics in his breezy way, so by the end, we have built up a vivid image of him, his homeland and his domineering mother.

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Review date: 22 Aug 2023
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Gilded Balloon Teviot

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