Interview with Ken Cheng

Ken Cheng takes some time to talk to Voice about the show, inspirations, and to give advice to young people.

Interview with Ken Cheng

Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?

Hello I'm Ken. I'm a professional poker player and an ex-mathematician Cambridge dropout. I took up stand-up in 2010 and this is my debut solo show at the Fringe.

How would you describe your show?

A lot of it is about phrases, and rigorous logical deconstruction. Someone once described my stand-up as analysing things which shouldn't be deeply analysed, but I very much disagree and think they should. Hence, this show.

Why do you want to perform at Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

I've been to the Fringe every year since 2010 and I spent the rest of each year looking forward to it. It's just amazing, and a great place to be seen by all sorts of people.

What differentiates it from other festivals?

The sheer scale and variety. It's like when you get to the capital city in a fantasy video-game for the first time, and it's like, "here's the Merchant Quarter, here's the Assassin's Guild…" and it takes you hours to learn where everything is. It's got so much and you can barely scratch the surface.

Do you think the Fringe has changed over the years? If so, how? Are these changes positive or negative?

It's hard to say because I only have my individual experiences and they wildly change each time. I'll say one thing, there has been a steady increase of shows called "Aaaaaaaargh" and that can't be good. Like, there's no way people are actually seeing those shows, right?

What first motivated you to enter the industry? Who were your inspirations?

I used to be very shy – a shy nerd – and stand-up was the last thing I imagined myself doing. But it quickly became a great opportunity to push myself. My first inspiration was Stewart Lee because he was clearly very different from the usual comics you see on TV, and I identified with him as he is a total nerd.

If you didn't have your current job, what would you probably be doing?

I probably would've been forced to finish my maths degree if I hadn't found poker. I did a lot of career tests when I was 15-18 and they all came up with "Actuary". I still have no idea what one does, but maybe that?

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?

Probably a writer in film or TV, not just for comedy, but for any genre. Like, imagine if you wrote The Lego Movie. You'd be so chuffed with yourself forever. Not even joking, The Lego Movie is like a perfect script.

What is your earliest childhood art memory?

When I was a kid I used to write science fiction stories about my toy lambs. I won't get into this too much - it is a big part of my 2018 show.

Do you ever feel any pressure to be a social commentator, or constantly update material to respond to events?

Massive pressure definitely. People are more intrinsically entertained by topicality. I've posted what I would say are mediocre social media updates, but because they were very topical, the response was very good. My stand-up though, I like to keep quite timeless and abstract, mostly for practical reasons like how long the cycle of material lasts.

Equally, do you think there has been a shift in public sentiment that has affected your work?

I think I used to be much more offensive. There's been a massive shift in political correctness that really started in the last 7 years, really because of Tumblr, Twitter, and other social media outlets gaining popularity. Deep down, I believe you should be able to joke about anything, but I'm also a massive coward now, so I might as well believe in political correctness. I definitely veer towards trying not to offend now.

Describe the last year in 5 words or less?

Lots more replying to e-mails

If you could work with anybody, from any point in history, who would you pick and why?

George Lucas's editor and ex-wife. Star Wars was an absolute mess before she got her hands on it, and somehow she magicked it into the success it became. Yes, because of ego reasons, I will prioritise great collaborators. Equally, Roger Avary, who co-wrote Pulp Fiction, rather than Tarantino.

Why would a performer opt to do either a ticketed event or participate in the free fringe? What are the benefits and limitations of both?

Doing a ticketed event offers you a lot of infrastructure, in terms of the venue and staff, as well as a specific type of legitimacy, but boy, it's a lot more expensive. A free show is much more lenient.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take a show up to the fringe?

There is no shame in waiting until you're ready. I almost did my show last year but I'm very glad I waited. You have to do a lot of work to set yourself up to have a good Fringe.

When and where can people see your show?

Pleasance Courtyard at 4.45pm from 2nd to 27th August

And where can people find, follow and like you online?

My Twitter is @kenchengcomedy, as is my Facebook page.

Ken Cheng: Chinese Comedian is performing at Pleasance Courtyard at 16:45 on 2nd – 27th (not 16th). For tickets and more information visit the Ed Fringe website.


Tom Inniss

Tom Inniss Voice Team

Tom is a Politics graduate, and holds a Masters in Journalism. He serves as Editor for Voice, and has an almost unhealthy obsession with Batman. His hobbies include gaming and reading graphic novels - his current go to series is Bill Willingham's Fables.

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