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Richmond stand-up comedy club turns immigrant life ‘tears’ into laughter

Dofa was the first Chinese-speaking club of its kind in B.C. and tours across different cities

Richmond resident Joe Lian shines as a chef during the day making fine western dining for customers.

At night, he transforms into “Zhou Zhou”, a stand-up comedian that shines on stage.

Lian is a performer with Richmond-based Dofa Comedy – the first Chinese-language stand-up comedy club in B.C. – which moves each week from city to city across the province.

Since its founding last May, it has grown into a club with 60-70 performers and a loyal audience.

“Many immigrants have a desire to express opinions and share their unique experiences, but as someone whose first language is not English, it’s very challenging to perform at local stand-up comedy clubs. Dofa gives a stage for people like me,” said Lian.

“When people laugh at your jokes, you know it resonates with them and they probably experienced something similar.

“It creates a magical space where you feel close to each other, and that allows you to approach and dissolve sensitive issues or hard experiences with laughter – that’s the beauty of stand-up comedy.”

Club founded by Richmond woman and business partner

Peggy Gao, a Richmond resident, and her business partner Joe Zhou founded the club after stand-up comedy took China by storm.

The club now holds a performance every week at Asian cafes, milk tea shops or escape rooms after business hours across Metro Vancouver.

Tickets, priced between $10 to $30, always sell out before the performance starts, according to Gao.

“Our performers are from all walks of life, including a mathematics graduate student, a kindergarten teacher who also works as a casino dealer at night, a programmer and a judge,” said Gao, whose full-time job is a marketer.

“They tell jokes related to their professions, which are very interesting and eye-opening.

“For example, the judge works on divorce and domestic violence cases and one of her famous lines is, ‘guys, I hope I don’t see you at work’.”

Jokes about politics, work and relationships

Experience living in Canada as an immigrant or an international student is an inspiration for many jokes – some talk about their embarrassing moments when they first came to Canada, the language mistakes they made or the culture shock they encountered.

Some also tell jokes about politics, weather, the challenge of finding a partner and the wealth gap in Vancouver.

“Being an immigrant is not easy and life can be challenging sometimes,” Gao added.

“Many people appreciate the opportunity to share, hear from others and laugh about it together. That is powerful.”

Chi Zi, a well-known Chinese comedian, gave a performance in Vancouver last month and later his online profiles in China disappeared, leading to some saying it was due to some sensitive political-related jokes he told in his performance.

Lian said it reminded him of how lucky they are to be able to speak freely on stage here in Canada.

“Words can be very powerful; they stir up thoughts,” said Lian.

“Nowadays with social media, everyone has a way to express themselves; what messages you feel most strongly about, or you feel are meaningful that you want to deliver to the world – that’s something that’s worth all us creators thinking about.”

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