Comedian Joanne Tsung likes to describe her stand-up routines as “rowdy and unfiltered”. The Richmond resident jokes about being fat, her sexual escapades, health challenges, and what turning 30 has done to her digestive system, among other topics.
She also likes speaking on-stage about her 10-year-old miniature pinscher mix named Bailey, saying that she’s his “emotional support”.
What some of her fans don’t realize is that Tsung went into comedy on her therapist’s recommendation.
Over Zoom, Tsung explains it this way: “She said ‘Everything you’re saying is very important—and I respect everything you’re saying—but I think that you’re very funny. The way that you’re delivering things is funny. And I think it, maybe, could be cathartic for you to get on-stage and talk about some things.’ ”
So Tsung took her therapist’s advice. As a comedian, she began sharing stories of dating as a single woman, trauma, and her health. She even has a humorous take on having to go to the hospital because of a painful condition.
“One of the worst things I had to deal with was hot doctors,” Tsung quips. “I know I’m the patient, but you’re so sexy and I can’t handle it.”
On her website, she identifies as a neurodivergent queer woman of colour. She was born in the Taiwanese city of Taichung and immigrated to Canada as a child.
Tsung speaks Mandarin fluently. And she has thought a great deal about how she would do a comedy routine in this language, which is spoken widely in Taiwan and mainland China.
“Of course, I don’t think I could do the same sex jokes… It’s a little more conservative than some audiences here,” Tsung says. “I don’t think I could just do a translation.”
Tsung described as super candid and fearless
She’s one of six Vancouver racialized, gender diverse, and queer comedians in a new series, Killjoy Comedy, which was released this month on OUTtvGo. Produced and written by Shana Myara, it also features Lil Clitty, Ashlee Ferral, Sasha Mark, Sunee Dhaliwal, and Tin Lorica.
Tsung also appeared in Myara’s critically acclaimed 2020 documentary Well Rounded, in which female comedians and researchers deconstructed fat phobia.
“She’s super candid and fearless,” Myara told Pancouver earlier this year. “And after spending time with Joanne, you’d feel like you’ve made a new hilarious best friend who will share with you all her confidences. But actually, she would share the same things on-stage. She’s a riot.”
Watch the trailer for Well Rounded.
In addition, Tsung recently joined a group of queer-forward and diverse comics at DOLLY on East Hastings Street as part of the Just For Laughs Vancouver festival.
“There is definitely a thirst for different kinds of comedians,” Tsung says.
She notes that many fans of comedy prefer entertainers like her who don’t “punch down” and make fun of people who are gay or who have disabilities.
“I’m not going to do any of that kind of stuff,” she insists.
Tsung has performed at New Moon Comedy shows in the Projection Room at the Fox Cabaret. As well, she’s played the Tightrope Theatre, Mount Pleasant Legion, China Cloud, and Little Mountain Gallery. In addition, Tsung has co-hosted two Burnaby Pride celebrations, both online and live.
“There are many spaces in Vancouver that are really welcoming to new comedians,” she says. “You don’t have to be a pro. You’re not going to be booed off stage. You can really just try it out and see how it feels on-stage. If it’s not for you, it’s not for you.”
Quarter-life crisis and her queer identity
She would be thrilled to be invited to the big Just For Laughs festival in Montreal. Her other career goals include recording a comedy album and writing comedy, including sketches, for TV shows.
“I would love to continue on this trajectory,” Tsung says. “And I appreciate somebody like Shana who is able to bring [forward] these voices of comedians.”
Like almost everything else in her life, Tsung has a funny story about embracing her queer identity. She was attending the University of Victoria when she says she experienced a “quarter-life crisis”.
According to Tsung, she started feeling at that time that she “might be gay”. Tsung then told her mother that she was going to begin volunteering for the University of Victoria Pride Collective. And her mom felt that it was so sweet of her daughter to be doing this.
But when Tsung revealed to her mom that she might actually be queer, her mom asked if it came about as a result of volunteering. Today, Tsung is able to laugh about this.
However, back in her student days, Tsung questioned for quite a while whether or not she was going through a phase with her sexual orientation.
Now, she says with a smile and abundant certainty, “It’s not a phase.”
Meanwhile, Tsung maintains that she’s not intentionally very political with her comedy. However, because of who she is—a queer person of colour—it’s inherently politicized.
“I’m also fat,” the comedian adds. “So many Asians are so tiny and small. I think that my perspective definitely is different.”
Follow Pancouver editor Charlie Smith on Twitter @charliesmithvcr. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.