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A Chinese and a Taiwanese comedian walk into a bar ...

Comedians Vickie Wang (left) and Jamie Wang have no relation, yet create comedy over the cross-strait tensions between China and Taiwan.
An Rong Xu for NPR
Comedians Vickie Wang (left) and Jamie Wang have no relation, yet create comedy over the cross-strait tensions between China and Taiwan.

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Vickie Wang calls Jamie Wang her "mirror sister."

No, they are not related, but they share an inverse history.

Vickie, who's originally from Taipei, Taiwan, spent about a decade living in Shanghai, where she began her stand-up comedy career, notably under Chinese censorship. Jamie, who's from Shanghai, came across the Taiwan Strait and fell into a stand-up career in Taiwan.

They both met at the bar in a bilingual comedy club, tucked inside Taipei's red-light district and began performing together. Their recent show, A Night of Cross-Strait Comedy, was so well-received that their friends suggested they start touring together.

Vickie jokes that if they were to tour together it would feel like something of a "peace and reconciliation tour. Like we're trying to bridge cross-strait tensions, one d**k joke at a time."

Vickie Wang (left) is from Taipei, Taiwan, and Jamie Wang is from Shanghai, China.
/ An Rong Xu for NPR
An Rong Xu for NPR
Vickie Wang (left) is from Taipei, Taiwan, and Jamie Wang is from Shanghai, China.

For Vickie and Jamie, comedy is an effective way to remind their audiences that the tense relationship between the two governments doesn't mean there should be tension between Taiwanese and Chinese people.

They spoke to All Things Considered host Ailsa Chang at the very bar where they first met.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Interview highlights

On both of their comedy sets confronting the stereotypes Taiwanese people have of Chinese people.

Vickie Wang: I grew up thinking that people in mainland China are not to be trusted, that they spit, and that they're really aggressive and they're not, like, polite and civilized like Taiwanese people. And it took years in Shanghai to consciously undo that kind of stereotype and prejudice.

Jamie Wang: Basically, like, [Chinese people] are the worst people in the world. Like, we're easily offended. We're all brainwashed. And we love money and we look down on, I don't know, people who are poor.

On the stereotypes Chinese people have of Taiwanese people.

J Wang: I think people kind of have this stereotype about Taiwanese where they're, like, villagers because they live on a small island and they haven't seen much of the world. They're very backwards.

On Chinese citizens having fewer rights in Taiwan than other residents of the island, despite technically belonging to the same "country."

J Wang: Because I'm a Chinese student here, there's a lot of unfair regulation towards us. Like, Chinese students are the only international students who cannot work here. Luckily, this February, Chinese people can have health insurance in Taiwan now. But for the past seven years, I couldn't. [Most] Chinese people are also not allowed to work here, so there's no way for Chinese people to stay and live and work in Taiwan unless, like, you get married to a Taiwanese citizen.

On the differences between performing in Taiwan and China.

V Wang: When I first started doing stand-up in China, I was immediately briefed on the three Ts: Tibet, Tiananmen Square and Taiwan. These are hard red lines that we're not supposed to talk about. It's interesting. It means that I can't talk about politics. I can't really talk about LGBTQ issues. I compare it to having your arm in a cast — over time, the muscles atrophy. And once you're out of the cast, you need to build back the strength. And that's kind of what I'm doing now. Now that I'm not living in China anymore, right now, I'm also revenge bingeing on democracy and freedom of speech. I'm really enjoying being able to say whatever I want.

On the consequences of Jamie's comedy going viral, as a Chinese citizen who could face repercussions due to Chinese censorship.

J Wang: I posted two jokes, and they were all viral, obviously because I'm very funny. But one of the jokes touched the fine line. And I thought it was OK, but a lot of Chinese people were trolling me on the internet. I also received death threats. Trolls DMd me, they were like, "I'm going to kill you." And I'm like, "You can't. Because you can't get a visa here." I don't think you can ever be free as long as you are Chinese.

V Wang: There are a lot of things that I can say that Jamie can't say. And I don't want to speak over my Chinese friends, but I'm also very aware that, like, there's things that I have to amplify for them. And in the meantime, I can also call out my own people. Ever since COVID started, I had Taiwanese friends on my Facebook feed who were saying things like, "Oh, yeah, they deserve it. These commies, they deserve a plague on their house." And I was so, so devastated to feel, like, oh my God, my people, who I'd like to think are generally decent, kind people, have so dehumanized this other population that they've never actually encountered. And, you know, I feel like having both of us on stage performing together, I hope that somehow bridges the gap.

On the power of comedy to help people deal with tense issues.

J Wang: I think comedy is a very powerful thing 'cause it's not, like, a debate. Comedy is like, "I make you like me. I make you feel weird together. And then let me tell you what I have to say." I think it's a very non-hostile, very friendly way to make people listen to you.

V Wang: When someone laughs with you, it's the closest thing you get to changing someone's mind. When you're laughing with someone, it means you — in that moment — you get their perspective. To a degree, you agree with them. It's a very proactive kind of empathy. And it's a very joyful kind of empathy. Like, the world's on fire. I think that's the best thing we can do, is to make jokes about it. I just still struggle to make everything funny. I'll get there. I'll figure it out, or Jamie will first.

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Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Jonaki Mehta is a producer for All Things Considered. Before ATC, she worked at Neon Hum Media where she produced a documentary series and talk show. Prior to that, Mehta was a producer at Member station KPCC and director/associate producer at Marketplace Morning Report, where she helped shape the morning's business news.