For too long, much of my humour has revolved around self-deprecation: caricaturing my ethnic eccentricities and transforming my foreignness into something more palatable. It’s taken me longer to realise that my white friends never did this — never pre-emptively ridiculed themselves, even comically, because they’d never had to experience the same kind of otherness.
By interrogating and inverting racial stereotypes, the diverse RoboPoC cast, led by directors Ann Ding and Shon Ho, have delivered a revue that embodies the boldness, insight and self-awareness my younger self lacked.
Superb acting, astute comedic timing, and the guts to throw some punches produced genuinely hilarious moments: Dr. Phil (played by Sophia Chung in a crudely applied bald cap) interviewing archetypal Australian xenophobes brought on frenzied laughter; Natali Caro was Pauline Hanson incarnate, mimicking her anachronistic inflections in a very swampy and very ethnic rendition of Rob Cantor’s ode to ‘actual cannibal’ Shia LaBeouf; and Elijah Abraham shone in the second act as a werewolf howling faux pas under a full moon and a radicalised adolescent who discovers that rice is the fabled theory of everything.
But RoboPoC also undeniably excelled in its apolitical goofiness, best encapsulated in its unabashed physical comedy. An imagined prologue to ‘Snakes on a Plane’ conveyed mostly through interpretive dance stole a few chuckles because of its sheer ridiculousness. And Mandy Chen’s versatility was equally impressive, from subtle scowls as a glowering pupil to a defeated, wailing (or climaxing, I wasn’t sure which) Godzilla.
I won’t deny that the crinkles of opening night were still visible — there was a flubbed line here and there, and the opening dance number was out of sync in places. A few skits admittedly fizzled, the humour of some superficially relying on the audience’s knowledge of viral missteps, like Kendall Jenner’s tacky Pepsi ad, without contributing an original punchline. However, I could count RoboPoC’s shortcomings on one hand.
Beyond amusing performances, RoboPoC refreshingly shows people of colour transcending the stereotypical identities prescribed to them and turning back the critical lens to wider society. In retrospect, my self-deprecating humour — about my school lunches, my skin colour, my migrant parents hell-bent on my success — reflected how different I knew I was from everyone else. Maybe back then, it was internalised shame.
But now RoboPoC reminds me of where my allegiances ultimately lie: “give me rice or give me death”.