Stand-up comedian Sheng Wang derives the oddball from the ordinary

Sheng Wang gets laughs from his storytelling about common nonsense in everyday life. (Publicity photo) Sheng Wang gets laughs from his storytelling about common nonsense in everyday life. (Publicity photo)

Comedy in plain sight

Approaching the ordinary as absurd, Sheng Wang tells relatable tales laced with oddball observations within his own striking distance. “There’s a restaurant near my house called Sheng Wang. It’s spelled exactly like my name,” his deadpan delivery begins. “All my friends tell me I have to go and eat there, and I secretly agree. I don’t know what’s supposed to happen, what kind of fantasy I’m expecting. Like if I walk in and the whole staff will go, ‘Oh my god, it’s him! Man, we’ve been waiting for you. The prophecy has begun.’ And I look around, and there are baby pictures of me everywhere.”

While many of his contemporaries rely on shock and awe, Wang doesn’t strive to push the envelope. He turns stories about automatic paper towel dispensers, dental floss, and hardboiled eggs into laughs through physical comedy and tongue-in-cheek observations. “I don’t come off as a very edgy comedian,” Wang told C-VILLE. “I’m not too crazy about, or interested in, shock value. But if there is something I want to talk about, I don’t censor myself. I don’t want to preach, and I don’t want to say things that are lies or not honest. I want to make people think, and I want it to be funny and smart.”

Wang caught the bug to pursue comedy after participating in a performance group while attending the University of California, Berkeley. “I got involved with a performance arts group. A very amateur group that would let you do whatever you wanted on stage, and got a little taste of what stand-up was like,” he said. “I did horrible stuff.” He honed his routine in Bay Area clubs before making the jump to touring nationally. “It was a thrill to be a part of something creative and a live performance. After I finished college, I realized I didn’t want to do anything else. “ So he hit the road with the Comedians of Comedy and then American Eagle’s Campus Comedy Challenge. He is frequently in the line-up on Comedy Central and had his own half-hour special on the network in 2011.

The Taiwanese Texan comedian’s website defines his current residential status as “Sheng Wang pays rent in New York City.” As a new New Yorker, Wang is cautiously adjusting to the pace of big city life, and working out his fears through his art.

“My biggest paranoia in New York, my main fear, is bedbugs,” he began. “It’s how one day when I was falling asleep I felt something fall on my body, and I thought it was a bedbug. I thought, ‘This is it, I may have to throw all my belongings away and leave.’ Then I turned on the lights and it turned out to be a cockroach. And that’s disgusting, but in New York that became a positive experience for me.” Seeing the humor in such acceptance, Wang added, “So, it was a relief. I guess I’ll stay a little longer. I thought I had a problem, but it’s only roaches.”

After 10 years playing a comedy scene wrought with talent, Wang is looking toward that bigger break. “I love doing a good show, but the most fun to me is writing new material and new jokes. Finding a new connection to the audience,” said Wang. “I’m working on being more of a presence on stage. Every performance is completely unique and you need to go with it. That is a philosophy that is interesting and inspiring to me.”

As a tactic for self-motivation, Sheng Wang has set some goals: “I’ve been trying to get my shit together… I want the perfect album—and when is that gonna happen? I have set this goal for myself, where I’m not drinking or smoking until I complete that project. Two parts to it: One goal is the album, the other is that I am trying to get 100,000 followers on Twitter.” He is currently just below 3,000.

Traipsing the comedy circuit doesn’t feel like a job to Wang. Beyond working out new material, another passion is sampling food on the road. “In general, I like to eat anything delicious,” he said. “When I’m on the road I like to seek out the best.” He hopes to find good barbecue, shrimp and grits, and chicken and waffles on his next stop in Virginia.

Looking forward to his third return to Charlottesville, it seems the city has worked its charms on Wang. “It’s a cool little town. Beautiful, and the people are nice,” he said. “I remember eating pretty decent food. I like a little bit of nature, good food and good people, so as far as I’m concerned, Charlottesville is a happy place for me to visit.”

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Sheng Wang/United Nations of Comedy Tour

Paramount Theater on December 1