Review: Kuan-wen Huang: Ilha Formosa

Energetic provocations and surprising parallels

comedy review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
33983 large
Kuan-wen Huang
Photo by Karla Gowlett
Published 12 Aug 2023

If you haven't come across Kuan-wen Huang before, he’s kind of the Kurt Cobain of Taiwanese comedy. Not in the dark, troubled, shirt-needs-a-wash sense; far from it. Huang just favours Nirvana’s famously crowd-rousing approach of quiet, quiet, quiet SUDDENLY SCREAMING AT THE AUDIENCE, early on. And heck, it’s funny. But there’s lots to get off his chest once he’s calmed down, too.

Not that he ever really chills, as such. The accountant-turned-comic is a rapid-fire controlled-explosion of comic energy – which is appropriate, given his perhaps unlikely military past – full of the joys of live performance. No stage fright here, or, indeed, inhibitions; Huang has a frequently gasp-inducing tendency to lurch abruptly into the most graphic of topics, from logistically-complex gay orgies to guessing the sexual proclivities of a youthful front-rower’s parents. 

It’s not for everyone, and the shifts in tone just stay the right side of jarring. That said, he does also tie these strands together; this is probably the only show on the Fringe using group sex to illustrate the colonisations of Taiwan since the 17th century, on a map. Early adopters Portugal, for example, pulled out early. 

Huang’s mother is the other big protagonist here, while his enormous collection of cuddly toys also features heavily; again, it’s not often you get global politics, teddy bears, massive orgies and mummy issues in the same show. And it all works, due to our host’s sheer effervescence. Ignore the teddy on the poster though and leave the kids at home.