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Did you hear the one about Ben Franklin?
(China Daily)
Updated: 2009-06-10 07:59

NEW YORK: Joe Wong is like many new Chinese immigrants in the United States: He has an advanced degree and a full-time job during the day - but where he stands out is that he has a second job as a stand-up comedian who is gaining popularity throughout the country.

Did you hear the one about Ben Franklin?

Wong recently made his TV network debut on CBS' Letterman Show - the hugely popular US late-night talk show - with dead-pan delivery on immigrants, family life and driving.

Wong, who is slim, of medium height and wears glasses, started off with: "I am Irish." The audience burst into laughter at his reference to a people who are well-known raconteurs and often the butt of jokes.

On citizenship tests for would-be immigrants, this was his take:

Q: Who's Benjamin Franklin?

A: The reason our convenience store gets robbed.

Q: What's the Second Amendment?

A: The reason our convenience store gets robbed.

"He really has it in him," said Eddie Brill, the talent coordinator for the Letterman Show who booked Wong for the set.

"I am really proud of him and have never seen a comedian who did so well in his first performance on a television show."

On Youtube, Wong's clip attracted hundreds of thousands of views, with typical comments posted being "smart", "good material" and "fresh".

Wong, who was born in Baishan, Jilin province, moved to the US in 1994 to pursue a PhD in chemistry at Rice University in Texas.

Back then, he was one of the many Chinese students struggling to learn English.

"At the beginning, I really just wanted to express myself well," said the Boston-based 39-year-old, whose Chinese name is Huang Xi.

"I noticed that for some reason people here just didn't expect me to tell jokes. I wanted to break this stereotype."

The idea of becoming a comedian took hold in 2001 after he moved to Boston from Houston when his company closed down.

After six sessions of evening comedy classes, Wong had his first "open mic" (a live show where the audience gets a chance to perform at the microphone) doing stand-up comedy in a small Boston bar in 2002.

"I was nervous as hell and can't remember what jokes I actually told," he said, adding the experience led him to realize his accent was the biggest problem.

"You will be very funny once people understand you," Tom Dustin, a fellow comedian, told Wong after his performance that night.

"I was very impressed by his writing; he writes very well and writes interesting stuff, even with English being his second language," said Dustin, a full-time comedian and now a good friend.

Wong, a researcher at a pharmaceutical company during the day, performs three to four shows a week in the evenings - ranging from five-minute "open mics" to 90-minute stand-up routines in clubs and bars.

Some require travel to other states and, in October, he is scheduled in perform in Chinese cities, including Beijing and Shanghai.