According to Google, the comedian Aaron Chen is a married 38-year-old man who lives in Taiwan and is in a K-Pop band. The logistics of this are hard to fathom (given the man I’m standing in front of is a 25-year-old from Sydney). It’s usually hard to get one straight answer out of someone like Aaron, let alone one that stands up to a fact-check. He’s mastered the art of smartassery, and now he does it for a living.
We met up with Aaron during his run of shows at the 2019 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. We took some flicks around the city, got familiar, and sat down in the sun to eat a baguette. Aaron let us know that this interview would, in fact, be sincere. “I feel like, because I’ve hung out with you now, I can’t be cheeky anymore. When I do interviews with newspapers and stuff, I like to take the piss. But I feel like I don’t need to because you guys are cool.” With this moment of validation, the tone was set. Baguetted up, we jumped right in to talk about where he grew up (really).
What part of Sydney did you grow up in?
Asquith, do you know it? It’s just past Hornsby. It’s real shit, it’s boring. There’s a mall but unless you know people or hang out at the mall, there’s nothing really there for ya. I was just on the internet.
What kind of dude were you in high school?
I’m not sure. I did high school, but it’s a blur. I think I was cheeky and stuff like that, always mucking around. I remember that, it was my defining feature. I remember there was a promotion at McDonald’s for double cheeseburgers and my friend and I shared 40. I only had 18, he had to eat 22. It was pretty sick.
Damn, how did you feel after that?
It was awful.
I bet. Do you still order the double cheeseburger?
Yeah it’s my go-to [laughs]. I’m conditioned to.
What’s your family like and do they come to see you perform?
I grew up with my dad and my half-sister who is quite a bit older. She was born in communist China and I was born in democratic Australia. So we’re different but also quite similar. My sister comes to see me sometimes [and] my dad came to see me the first time I performed down in Melbourne, doing a competition called Class Clowns. He doesn’t speak English very well so he doesn’t quite get the nuances of my comedy, but he’s supportive nonetheless.
You mention your dad quite a bit in your act. He also did the painting you have displayed on the stage with you. Can you tell us a bit about those paintings?
I thought it’d be funny to get my dad to paint semi-nudes of me. I sent him selfies to base the paintings off, one where I’m doing the thumbs-up and the thumbs-down. It’s a metaphor for the title of my show ‘Piss Off (Just Kidding)’. He just smashed them out, he’s a speed painter. One of them is quite six-packed. I saw the picture of the guy that he based the body off, it’s like a Chinese military guy he found on Google. [laughs]
You’ve been doing the Melbourne Comedy Festival for while now, right? How does this compare to your past experiences?
In 2016 I did my first solo show, I did group shows in 2014 and 2015. A competition back in 2013. So yeah, ages. This time’s been chill. I’ve sort of built up some momentum, so I don’t need to plug these shows too much. They’re selling well on their own.
Who are some other comedians that you think are good?
I’m living with Becky Lucas right now, she’s so funny. Sam Campbell too, I did shows with him before and now he’s doing a show with a guy called Paul Williams. It’s like a magic show but it takes the piss and it’s so funny. It’s the best show I’ve seen this year.
Now a bit of a controversial question. Who’s the shittest comedian ever?
[laughs] Fuck that’s a good question, nobody has ever asked that. But wow, that is such a good question.
You don’t have to name anyone who would ever see this.
Nah, I will. [laughs] Like 80% of comedians you bump into are real shit but I’ll go [the] actual shittest. It’s this guy called Kyle Legacy, he’s based in Sydney and I hope he reads this. He used to play college basketball. He sucks and I’d tell him that to his face. [Most] overrated, maybe Adam Hills. Yeah, fuck that guy. He sucks.
Who’s someone you think is funny without meaning to be?
I think Kanye West can be so funny and he never means it. When he’s trying to be funny or says something funny it’s not that funny. But when he’s being really serious or just on Twitter some of the stuff he says is outrageous. It’s sick.
I retweeted something from Kanye last year: “Fuck that ‘Sicko Mode’ song. Family First and Always.” I thought it was so funny.
Are they okay now? I think they’re okay now.
Let’s talk about your viral ABC soccer broadcast from 2017. What exactly went down, who was in on it, and how did the reaction feel?
So, I was just in this room once and someone got a call, then asked everyone like: “Do you know any comedians who like soccer?” I was like, “Yeah, I like Soccer.” A week later I get a call from the ABC saying “Hey, do you want to be a part of this soccer broadcast? We’re going to use all comedians instead of sports reporters.” And I’m thinking “Well, this is going to be a disaster, but yes I’ll do it.” [laughs] They got me to do like the half-time broadcast and there wasn’t much preparation. I’d sent them a list of things I wanted to do and questions I wanted to ask the audience.
Most of them got approved, except I wanted to take off my Sydney FC Jersey and have on a t-shirt that had a guy playing American football on it. They said no, but I did [it]. So yeah, not many people were in on it. I feel like they were very underprepared, and yeah, a lot of people messaged me and said “Fuck you” and stuff, but I thought it was so funny. [laughs] I love taking the piss and mucking around and stuff, and there’s not many opportunities to do it.
What’s your perspective on the Australian comedy scene?
Yeah, the Australian comedy scene is fun right now. Sydney’s scene is cool where everyone’s going really hard and being really funny. We end up doing every type of gig. You’ll do a gig at Cronulla RSL one week and then some theatre in Newtown the next week. It makes you pretty diverse in your skill set. It’s a cool style in Sydney right now. For the Comedy Festival I’m staying in an Airbnb with Becky Lucas and Tom Cashman. It’s been so good, one night they rolled in at like 5AM, like, on rack and stuff––it was nice.
What country would you like to be famous in and why?
I think India right now. They’ve got the big population so the government is giving everyone free data. Everyone watches YouTube in India. I’d love to be in Bollywood movies, I love Bollywood stars. I went to India earlier this year and heard about all the Bollywood parties, and they get wild. Cocaine on platters and stuff. I’m trying to get in on that lifestyle.
What kind of music do you like? I like that new Toro Y Moi album, have you heard that? It’s so good, so funky. I’ve been listening to a lot of JME lately, it’s just the one album but it sets a vibe. Do you know that Dizzee Rascal song ‘Stand Up Tall’? I love that, that’s on my playlist. The playlist that runs before my show is called Habibi Funk.
What’s been your career highlight so far?
Maybe not a career highlight, but it was pretty funny to open for Weird Al Yankovic. It was my friend Sam Campbell doing it and he was like “Come along, come hang with Weird Al.” I said hello, he was a weird guy, as his name says. He didn’t lie.
What’s the hardest part of doing stand-up?
When you get an apathetic crowd—not one that hates you but one that just doesn’t respond either way. Just sitting in that for like an hour sucks. I wonder if rappers feel like that too.
If you had to take me on a date, where would we go?
Maybe we’d go drive an F1 or something like that. Something high octane and then go to a fancy restaurant. What’s your favourite restaurant in Sydney or Melbourne? Are you a bit of a food guy?
I am a bit of a food guy. I ate at Nobu the other week but I only know about it because I heard Future rap about it.
Oh really? Maybe I should take Future’s recommendation too.
Last question: can you liken yourself to a Pokémon?
I reckon Ditto. All things to all people. Rare but not too rare, it’s a good Pokémon. I like Gyarados too. Who’s your favourite?
I liked Schyther, that bug guy with the sword arms. Pretty cool.
It’s a good rap name as well.
You’re right. Thank you Aaron Chen.
Sick, thank you!
Tickets to Aaron Chen’s remaining Comedy Festival dates are available here.