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Moni Zhang: Child from Wuhan – Pay What You Can


Moni Zhang: Child from Wuhan – Pay What You Can

The Three Sisters

139 Cowgate
The Wee Room: AUG 4-9, 11-16, 18-23, 25-28 at 17:00 (60 min) - Pay What You Can

Moni Zhang: Child from Wuhan – Pay What You Can

Moni is a Berlin-based standup comedian from Wuhan. Both her Chinese and German sides persuaded her that it’s a brilliant idea to make a living by telling jokes. Although her mom and her dogs disagree. So join her for a story about trauma, love, and diarrhea!

Winner of Berlin New Standup Award 2019 & Founder of Berlin Mental Health Festival. Moni has performed this one-woman show more than 40 times in mainland Europe, and it’s currently the best-selling comedy solo in Berlin. It has been featured by Euronews & Berliner Zeitung.

"There are evocative descriptions of Wuhan and its famous noodle dish. It's a visceral account that blasts away the city’s COVID 19 connection. " - Euronews

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ "Times silly, times touchy, but always relevant and funny. highly recommended!" - Nika Apriashvili

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ "Moni takes you on an emotional roller coaster with a lot of humour, sensibility, courage and honesty. I laughed as much as I had goosebumps. A great show with such a beautiful message." - Olivia Fernandez

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ "Drama and comedy are expertly combined in her performance: you'll shed tears of sorrow - and especially tears of joy." - Czöndör László

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ "Moni’s artistry is outstanding and her bravery is touching. " - Amar Shah

This year we have two entry methods: Free & Unticketed or Pay What You Can
Free & Unticketed: Entry to a show is first-come, first served at the venue - just turn up and then donate to the show in the collection at the end.
Pay What You Can: For these shows you can book a ticket to guarantee entry and choose your price from the Fringe Box Office, up to 30 mins before a show. After that all remaining space is free at the venue on a first-come, first-served bases. Donations for walk-ins at the end of the show.

News and Reviews for this Show

Edinburgh’s cost of laughing crisis

August 8, 2022   The New European

Edinburgh’s cost of laughing crisis

The Norwegian town of Kragerø is famous for its restful ambience – even the relentlessly troubled Edvard Munch found peace there. So it’s an apt place for Pernille Haaland to contemplate her life choices as a well-travelled comedian passing through on her way to Oslo, the airport, and the Edinburgh festival fringe for a month of shows, stress, expense and exhaustion.

“I mean, I should just not get on the plane,” says Haaland, with a slightly manic glee, as she contemplates what might lie ahead.

The run-up to this year’s fringe has been marked by a string of troubling news stories – a row over the scrapping of its official ticketing app and cut-price ticket booths, making it harder for shows to turn a profit; “budget” chain hotel prices of up to £526 for two nights; a petition signed by leading comedians including Joe Lycett that criticises organisers for failing to help with rising accommodation costs (1,200 rooms are available for performers at under £280 per week, but there are over 3,000 shows).

“The fringe will always be the most masochistic thing we can do,” admits Haaland, whose life has been eventful of late anyway: moving to the family farm, starting therapy, rebuilding her stand-up career from scratch, back home. “I honestly didn’t know if I should do it. And then, for some reason, I decided to tell my story of what it’s like moving to a farm in the middle of a pandemic living with my two batshit-crazy Norwegian parents.”

The Edinburgh fringe is long-established as the focal point of the live comedy year, in Britain and further afield, with thousands of comedians hoping to make a splash, if usually not much cash. But doing a month-long run is increasingly expensive. Rent, venue fees, promotion, insurance and getting there costs thousands upfront, and most performers expect to make a loss, even if the show goes well.

Indeed, with no full Fringe since 2019, many stalwarts wondered if that spell would finally be broken. And particularly for acts from abroad, given all the pointless red tape.

Yet here we are. The fringe is back and comics have arrived from across Europe with wildly different stories. Haaland suggests that life as a wandering performer is probably in her roots.

“I was born in Texas, ended up in London, and then kind of stumbled my way to Norway again: no clear agenda or plan,” says the comic, whose show is called Resting Confused Face. “I seem to be a comedian because I literally live out of a suitcase.”

It is surprising what idyllic settings comics will give up for the fringe. Ignacio Lopez is lounging on the upper deck of a cruise liner when we speak, moored off the coast of Valencia. The Spanish/Welsh comic has found an enviable new role recently, performing on cruises. “I wasn’t going to do Edinburgh at all this year, I had two cruises, a holiday booked…” Then an offer landed. Lopez is currently in that tantalising almost-famous zone: a popular live comic with some useful TV/radio work, and a unique story. His new show, El Cómico, is about immigration, and he’s gone big on Brexit in previous shows.

“I wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the EU,” he says. “If my mum hadn’t been able to go out [from Wales] and work in Spain, where she met my dad… then I was born over there. My family are all from different countries.”

Lopez is in an illustrious Fringe venue this year, at the Gilded Balloon, and admits the gamble “could be a complete disaster. But there’s only one way to find out.”

That said, critical acclaim can lead to other opportunities for ambitious comics. It’s surprising where that type of material works. “Even big Leave crowds,” Lopez reveals. “I say at the end: ‘if it wasn’t for the EU, you would have been staring at an empty stage.’”

Fringe audiences – and particularly reviewers – expect some grit with the gags. For Moni Zhang, the Edinburgh spirit has been a spur to create her debut show: Child from Wuhan has been a hit back home in Berlin.

“It’s my real life story,” says Zhang, over Zoom. “How I came from a sweatshop, overcame tremendous disadvantages, and my journey of looking for love. In the show I deal with my childhood trauma, with my own depression, and my dysfunctional family. And at the end how I finally was able to see the silver lining.”

Discovering stand-up was a big part of that. She has developed an extra show for this fringe: Anxiety vs Depression: A Comedy Game Show. “It’s the best concept I’ve ever had,” she says.

But a fortnight before Edinburgh, her Airbnb cancelled (“I had a very emotional week”).

Accommodation is the festival’s major issue, particularly for newcomers. Rents have risen dramatically in recent years, partly a side-effect of new regulations to stop landlords ousting their regular tenants. The remaining rooms can be laughably expensive – up to £5,000 is not uncommon for August – which also affects tourism, and ticket sales.

Michelle Kalt, from Zurich, is making her debut this year, and sounds slightly perturbed: “I think I can speak for everyone doing this for the first time that we vastly underestimated how much admin it will entail.” Which says a lot, given that she’s also a lawyer.

Staging a simple stand-up show can be surprisingly complicated. Kalt’s admin included a last-minute scramble for the required public liability and employer’s insurance – “lots of insurance companies would refuse me based on me not being a UK resident” – and a similar struggle to actually take people’s money.

One positive fringe change in recent years is the rise of pay-what-you-want shows. But with less cash around a card reader is now essential, and “I couldn’t find anyone offering that to non-UK residents either”. She wound up with a device that reads QR codes, “more hassle for the punters but I’m hoping it’ll work.”

Kalt is doing a memorably titled show – God Hates You – about a weirdly peaceful break-up; clearly not a Brexit allegory. She’s largely avoiding politics as “it’s hard to know if material I try here will work in the UK too,” but hasn’t found Britain’s anti-Europe stance too off-putting. “I feel like there are parallels between Switzerland and the UK. We have never been a member of the EU, and we kind of want to have our cake and eat it too.”

The aforementioned admin also includes paying up to £400 to the Fringe Society, to be listed in the physical Fringe Guide; then the society belatedly admitted that this year there would be no fringe app, which previously nudged punters towards nearby shows. That caused a huge social media backlash: 1,700 comedy people signed an open letter, bemoaning big cuts and huge rents. Many performers vowed not to return.

That app was particularly useful for smaller shows with no budget for poster campaigns or PR: just being found is tricky if your venue is not in the busier hubs. Kalt has stumped up for one of the more popular locations, The Caves. “You also want to have a good poster and a good flyer,” she says; “why would you spend so much money and then not do the promotion?”

Then again, everyday life is making fringe expenses seem less bizarre. For comics just doing normal gigs around Britain, “the cost of travel and stuff, it’s just not viable,” says Lopez. “That’s one of the positive things about Edinburgh… you can walk to work every day for a month.”

And you can vent about the red tape affecting your other job. Stefania Licari is an Italian actor, clown, and NHS doctor, whose debut show, Medico, is a semi-fictional romantic farce, with real-life dramas.

“I talk about a moment of panic just before Brexit took place,” says Licari. “I look back at the preparation I put into the British culture test – one of the requirements to gain citizenship – and I find it very funny that I took it so seriously.” To prepare, the already too-busy doctor/comedian “did 10,000 online questions and read three books three times each,” she says.

It became an entertaining section of the show, though. More serious is the moment where a patient insists “that she be treated only by British doctors, refusing my care as I was not British. Unfortunately, this is a true story. Even more unfortunately, this is not the only example of racist or xenophobic behaviour towards NHS staff that I have encountered.”

The communal spirit is a unique fringe draw though, and you do find a remarkable mix of people.

The Comedy Estonia showcase features a rotating cast from a nation with a burgeoning stand-up tradition.

“In some way we do feel like cultural ambassadors,” says organiser and performer Karl-Alari Varma.

One intriguing theme this year is how comedians reference the ongoing global strife. “In Estonia we like dark humour a lot and heavy subjects are second nature to us,” says Varma. “Some of the comedians were born while under Russian occupation, and grew up in a time where all the political and societal wounds were still raw, and that kind of post-Soviet survival mentality has carried over to their comedy.” But “even with heavy subjects,” he says, “the main goal is to be funny.”

Haaland agrees. Her show has no grand mission, but perhaps big communal laughs are enough this year. “There is still a need to connect,” she says. “And I think that’s what comedy does best.”

 Click Here For Article

August 7, 2022    Entertainment Now

Moni’s storytelling abilities are profound.

The beginning of your time with Moni instantly warms you to her. She pokes fun at Chinese stereotypes in a really creative and funny manner. As a Chinese woman, she is proud, and she takes her time in explaining her love for her country – which has a lot to do with noodles.

What is so pleasantly surprising about this show is the eloquence of the monologue, it’s rare to see a free show have an act so confident in their script. What this allows is the gravitas of Moni’s story to truly shine. She has you on tenterhooks as she details the brutality of growing up in the Wuhan ghetto which is hardly eased by her aggravatingly judgemental family. Life beyond Wuhan has been no plain sailing either. Culture shocks and finding love have proved hard for Moni but her undying resilience is both endearing and inspiring.

Even at the darkest moments of this show Moni will slip in a deeply humorous line. Her life may have been difficult, but she helps us laugh through it as she clearly has herself. She doesn’t shy away from crude jokes which land with mixed effect yet there is a fearlessness to the comedic side of this story. Racy jokes on gender, race and life in the bedroom are often highlights of the narrative.

Moni’s story is really solid from start to finish. She intimately connects to the audience in an equally intimate venue. And while there is a lot of content in this show that can lower your mood, Moni manages to keep spirits high, creating this unique feeling of optimism. This person has been through it all but has come out the other side laughing and smiling.

This show doesn’t contain wall-to-wall laughs, but it doesn’t have to. If you want to see an excellently performed telling of a truly tumultuous life story, especially set in an environment you may know little about, then ‘Child From Wuhan’ is a gem. Click Here For Review

Depression, love and diarrhoea: Meet Moni Zhang, the stand-up comic from Wuhan

May 6, 2022   Euronews

Depression, love and diarrhoea: Meet Moni Zhang, the stand-up comic from Wuhan

“Depression got me into comedy!” Moni Zhang proclaims with a huge smile.

Originally from China, the 32-year-old is now a full-fledged comedian in Berlin having quit her job last year as an analyst for a tech company.

The comedy spark dates back to 2018. While Zhang was in the throes of a deep depression and on medication, she went to see a comedy show and discovered the world of stand-up.

“I didn’t know what it was and then I went back and started to do it - I spoke about my experiences,” she says. “For my first show, I got five of my European male friends to sit in front and I basically roasted each of them. I felt on top of the world and then, I wanted to do it again and again and again.”

It’s been a speedy rise from beginner to comedy regular. This year, Zhang began a short circuit across Europe with shows in Germany, Spain and Brighton, performing 'Child from Wuhan', her one-woman comedy show.

This summer, she’ll be at the Edinburgh Fringe, Aug 4-28 with ‘Child From Wuhan’ at The Free Sisters and with the Anxiety & Depression Comedy Game Show at The City Café.

Half comedy, half tragedy

Zhang's set is a dramatic and comedic performance that starts with the strange reactions she gets as a Chinese person in Europe. Zhang first moved to Europe to study in the Netherlands for four years before moving to Berlin in 2016.

Then, the set takes a sharp turn into the dark parts of her childhood in Wuhan, a city that leapt into the spotlight in 2020 as the place the COVID-19 pandemic was first identified.

“I make fun of Dutch food a lot because the food is so bad, coming from Asia. I have Dutch people at my shows and they like the jokes,” says Zhang. Poking at European sensibilities was a major part of her earlier shows.

“I grew up in a sweatshop in poverty and moved to Germany for a better life only to discover gluten can kill me! This gluten allergy is the most white disease,” Zhang intones in one of her YouTube videos from earlier days.

Since then, the show has morphed into something deeper - a polished storytelling performance.

“During the pandemic I was doing Zoom comedy and stand-up doesn’t work well on that, so, I started to host a storytelling show online every two weeks and encouraged people to contribute. During this, I stumbled into a story about my childhood.”

In October of 2020, she heard about World Mental Health Day and wondered if it could be the impetus for a festival about depression. She posted her ideas on several Facebook groups and connected with other comedians.

In November 2021, she launched the 10-day Berlin Mental Health Festival which included storytelling shows, a panel on suicide prevention, a photographic exhibit, and a stand-up show for parents.

“I had no budget, it was all crowd-sourced. Everyone volunteered. A comedy club offered itself as a venue,” Zhang enthuses. “It was there that I told this Wuhan story in front of an audience for the first time. And then, magic happened. The audience was clapping for a long time and the club manager said, ‘You had a standing ovation, Moni!’”

After that, Zhang had to figure out how to fold her childhood trauma into a full comedy show. She holed up in her Berlin apartment for two weeks and the result was ‘Child From Wuhan’: “I have a really sad story and created something funny around it.”

Zhang delves into the Berlin dating scene, riffs about her pet and having diarrhoea before she transports the audience to Wuhan.

There are evocative descriptions of Wuhan and its famous noodle dish. It's a visceral account that blasts away the city’s COVID 19 connection.

Then, as if a light is turned off, she describes a brutal childhood - the only child of a single mother who walks with a limp and works in a sweatshop. The hours spent studying, the bullying, and the punishments meted out by her mother. The room goes quiet.

Touching audiences

“The show is a powerful mix of strong emotions and humour,” recalls Brenda Penante, a Brazilian who caught the show in March. “I found it particularly touching how she talked about the complex relationship with her mother…it made my heart tremble. I remember thinking ‘this was so much more than a comedy show.’”

Finally, Zhang artfully brings the audience back to the present where she has faced her demons, what the diarrhoea actually taught her, how therapy has re-adjusted her lens on her past, and how she discovered an inner resilience and love that had been missing for so long.

“I find it touching when female audience members, especially Asian ones, tell me they can relate to this, but they didn’t have the words to summarise their experience. It gives them inspiration about their past and their relationships with their family.”

László Czöndör, a Hungarian living in Berlin, caught the show in January and then returned with his sister to see it again.

“Her life story evoked deep emotion. She always knew the correct time when to lighten the mood with a punchline,” describes Czöndör, adding that he hopes to bring his other sister to see the show, for a third time. “I liked how she taught us about règānmiàn, a traditional Wuhanese food and how to order it. And of course, her story, her dog, and [the concept of a wise teacher] Shīfù – I still have goosebumps to this day.”

Both Penante and Czöndör reached out to Zhang to tell her how they felt. It’s these kinds of interactions that spurred her to do a weekly podcast about depression and the struggles of life, interviewing fellow comedians about their challenges.

“The worst thing about depression is that you believe you’re the only person suffering and when you hear stories from others, you don’t feel alone. It is comforting.”

Comedy is a coming out for Zhang: “I was used to hiding. I was so ashamed of who I was. In Europe, I encounter lots of Europeans or Chinese who are middle-class or upper-class. I felt I was living in a cage, that no-one knows who I really am.”

Family values

For Zhang, the most important person she needed to be open with was her mother - the person towards whom she had felt intensely antagonistic.

Capturing the 2019 Berlin Comedy Newcomer Award was a personal triumph. For a long time, Zhang’s mother didn’t understand what stand-up was and couldn't get her head round the fact Zhang wasn’t getting paid for it.

“I told her I entered a competition against 50 comedians, most of them native English speakers and from the Western world, and I won. I asked her, ‘Now, can you believe that I’m talented?!’

Her answer? "Okay, yes."

“Typical Asian mom answer,” laughs Zhang.

As Zhang herself has changed and so has her mother: “She once gave me a long speech after I asked if she’s proud of me. She said she’s so proud of me, her whole life she gave to me and now I give her purpose in life.”

“I name the show ‘Child From Wuhan’ because it’s the story of a child, her experiences. I’m making peace with her.”

 Click Here For Article

Press & Media for this Show

Moni Zhang: Child from Wuhan – Pay What You Can