Words by Taiwan Scene; Photos by Two Three Comedy.
Stand-up comedy is on the rise in Taiwan and it’s in no small part thanks to Brian Tseng (博恩), the host of the hugely popular Night Night Show (博恩夜夜秀). Taiwan’s first-ever late night satirical talk show – very much inspired by American hits such as the Daily Show and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver – the Night Night Show has propelled Tseng to superstardom in Taiwan and come the end of his tenure on the show at the conclusion of the current season, he’ll be focusing a lot of his energy on a new venture: running a comedy club.
About Two Three Comedy
Situated on Linsen North Road in Taipei’s Zhongshan District – a location known by many over the years as an area for a slightly more risqué form of entertainment – Two Three Comedy is Taipei’s first-ever fulltime bilingual comedy club. Run as a joint venture with 23 Brewing Company also as a bar open daily between 6pm and 1am, Two Three opened fully to the public last week with a Chinese-language show headlined by Tseng on Friday 20 and the finals of Taipei’s roast battle competition in English on Saturday 21. The club will hold open mics in English every Monday and Wednesday and open mics in Chinese every Tuesday and Thursday, as well as weekend showcases in both languages featuring a mix of local and international comics. (Read also: Taipei’s Thriving Craft Beer Scene – A Sit-Down With the Creators of 23 Brewing Company)
“Right now, it’s still pretty scary because the number of events and shows we have to throw in this place to make it fulltime is pretty unrealistic,” said Tseng honestly of opening the new venue. “We will have a lot of comedians doing a lot of work in order to make this place succeed.” Not afraid to speak his mind, Tseng’s refreshing bluntness is part of his appeal. During his time hosting the Night Night Show, he’s been outspoken about Taiwanese politics and Taiwan’s relations with China, subject matter that has seen him profiled by The Economist.
Stand-up comedy is on the rise in Taipei
“It’s a pretty big challenge but I think this is happening at the right time because more and more people are starting to do stand-up and they want a stage,” Tseng told Taiwan Scene with a tone of optimism in his voice. Two Three’s previous location was in the basement of 23 Public Craft Beer in Da’an. It was an ideal venue for small comedy shows, but the growing popularity of both Tseng and stand-up in Taipei in general has called for an upgrade in location. “The largest reason we moved out of the basement was that the room was becoming too small. We need a space like this, 150 plus [seats], to go to the next level.” (Read more: Things Every Drinker Should Know about Taipei’s Bar and Nightlife Scene)
One of Tseng’s goals for the new club is to forge a reputation for it as the go-to place in the city for stand-up comedy. “Comedy before [in Taipei] would move from place to place and nobody really knew where it was. A goal right now is to at least stay here.” He added: “I’ve kind of been observing comedy in Taiwan right now. A lot of people become fans of a certain comic but not fans of comedy, so they’d go to a show only if a certain comic shows up. Having a venue just sitting there I think is beneficial to cultivating comedy fans. If someone on a random weekend wants to see a comedy show, they’ll know where to go.”
Stand-up in Taiwan really broke into the public eye back in 2017 when two clips – one being a routine performed by Tseng – went viral online. “After those two videos went viral, I feel like stand-up comedy started taking off,” Tseng said. “Before those two videos, it’d be super hard to fill a 40-person room. Now, for my most recent upcoming show, I sold 4,000 tickets in half a day.” He will perform two dates at a 2,800-person theater in Taipei in early 2020, but he already has his site set on bigger and better things. “The biggest venue is the Taipei Dome; it can seat around 18,000 people. That’s THE goal right now.” It may sound ambitious, but a man whose show’s YouTube channel is followed by approximately one-in-20 people in the country, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see Tseng blowing the roof off Taipei Dome in the not too distant future.
Attracting talent from across Taiwan, Asia and the world
While he definitely has his own personal goals and has been enjoying success of late in English comedy not just Chinese – Tseng appeared in the latest season of Stand-Up, Asia! on Comedy Central Asia – the sharp-tongued late night host is investing a lot of energy (and not to mention money) in the new Two Three Comedy venue. In 2019, international superstar comics Jim Jeffries and Jim Gaffigan both performed shows in Taipei as part of their Asia tours and Tseng is hoping the new club can be used to attract more international talent. “A lot of those [huge] comics before doing a big stage want to try those jokes out at a local small club, and one of the goals for this club is to be that venue where they can try out jokes before they go to the Dome or whatever.” (Read more: Fresh Off the Bloat: Comedy Legend Margaret Cho Comes To Taiwan)
“We want to put Taiwan on the map as a comedy spot” – Two Three Comedy co-founder, Sam Yarborough.
One of Tseng’s partners in his comedy club venture is American comic Sam Yarborough, a founding member of the first incarnation of Two Three Comedy and someone who had a big impact on the Taiwanese star’s early development as a stand-up. Better known on the Asia comedy circuit as Sam Yarbs, the Vermont native has lived in Taiwan coming up on five years and has been part of the comedy scene on the island since thoughts of a fulltime club were nothing more than a pipe dream. Yarborough has a clear vision of how he wants the venue to develop: “Short term it’s to grow the Taiwan scene and make a room this size viable,” he said. “The midterm is to start bringing in international talent and I think the long-term goal is to develop international talent of our own. Local comics rising to the level where they’re going abroad. We want to put Taiwan on the map as a comedy spot.”
With stand-up comedy in Taiwan still very much in its infancy, despite its fast-growing popularity, and Tseng admitting it may be at least another half a decade until the art form is widely recognized as mainstream entertainment, opening a fulltime comedy club right now may seem like a bit of an overreach. However, with a name as big as Tseng’s at the helm, plus a roster of incredibly talented performers eager to entertain the masses, a comedy club in Taipei could well be a recipe for success. No matter what happens, one thing is guaranteed: they’re going to have a laugh along the way.
For more information on both the comedy club and the bar, follow Two Three Comedy on Facebook.