Retrospectively Speaking, Part 1: Roger Tang

Pork and FishRoger Tang (front row left) surrounded by Pork and Fish.

As part of Assaulted Fish’s 10-year anniversary, we asked some of our closest friends, fans and family for their thoughts and memories of the past decade. Today we present our conversation with Seattle’s Roger Tang.

Roger Tang has many nicknames: “The Godfather of Asian American Theatre”, “Da Head Hawg”, “Mr. Everything” (okay, I made that last one up but that should be his nickname). A theatre veteran of three decades, who began as a designer for David Henry Hwang and Philip Kan Gotanda, he is a playwright, producer and behind the scenes technical whiz. He is also a founding member and éminence grise of the Pork Filled Players (Seattle’s oldest sketch comedy group and the Northwest’s longest running Asian American theatre company) for whom he still acts as Managing Producer and sketch writer. He is Literary Manager for SIS Productions, sits on the board at Repertory Actors Theatre, edits the Asian American Theatre Revue and administers the aa-drama mailing list. He is also a generous supporter of new talent. In 2006 he took a flyer on a still wet-behind-the-ears Asian Canadian sketch troupe and began what has become an annual cross border tradition for the Fish to perform a show with the Pork Filled Players.

What’s your favourite Assaulted Fish sketch?

Well, damn, that’s hard to decide. It’s like trying to decide between prime rib vs. a nicely seared king salmon vs. a nice set of BBQ St. Louis ribs vs. a delicious cheesecake. And then the thought of a great chicken cacciatore comes sneaking up on you…

<scrambles off for something to eat>

Where was I … I can’t pare it down to one … there’s always the Five Stages of Grieving … and there’s Diana’s Tiny Korean Head sketch…or there’s Nelson’s bravura 15-minute turn in Waiting for Godzilla (which I SWEAR was only five minutes long … it just flew by!) or the F.O.B. Hip-Hop remix, or Kuan’s musings on death and oblivion while being mugged or Marlene’s and Diana’s science showdown via press release or…

Let me think about this over dinner.

What attracted you to Assaulted Fish and compelled you to invite them down for various Seattle performances?

Well, anyone saying “Yes” to our propositions is always pretty compelling to us…

But, from the first time we saw them, there was that clean effortlessness to the performances and the calm confidence in the material that made them stand out. Too many groups are a little too frantic and try to be in your face to be funny, and the Fishies knew they never needed to do that.

What do you think makes Assaulted Fish unique?

There’s an absolute fearlessness in the writing that dives into such diverse topic areas, and isn’t afraid to assume the audience is smart and can take on material that isn’t pitched to the lowest common denominator. They combine it with an utter confidence in the material and a crispness and polish in the performance that’s rare among modern comedians. There’s a level of craftsmanship that harkens back to the greats like Keaton, Chaplin and Carol Burnett, where they can find the humour when not being madcap and manic.

In your opinion, how do the Fishies measure up to other sketch comedy troupes?

I think they compare favourably to the groups I was palling around with in Seattle’s Golden Age of sketch comedy (these included folks like Mike Daisey, before he made it big as a solo performance artist). They have their own unique material and they do it well.

If Assaulted Fish were a vegetable in a produce aisle, what would it be and why?

Hm … arugula. Seemingly upscale, but surprisingly versatile and appealing to everyone–and holding down a great place for singles to meet if they are so inclined.

Now, excuse me, I need to go off and eat!

(Photo courtesy of Roger Tang – Interview by Linda Ong)

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