Hong Kong’s funny man shares with us his love of life and, of course, laughter!
Jami Gong has had a wide and varied career, all of which has helped him find his feet in the world of comedy. He started working at The Carrier Dome while at Syracuse University, went on to handle venue merchandising at Madison Square Garden, then worked in retail for 10 years at Structure (now Express Men) where he picked up crucial teamwork, sales and interpersonal skills. He then came up with the idea of a comedy club, quite literally, out of thin air! While flying to Hong Kong to visit his ailing grandmother, he decided to launch a comedy club in New York’s Chinatown. Post the 9/11 terror attack, he worked hard to inject fun and laughter back into the lives of its residents. In 2006, he moved to Hong Kong and launched TakeOut Comedy. Today, that is just one of the many hats he wears! He also runs corporate training on public performance and has an eye for spotting talent – he’s already got his eight-year-old son perfecting the art of stand-up comedy!
Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you grew up and how you ended up in Hong Kong?
My parents met in Hong Kong in the 1960s, got married and emigrated to the US for better lives in 1967. I was born and raised in NYC Chinatown. I have an older brother and four sisters and I am number three. We bonded well growing up with many other Chinese immigrants in lower Manhattan.
My mother’s parents always had a flat in HK so I visited them often. I still remember my mum bringing all six of us back in the summer of 1983! I probably visited the city about 15 times before I moved here, bag and baggage, in the summer of 2006 to start TakeOut Comedy.
Tell us how TakeOut Comedy was envisioned and how you started it.
In the middle of a flight to visit my grandmother in 2002, I got the idea to bring back nightlife and revitalise NYC Chinatown with entertainment. This was after September 11 and SARS had brought the economy of lower Manhattan down. I grabbed the barf bag in front of me and wrote down ideas. Unfortunately, my grandmother passed away before I got here but I like to believe that it was her giving me the idea. The bag is framed and still hanging in our comedy club.
One month later, I launched TakeOut Comedy in NYC, with a few friends. We ran monthly shows for about three years, which were sold out all the time. We only stopped once I moved to Hong Kong in 2006 to set up TakeOut Comedy here as the first full-time Comedy Club in Asia.
From NYC to HK, TakeOut Comedy has travelled a long way. What are the future plans for the club and do you see yourself going back to New York?
After 12 years, we changed our business plan last winter. Now, instead of having shows every week, we have shows about half the month and rent our venue for private events during the other half. We started TakeOut Comedy China earlier this year, so we also produce regular shows on the mainland now. I have been teaching stand-up comedy and doing corporate training since 2006. You do not have to be a comedian to benefit from learning stand-up. So if you want to be more creative and confident, a better communicator and leader, improve your public speaking skills and have fun, contact me!
TakeOut Comedy does not have any New York connections currently. I do miss the city and my family there. On the other hand, I love my work here (I’m also now a licensed Hong Kong tour guide!). Family life is great as the four of us (my wife and I + 8-year-old Emmett + 3-year-old poodle Sammi) still tolerate each other for now!
Which of your achievements are you most proud of?
Marrying Andrea Lomas, having our son Emmett, starting TakeOut Comedy, leading the Organization of Chinese Americans – NYC Chapter for two years, and being chosen to carry the Olympic Torch in 2004.
Do tell us how you were chosen to carry the Olympic Torch. Also, you have a knighthood in Malta?! Please explain!
Haha! My dad was friends with the Prince and Princess of Malta and they visited NYC around 1995. I still remember my dad telling me that I would be knighted. It was a surreal moment as I got down on my knees and the Prince said a few words and touched my shoulders with a sword just like in the movies! I still have the official document and medal. I look forward to going to Malta one day (I haven’t visited yet) with them and telling everyone to call me “Sir”!
As far as the Olympic Torch goes, my friend nominated me and I remember getting the phone call from the US Olympic Committee when I was in Hawaii. I thought he was joking but it was for real! Because of my accomplishments for fighting for civil rights, leading The OCA-NYC Chapter for two years, helping to revitalise NYC Chinatown with TakeOut Comedy and doing walking tours of the city, I was chosen for this amazing honour!
What is the toughest part of your job?
Which one? The business of running a comedy club is tough – we have to make money to continue to bring more laughter to HK! For performing stand-up comedy, it’s trying to make everyone laugh as much as possible. When I’m teaching stand-up comedy, it’s tough to inspire students and get them to believe that they can do it and will benefit greatly from it on and off stage. When I’m conducting tours, it’s a challenge to include as many sights and activities as possible and make sure the tourists learn and have fun!
Your son has also been performing since he was six. What was your wife’s reaction?
Yes, I made my son try it! That was, in fact, his opening line -“My daddy made me do this!”. So far he has performed four times, including at his school, in front of 150 people for a charity show. My wife loves it as we want him to always be creative, confident, daring and have fun. Making people laugh and performing stand-up comedy at an early age will do it for him. We want to set him up to succeed! Plus, with a unique name like Emmett and a unique hobby like stand-up comedy, he is going to get all the girls!
How would you describe your parenting style? Who plays the good cop at home?
My wife is definitely the bad cop! Now that Emmett is eight, we are both getting stricter and making sure he is independent. Since he is an only child (I have five siblings and Andrea has four), we love playing with him and acting like his “siblings”. It is amazing to see him develop. We LOVE being parents!
Where did you meet your wife and how do you complement each other?
We met at TakeOut Comedy in March 2009. A mutual friend introduced us and we went on our first date in Spring 2009. The rest is history! She is the serious one and I am the fun one, so we are Yin and Yang! We believe that fun, balance and laughter will keep us together! It sounds like a song!
P.S.: We are the 10th couple that has met through the club and got married, so comedy unites people for sure!
Which is your favourite place for a date night?
What is that? Parents do not have time for dates! Fortunately though, here we are lucky to afford a domestic helper so going on a rare date is possible. Anywhere with good food, laughter and not too many people around is welcome.
What’s the most rewarding thing about being a father?
Seeing Emmett grow up physically, mentally and slowly becoming a man is the best! We make sure he is not spoiled and lazy. Kids nowadays have too much on their plate with iPads, the internet and other activities! Time flies and soon he will be 18 and off on his own, so we appreciate every moment we get with him.
How has being a father changed you?
I’ve become more selfless and want to make sure Emmett has a better life than mine. I am also more appreciative of my mother who took care of the six of us, mostly on her own, after my parents divorced when I was in my teens.
After a long day, what’s your favourite way to unwind?
Watching CNN, National Geographic, Netflix, movies and playing games with Emmett and Andrea. Also, taking long walks with the family, alone and/or with our poodle, Sammi.
What are your favourite things to do with your son?
Everything! Recently it’s been Chess, Checkers, playing catch with our baseball gloves, and playing soccer (football as my wife calls it). I volunteer every Wednesday at his school during lunchtime to help monitor the kids. There I love playing tag with him and his friends – that’s me reliving my childhood!
Any tips or advice for anyone choosing to pursue an unconventional career or business idea in Hong Kong?
Do your research and DO IT! Do not be afraid to take a risk and fail!