Jennifer Wong – Impaired Vision; 20/20 Insight

BMA’s Josh Eckerlsey talks to comic and TV presenter Jennifer Wong about limited sight, sound mental health, and a touch about her new shows (plural!)

New Comedy Show With a Unique Outlook

Sydney-based comedian and TV presenter Jennifer Wong is returning to Canberra with her latest comedy show, the curiously titled Jennifer Wong Has No Peripheral Vision. The show, inspired by the degenerative eye disease that impacts her vision, proves that you don’t need 20/20 vision to have a unique outlook on life.

Jennifer has spent almost 20 years performing stand-up, perfecting the whimsical wordplay and peculiar perspectives that make her an absolute joy to watch. Her approach is to look at something from as many perspectives as possible in order to find the funny. The things that really make her laugh, she explains, are when she can look at something in a new and surprising way.

“I was at a gig last night and a comedian called Harry Jun explained a Korean proverb, ‘to lick a watermelon’, which means that you haven’t even scratched the surface of something yet.

“Isn’t that great? The word economy, the visuals. I love it!”

Seeing Beyond the Limits

Her new show has garnered rave reviews and sold-out shows at both the Sydney and Perth Comedy Festivals. Its content includes personal aspects of her life that she explores through her unique comedy lens.

“My comedic style is observational, which is appropriate for a show about having no peripheral vision,” she jests. “The title refers to a degenerative eye disease I have, called retinitis pigmentosa, which affects how much I can see.

“Basically, I have a narrower field of vision than the average person. In the show, I’ve taken that idea to metaphorically explore the question of what happens when we don’t see the full picture; both in social situations and life in general.”

The show not only shines a probing light on Jennifer’s eyesight issues, but on her mental health battles too. This frankness has resonated strongly with many audience members. She reveals:

“I’ve been really lucky with the response to my shows this year. The audiences have been wonderful and responded warmly to the parts about mental health and depression. It means a lot to me that we have language to talk about these things now, which I certainly did not have 20 years ago.”

Using Food To Tell Stories

Outside of her work on stage, Jennifer is also an avid food enthusiast, making regular appearances on The Cook Up, with Adam Liaw (SBS), as well as presenting on the 6-part ABC series, Chopsticks or Fork?.

The show is a touching exploration of the stories and traditions of families behind the woks of Chinese restaurants across regional Australia. Jennifer admits that the ‘food enthusiast’ part of what she does was a happy accident, and feels fortunate to be able to use food as a way to tell stories; from her own life, and other people’s.

“How we eat says so much about how we live,” she says. “We can talk endlessly about our earliest food memories, comfort foods, or favourite potato chip flavours.

“My interest in food comes from growing up in a Cantonese family where every social gathering revolved around cooking and eating. Food training began early! At every meal, you’re talking about a past meal or a future meal; all while enjoying the present meal!”

Photo by ABC ‘s Teresa Tan

Chopsticks or Fork? has also spawned a book, to be published next year, where Jennifer continued visiting restaurants in every state and territory in Australia. The book regales more stories about the families who run the restaurants and the fans that populate them. It also shares 33 Australian-Chinese recipes (Lemon Chicken! Honey Prawns! Mongolian Lamb!).

Returning To Her Roots

So, whether you’re a fan of comedy, food, or both, you can join Jennifer on familiar ground when she returns to Canberra with her hilarious stand-up show. It will be like returning to her comedy roots.

“The material I performed at my first show was actually written in Canberra when I was studying at ANU. I had a blog (it 2004; everyone had a blog) where I would write about funny things I’d seen in the news.

“One of the bits was about how China had a huge rodent problem, so they got these giant eagles to solve their huge rodent problem, which made me wonder what would happen once they had a giant eagle problem.”

Jennifer Wong will perform at The Street Theatre on Saturday, 14 October, at 8pm. Visit The Street Theatre website for ticket information.

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