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Identities are no joke (or are they?): humor and identity in Vivek Mahbubani’s stand-up

Charles Lam ORCID logo
From the journal HUMOR


Using the lenses of humor studies and narrative analysis, this paper discusses the stand-up comedy of Vivek Mahbubani, a Hong Kong-born stand-up comedian of Indian descent. Mahbubani uses humor about ethnicity-related issues to highlight the irrationality of racial discrimination and stereotypes. Specifically, Mahbubani challenges people’s preconceived ideas about the speakerhood of Cantonese and the local identity. The present study demonstrates how this comedian has effectively built humor into his narrative as a response to oppression, thus engaging the local, ethnically Chinese audience to reflect on the social and ethnic tension felt by minorities in Hong Kong. This study further argues that Mahbubani’s comedy reflects a more general trend in stand-up comedy: humor as a vehicle for a more inclusive and progressive grand narrative across different cultures; this trend stands in stark contrast to earlier ethnic jokes that often made minorities the target of verbal humor.

Corresponding author: Charles Lam, The Hang Seng University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong, E-mail:


The author thanks Vivek Mahbubani for agreeing to be interviewed and sharing his thoughts on stand-up comedy in Hong Kong and humor at large. Thanks are also due to the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments.


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Received: 2020-01-31
Accepted: 2021-07-22
Published Online: 2021-08-30

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