Binge Fringe Magazine

REVIEW: Ilha Formosa, Kuan-wen Huang, Prague Fringe 2023 ★★★★☆

Taiwanese-born, gay, ex-military, and Edinburgh Fringe perennial, and South London stand-up comedian, Kuan-Wen Huang, brings his new show Ilha Formosa (beautiful island) to the delightfully dingy and cavernous Charles Bridge Comedy Club in Prague. Over the course of an hour, Kuan-Wen harnessed his incredible capacity for deadpan wit, detailed knowledge of geopolitical events, his own unique experience, and extreme love of teddy bears, to rupture the small underground venue.

Kuan-Wen’s brilliant ability for crowd work was evident from the opening of the show, where the comedian rapid-fire lampooned the national identities of the multicultural Fringe audience; my Brighton-based middle-class ass instantly classified as a “treehugger”, and the group of LA mothers in the row behind as “Golden Girls”. Among all the gentle roasting of the audience, the biggest victim of the roasting was quite rightfully Kuan-Wen himself.

Named after the colonial Portuguese term for Taiwan, the show playfully explored some of the country’s roots, relationship with imperialism through Japan and China, and its current standing in the world today – Kuan threatens to withdraw production of all the Taiwan-produced iPhone silicon chips from the West, to be repurposed as fancy nipple piercings.

The show delved into Kuan’s identity in relation to the small and often overlooked island (their biggest celebrity visit in the last few years being Liz Truss) and his identity as a gay man with a strained relationship with his mother, to side-splitting effect. While I wasn’t expecting that much of an educational show, I somehow hoped for some more jokes and segments relating to the island’s recent history and perhaps some less obvious China bashing bits – one joke prompted an LA Golden Girl to shout out a comment about the weather balloon incident from months ago.

Ilha Formosa was a fantastic introduction to this up and coming comedian for me, demonstrating Kuan as a confident and charismatic performer with a strong onstage persona and timely, satirical content. An intimately hilarious lampooning of Taiwanese identity, queerness, motherhood, and the entire audience thrown in for good measure.

Recommended Drink: Ilha Formosa is a Taiwan Beer – a national icon.

Performances of Ilha Formosa have now concluded at Prague Fringe. Keep up with Kuan-wen on social media for future performances.

Ronan Goron