Riffing with Paul Ogata

Riffing with Paul Ogata Paul Ogata / Facebook

Born and raised in Hawaii you’d assume Paul Ogata was a laid back guy. We’re not certain he isn’t, but he‘s proven when it comes to stand-up there are very few men alive so talented at telling it like it is.


From radio to film, Ogata has left his mark on the world and, having won the 2007 San Francisco International Comedy Competition, no one can say he hasn’t earned his stripes.


When GeoExpat heard Ogata was making another trip to Hong Kong we couldn’t help but search him out, first to thank him for helping bump Hong Kong’s comedy scene on the world stage, but mostly just to try and understand what makes him tick; how did one man become so funny?


Ogata is this year’s headliner at Hong Kong’s own 6th Annual International Comedy Festival taking place from September 6th to October 7th. Check him out next week to see why this truth-talking funnyman is a crowd favorite in every corner of the globe.



GeoExpat: How did growing up in Hawaii influence your comedy?

Paul Ogata: Hawaii is such a multicultural melting pot. I was exposed to all different kinds of people and their issues. Really, it was the perfect breeding ground for a comedian. You had to learn to make a wide range of people laugh. It was good training for what I do now, bouncing around the planet and performing for anybody and everybody.



GeoExpat:You've been in a few films and done quite a bit of radio. How different is performing when you can't see a crowd's reaction?

Ogata: Radio presents a problem with instant feedback. You'll get phone calls, but it's not the same as the live stand-up experience. You just have to trust your comedic instincts in radio, or those of the screenwriters in the case of movies or television. It's sort of like operating on a patient without that beepy noise telling you he's dying from your shaky scalpel hand.



GeoExpat: Was there ever a time for you when comedy wasn’t exactly panning out? When you thought you’d have to drastically change your career trajectory, or maybe give up comedy altogether?

Ogata: Yes, before each show. But then the first joke hits, the laughter washes over me like a baptismal, refreshing and renewing me. Something about the laughter of the audience is a panacea and fixes you, if just for a moment. I tore my ACL once and had a horrible time hobbling around. For that one hour a day when I was on stage, however, all the pain vanished.



GeoExpat: You’ve done shows all over the world—performed for all types of crowds.  Do you ever get tired of being typecast as an “Asian” comedian?

Ogata: I'll prove them wrong with my performance. If you come in to the show with that notion, I'll make sure you leave with your mind changed. As a comedian, you are your own biggest and best way to break free of that typecasting.



GeoExpat: Who has been your biggest influence?

Ogata: I really appreciate what George Carlin brought to the game. He proved you can do serious, social commentary with hard hitting punches, then turn on a dime and do a dick joke. He was so flawless.



GeoExpat: What do you do for fun, besides making people laugh? What do you enjoy most?

Ogata: I'm an adrenaline junkie and seek out thrill rides. I bungy jump in Macau every chance I get. I jump out of airplanes. And I see how far I can drive my car with the fuel gauge on "Empty" before my wife yells at me.



GeoExpat: If you weren’t a world renowned comedian, what would you be doing?

Ogata: I received my Bachelor's Degree in Speech/Communications, so I'd most likely be a waiter.



GeoExpat: You’re no stranger to HK. What do you like to do when you come through?

Ogata: I look forward to Sundays, when I tape off large sections of walkways in Central and rent them out to off-duty domestic helpers.



GeoExpat: What’s more rewarding for you as a comedian: pre-arranged sets with strategically placed jokes, or organic improv and crowd interaction?

Ogata: I think riffing with the crowd is an important and integral part of how I write new material. There's a certain joy in creating a new joke at your desk with pen and paper. But that joy is amplified by several orders of magnitude when you create something on the spot and receive the instant feedback only a live audience can provide. Sometimes the audience is there to play, and other times not so much. Together, the audience and I determine what will happen that evening.


I once did a show where the first 55 minutes was improvised and everyone was having a great time. But ultimately, I felt guilty about not doing any prewritten stuff, so I closed with 5 minutes of prepared material. Best night ever.



GeoExpat: Is there a formula for great new material?

Ogata: Conventional wisdom holds that Tragedy+Time=Comedy. If that's true, and we solve for Tragedy, we find that Timeless Comedy is a Tragedy. Which is to say that if you want to be truly funny, you should say things that people will forget soon. At least, that's worked for me so far.



GeoExpat: You've made the connection between comedy and truth. Can you expand on that?

Ogata: I was obsessed with magic as a kid. Went to see David Copperfield, got his autograph, bought a bunch of stuff from the magic store. And it was all a lie. They're called "tricks" and "illusions". We know that guy didn't just saw a lady in half and put her back together. Comedians, on the other hand, are alone on stage without smoke and mirrors, without a beautiful assistant, presenting their actual thoughts, relaying their real-life experiences.


I've heard from people after the show that something I had said resonated with them and they had the best time of their lives. I'm not so sure people go up to magicians and tell them, "You know how you had a bunny-shaped sponge thingy, and then it turned into three bunny-shaped sponge thingies? I've never been lied to like that before. Good job!"



GeoExpat: What advice do you have for young funny people that would love to make money sharing their comedy with the world? I'm talking industry inside tips that only an established and highly successful comedian would know.

Ogata: First, don't try to be like some famous comedian you've seen on TV. We already have that guy. Don't be the next somebody else, be the first you. Second, don't take anybody's advice. Especially mine.



Thursday, September 6, 8:00 PM

Wanchai, Hong Kong

6th Annual Hong Kong International Comedy Festival




Friday, September 7, 8:00 PM & 10:00 PM

SoHo, Hong Kong

6th Annual Hong Kong International Comedy Festival

TakeOut Comedy Club



Saturday, September 8, 8:00 PM & 10:00 PM

SoHo, Hong Kong

6th Annual Hong Kong International Comedy Festival

TakeOut Comedy Club




Have a funny joke you want to share? Been to any of the last five HK Comedy Festivals? Seen Mr. Ogata perform live? Whether you've seen him before, or are planning to check him out on Thursday, Friday or Saturday, let us know how it was on this thread.




Opening photo credit: Paul Ogata / Facebook