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June 30, 2022
Stand-up comedian Evelyn Mok jokes in English, speaks Chinese to her parents, navigates daily life in Swedish, and speaks basic Hindi.
Born in Sweden with Hong Kong and mainland Chinese roots, Evelyn has grown into a formidable figure in the British comedy space, trading jokes with audiences about her Chinese background, womanly figure as a jokester, what it means to be female in comedy, and her vagina.
Returning from a holiday in Italy, where she “ate too much food” and surviving on a diet of yoghurt to be healthy, Evelyn spoke to The Beat Asia in a Zoom interview about her multicultural background of Chinese, Indian, Swedish, and British flavours, her stage comedy in stand-up in the U.K., TV and sitcom writing, and jokes about her mother.
Evelyn’s ethnic background is as multicultural as you can find. Ethnically Chinese in ancestral roots, her mother’s family history hails from Hubei, China, of which Wuhan city is the capital - “the [COVID-19] virus really put us on the map!” - whilst her father’s side hails from Hong Kong.
Her mother’s parents emigrated to Mumbai, India in the mid-20th century in search of work, with her mother growing up ostensibly Indian. Her father grew up on the estates of north Kowloon sharing a living quarter with 12 other relatives.
In Scandinavia, Evelyn’s story began with her father's voyage to Sweden at the behest of his uncle who sought familial assistance in operating his restaurant, the first Japanese restaurant in Sweden at the time. There, he met Evelyn’s mother, raising her Swedish with Chinese characteristics, Indian culture, and Hong Kong manners and a way of life.
Evelyn was born in northeast Sweden speaking basic Hindi in her youth, taking after her “very Indian and proud” Chinese mother, and Swedish and English with a thick Indian accent.
Being ethnically Chinese, Evelyn’s childhood - and current adult life navigating her identity through comedy - was fraught with feelings of being othered in her home country. “The thing about Sweden,” the comedian told The Beat Asia, “is it’s really white!”
Her comedic material grew in London laugh factories and spaces into a form of “therapy” to tackle and explain, out loud, her convoluted intercultural background and intergenerational trauma as a Chinese-Swedish.
Evelyn belongs to a growing yet ethnically minority group of Swedes born in the country to two foreign-born parents – approximately 7% of the country's total population in 2020. “In London, I’m never aware of being Chinese; in Sweden, I am always aware,” she said.
“You do feel very othered. It’s much more palpable in Sweden and in the Nordics that you’re not white, that you’re an immigrant, and specifically Asian.” Evelyn said stereotypes about Asian people are rife in Sweden, a country where living as a female remains one of the safest in the world, according to the comedian’s life journeys.
“In Sweden, people [are under the] assumption that I don't speak Swedish, that in my teens I was adopted. The humanity [in Sweden] is still not part of the view. It’s still stereotypes and archetypes and very othering.”
“It’s very Swedish to [mock everyone]. The Swedish people see themselves as so woke and forward thinking that if I don’t make fun of this group, that I’m leaving them out.” Whilst it is great to live in Sweden as a female, she admitted, Sweden has not admittedly “looked themselves in the eye yet when it comes to institutional racism.”
Comedy has continually been a source of freedom for Evelyn to divulge her troubles, cultural tales, and made-for-therapy trauma on stage to spectators of part-time therapists, full-time audience members.
“I chose comedy because I felt I had something to say, but at the same time, I am too cowardly to have people take me seriously. I wanted more attention from my parents as a kid, because they were working constantly as an immigrant family, so the only way I thought I could get attention was to get out of stage.”
As a Hong Konger, Evelyn found it natural to follow the livelihood of her people ripping jokes and being funny. “Hong Kong people are just so funny, naturally.”
Her source of comedy, as she said, is seen as unpacking her Asian identity and coming to terms with her difference. “Growing up in Sweden, I always felt I needed to reject my Asian identity to be accepted.”
Her stand-up gigs have featured stories and messages from Evelyn on embracing her Chinese side, deciphering her Asian culture, exposing what womanhood has meant in her family, and “unpacking the intergenerational trauma that came with my childhood.”
“If you’re from a line of migrants, there’s bound to be stuff that wasn’t good and is passed down that you might not have been aware of.”
Evelyn has joked about her Chinese race taking over the U.K. for Comedy Central, chatted to BBC audiences about sex, vaginas, and Chinese relationships, and mocked her ancestors on her famed former podcast Rice to Meet You with mega-influencer Nigel Ng.
“I've always felt like I need to explain myself, regardless of what I say or who my audience is. I think ultimately it is because I've tried to find an explanation to myself about why I am the way I am.”
“Hong Kongers are very proud to be Hong Kongers. In Swedish society, people didn’t really understand. They didn’t think about [my background], because you’re different. Different in being different. That’s too many layers for people.”
Evelyn lays claim to inheriting the innate pride and being of a Hong Kong person, with its fusion of Western and Eastern, a cause of her identity.
With the island of migrants, as she refers to Hong Kong, “there exists a lot of pride in being able to go and something somewhere else and make a life for the following generations. It continued with my father leaving Hong Kong and coming [to Sweden] and me going to England trying to break into the scene.”
“[Being a Hong Konger] is in my blood. I just come from a line of people who just kept walking.”
Since her debut show, a one-woman special titled “Hymen Manoeuvre” filmed in 2017, Evelyn has looked to her Hong Kong-Chinese identity, framing her cultural background within how womanhood has been affected by her manifold cultures in her family, a significant theme in her comedy.
“I have continually looked at what womanhood is in my mother’s family and how generationally feminism has been expressed amid cultural impacts.” Identifying as a Hindi- Indian until the age of 10 with Chinese blood, Evelyn broaches comedy through the lens of how womanhood is seen with Indian and Chinese cultures, living in a country with forward-thinking feminist-focused policies.
Evelyn describes her brand of comedy as that of genuineness and honesty. “I am exploring the reality of the diaspora generation, what it means to be a third-culture kid. The themes I explore in my writing come from the perspective of an East Asian woman living in the West.”
“I've chosen comedy as the forum to which to share my worldview. I don’t like the stereotype of [comedy] being therapy on stage and talking to people, but in my case, it is very much so. Growing up as an East Asian person in the West, I was very confused. In large part, my career was to explore that confusion and try to make sense of it, and a lot of that happened in front of people.”
Speaking to The Beat Asia over a Zoom call in her pyjamas in Stockholm, Evelyn said she was going to eat some more yoghurt when asked about her future.
“I am acting a lot,” in reference to her two-man series on East Mode with Nigel Ng, “and taking stand-up again seriously in the hope of putting an hour of comedy together that feels true to me, resonating with other diaspora kids I am trying to reach.”
She seeks to write pieces in the future about her experience as a third-culture kid and intergenerational trauma, whilst working on sitcoms and shows dealing with this subject matter.
As we know of Evelyn, she will probably joke about her bad Indian accent and Chinese dad cooking great food.
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