Rewatching Dayo Wong in 2020 – Dark Humour in Times of Crisis

Picture of By Justin Yeung

By Justin Yeung

The other day while scrolling through the recommendation page of YouTube, thanks to the almighty YouTube algorithm, I stumbled across Dayo Wong’s previous live shows. Dayo Wong is a renowned stand-up comedian from Hong Kong, who performed for 28 years before stepping off the stage in 2018. Surprisingly, yet predictably, his dark humour is quite a handy way to deal with crises. Keep reading to find out why.

Dark Humour as a Coping Mechanism

In the years 2002 and 2003, SARS hit Asia like a tsunami, and Hong Kong was no exception. The epidemic cost a loss of 2.63% in GDP and the unemployment rate rose to a record high of 8,7% in Hong Kong. People were appalled.

2003 was in fact a depressing year for the locals – losing jobs, going bankrupt and seeing no future for themselves. Yet, the show was held right in the middle of the SARS epidemic, with a title mocking those who attempted to kill themselves: 「冇炭用」 (“No charcoal to burn”). Despite the fact that you might not know Cantonese, you can take a wild guess from this direct translation – either charcoal was sold out due to an uprising number of charcoal-burning suicide cases or people were too broke to buy charcoal at the time. This is, by all means, a vivid presentation of the “Gallows humour” notion illustrated by Conrad Knickerbocker – a dark joke made by a death row inmate who was going to be hung and asked, “Are you sure this thing is safe?”. 

Wong often tries to turn everything miserable and hopeless into a jest, his humour going beyond facetious remarks as he cleverly plants hidden messages that criticise society in his jokes. The misery behind mass suicide, the careless “85000” government housing policies and the ridiculous wealth gap were totally “irrelevant” in the eyes of Wong. Nonetheless, the supposedly “depressed” showgoers applauded and burst out laughing at his taboo-breaking jokes.

Pessimistic or Realistic Prophecy?

When you look at the comment sections under his videos (usually in Cantonese and Chinese), it is highly probable to see comments like this:

         “Definitely, Dayo Wong is a prophet!”

Or this:

         “Comedic, yet satirical and pessimistic. He could foresee the future.”

These statements could barely be criticized and rejected, but I would consider him a realist more than a pessimist. Much of the content Dayo Wong conveyed was deeply affected by his early life as a philosophy undergraduate at the University of Alberta, Canada. Arthur Schopenhauer, a renowned German philosopher of pessimism, is believably a huge influence on Wong especially when it comes to his pessimistic and determinist character. Though with the aforementioned causes, he adapted to the reality filled with disappointments and agonies with realist attempts.

「越大鑊越快樂」 (“The more trouble we have, the merrier we are”) was held in 2007 and was Wong’s 10th stand-up comedy show. The title, again, pretty much sums everything up. He blatantly castigates the complacent, egoistic and apathetic nature of humans by bringing up multiple examples. This one is my favourite:

         “The highest law of the universe is the law of ‘It is how it is’. We are not kids; We do not ask ‘why’. We, adults, do not care about what and why things happen, we apply it in everything we  do.”

Lamentably, we all know that it is a joke. However, it is ironically how we, as ‘adults’, deal with troubles. ‘Adults’ try to unsee things, we try to ignore what is going on around us, even if we have the ability to lend a helping hand.

I would interpret the title in two ways: The first is that we enjoy being in trouble; whereas the second is that we enjoy seeing others in trouble. Pretty twisted, isn’t it? We indifferently take everything as a joke so that we could be eluded from bearing responsibilities as jokes are nothing to be taken seriously.


2020 is mad, but the world has been crazy for a really long time.


The Crazy World We Are Living In

We have lost Chadwick Boseman in 2020, but we have also lost the equality between all races for a long time; We have lost Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2020, but we have also lost the justice in society for a long time; We have lost people in Belarus, the U.S., Hong Kong, Lebanon and pretty much all around the world, but we have also lost love and peace in humanity a long time ago. 

2020 is mad, but the world has been crazy for a really long time.

What Really Matters?

Is Wong really suggesting that we are masochistic? Or that we should take nothing seriously? Here I quote a line from Wong’s 2007 live show:

         “I received a figure of a coffin as a gift, my family was so terrified. Yet, I do not mind, maybe I can even use it as a piggy bank. People, there are only a limited number of things that really matter in our lives, we should not be too worried about things that are not important.”

Similarly, the ultimate dark joke of the 2003 live show was not being unable to end your life in the midst of burning charcoal, but rather the fact that eventually you still have to face your own hardships, because life always goes on.

We all know that troubles do not make us happier, but we could use our sanity to choose what troubles to care about and what to take as a joke.

There has been a lot going on in 2020, and 2021 might go on like this. At this moment, dark humour, perhaps, is the smallest thing we could do to comfort ourselves about how we only have a few months to go for the year to end.


Cover: Cherry Laithang

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