Joe Wong is Chinese, and came from Beijing to the U.S. as a student in 1994. He ultimately obtained a PhD in Molecular Biology from Rice University. In spite of this impressive accomplishment, he went into stand-up comedy, a decision I am sure thrilled his Chinese parents.
I have been a standup comedian since the fall of 1980. Back then, it was a novelty to be one. Hell, no one really understood what a standup comic was. And the only women hugely successful at that time were Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers. My how times have changed.
"I managed to pull it off, but there are thousands of other people that haven't, and that's the tragedy. You try to follow a dream and it gradually pales and then you wake up and the rent is due and you don't have the funds to pay it."
I had the great privilege of working with her some years ago, on the sitcom Titus, where she played my mom. In recent years, I was shocked and saddened to learn she was the victim of a theft: "Mom's been robbed!" was what I was feeling.
Diller's aim was true, and while her targets might seem to some to be dated (the overworked housewife, for example), they still resonate. The world hasn't changed enough yet. We will always need writers and performers and comics like the late Phyllis Diller.
You'll hear a lot in the next few days about how Phyllis Diller paved the way for women in comedy, but that's not how Phyllis saw herself. "There have always been funny ladies, Steve," she told me when I interviewed her a few years ago.