For the past seven years, The Queer Show (攣到爆) has moved numerous Hong Kong audiences, both gay and straight, to laughter and to tears. In this deeply conservative society, The Queer Show has offered a rare opportunity for the straight to laugh with, not at, gay men, while allowing the gay one of the few chances they get to see images of themselves on stage. Immensely popular and always sold out, the show’s fifth production will be performed this July in Hong Kong.
The Queer Show began in 2003, when Alvin Wong (黃智龍) and Joey Leung (梁祖堯) first started to collaborate. “Alvin hated stand up comedy,” says Joey. “He thought it was neither funny nor touching. To break this mode, we set out to create a solo-comedy about life as a gay man, with a plot and distinctive characters. The writing process went like this: I would give Alvin some ideas, and he would write them into a scene. It would be immediately rehearsed. Afterward Alvin would adjust the script, and we would repeat the process until it was perfect.”
The show was first performed in August 2004 and quickly achieved critical acclaim. In 2005, Joey won the award for best comedy actor at the 14th Hong Kong Drama Awards for his performance in show.
At the time, The Queer Show was the first main-stream drama to portray a gay leading character. It was not easy for Joey and Alvin to take the first step. “Some relatives and friends tried to talk me out of doing it, for fear that the publicity would hurt my mom”, Joey tells me.
”But when I talked to her, she was totally supportive. And after she saw it, she said it was her favourite of all my shows.”
Speaking of his experience with the mass media, Joey says: “I don’t mind identifying myself as a gay man, but on the other hand, I don’t want my sexual orientation to define my acting. One newspaper reporter put ‘Explosive: Joey Leung says he is gay’ as the headline of an article that was supposed to be about the show. I was really angry, because it hurt my mom.”
“It is important to maintain the distinction between the character and the actor,” Joey believes. And the actor is certainly different from his characters. Eating in the RTHK Canteen, where the interview takes place, Joey Leung is confident, personable and thoroughly ordinary – a long way from the bitchy starlet in flamingo-pink he portrays on stage.
The main plot of The Queer Show revolves around three stages of gay life – first, when gay men are susceptible to the heart-pounding, eye-wetting variety of gay love; second, the unrelenting pursuit of sexual adventure, then third, the emotional settlement that follows. The show is also interspersed with light-hearted portrayals of various gay and straight characters – for example, of the much loved starlet ‘Gay Michael’, and of the long suffering mothers of gay men.
“The script has not changed much over the years, because it was already well developed from the beginning. We have only updated the jokes a bit, to make use of current news. But that doesn’t mean that the show hasn’t changed. For one thing, I am now older and in a relationship with a different man (compared to how I was when the show first started). My acting of seven years ago was very different from now.”
The play aims to explore the love and sorrow of gay men in Hong Kong. Is comedy a suitable medium to handle such grave topics? “Why not?” said Joey.
“Entertainment and artistic quality are not mutually exclusive. I like the mixing of genres – in The Queer Show I try to balance the more serious and lighter elements. Also, comedy is a good way to prepare the audience for an emotional climax,” he adds.
Was it surprising, that a theatre play with a gay man as its main character would be so well received in Hong Kong?
“No, not at all. Although I appreciate it when people like my play, I do not forecast audience reaction. Also, I would like to think of the play as one about relationships in general, and at its core, about love. Audiences, whether straight or gay, find something they can relate to.”
Indeed Joey’s confidence is well founded. One month before its start, this year’s production is already sold out, and five additional performances are planned. “Alvin (the co-director) has very strong marketing sense, so I don’t have to worry about bringing in the audience,” says Joey. The Queer Show has been advertised on buses and in subway stations; such main-stream visibility is rare for a gay-related play.
How Joey got into acting
Joey’s entry to the theatrical world was entirely accidental. “When I finished my A-Levels, friends of my mom asked me if I would act in Torch Song Trilogy, as David, an adopted son of two gay men. I agreed, and people who saw me encouraged me to apply to the Academy for Performing Arts,” he explains.
“Then I failed my chemistry exam, and therefore could not study biology at the University of Hong Kong. In the meantime I was accepted to the APA, and there I began my career as an actor.”
“I played my first gay character while I was in school, in Bent, a play about two gay men who fall in love in a concentration camp, in the time of Nazi Germany. After I graduated, I acted as a freelance actor and drama instructor for a while. In 2003 I co-founded a company called Windmill Grass Theatre. Through my company I have acted in a variety of plays, including the Hong Kong version of the Broadway musical I Love You, You’re Perfect. Now Change! and the fairytale The Cat in Red Boots. I have also acted in some music videos as well as movies. These performances are all in very different styles, so when people ask me what my style is, I answer ‘my style is no style!’”
To Joey it is disorienting to play so many characters and have little time left for his own life. “Sometimes I have the feeling that my name escapes me. So it’s important that my life is grounded in love. Love is the only thing that is perfectly right in the world. And that is something I wanted to bring out with The Queer Show.”
Outside of theatre, Joey also loves cooking. He has co-written a cook book with his grandmother, and has even hosted a cooking programme on Cable TV.
On his future, Joey says he has no plans at all.
“If I continue to enjoy acting, I will act. When I stop enjoying it, then I will do something else. Maybe become a cook.” However, it is likely to be some time before people can enjoy Joey’s culinary creations. His theatre company has already planned a full-year’s work ahead.
“It is always difficult to find performance venues in Hong Kong, so we have to book one year ahead.” His next performance after The Queer Show will be in Taiwan. “It’s a dark comedy - three men get together for group sex and drug-taking. One of them dies of an overdose. The other two wake up and have to deal with the body of the third. Funny, crazy stuff.”
Given Joey’s distinguished record, this is likely to be yet one mmore step in a rapidly developing and successful climb to the top.
‘The Queer Show’ will be performed in Cantonese (without English subtitles due to cost concerns) at the Lyric Theatre at the Academy for Performing Arts, Hong Kong, from the 14th to 24th of July. For more information, visit wtheatre.org.hk (in Chinese).