Jami Gong: Founder and Producer of TOC
Jameson (”Jami”) Gong is a Chinese American, born and raised in New York City’s Chinatown. He is one of six children; one older brother and four sisters. His parents worked hard and gave them a lot of love. Jami graduated from Stuyvesant High School, and later Syracuse University. He has worked in retail for many years. Throughout Jami’s life, he always possessed the gift to make people laugh. He believes that laughter soothes the soul, and unites people of all ages, race, gender, and religion. When he was growing up, he watched Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show”. This show inspired him to become a future comedian.
His first try at comedy
happened on a dare when he was a sophomore at Syracuse University. There was a stand-up comedy contest on campus. His friends dared him to enter and he did. The night before the contest, he wrote some material, and memorized them as best he could. He expected only a few judges to view his act, but the whole room was filled with students, teachers, and other critics! He was so scared! However, it was too late to back out!!! Miraculously, Jami survived and was very proud of his first time on stage.
In his junior year, Jami entered the same contest. This time he did a better job, and realized comedy was his calling. Jami was determined to do even better for his senior year and entered the contest again. This time, he took Third out of 16 contestants and won a Pizza Hut dinner! After the show, his friends congratulated him and made many new fans that day! (see video below)
In 1999, he co-founded www.ChinatownNYC.com with his college friends Raymond Chin, Sunny Wong, and Eddie Shieh. Later he started doing historical walking tours of Chinatown as a licensed tour guide. His tours was featured in Gourmet Magazine and filmed for BBC International TV, PBS TV, Swiss TV, Italian TV, Taiwanese TV, WNYE-NY TV, NHK TV, The NBA and The Travel Channel.
After some soul searching, he decided retail was not his passion and decided making people laugh would be his full-time profession. His determination led him to perform all around the USA and he even made an appearance on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien”. In 1995, Jami was knighted by the country of Malta. Jami also had the honor of carrying The Olympic Torch in June 2004 and was the only Olympic Torchbearer profiled by The NY Times. In May 2005, he was the keynote speaker at Kodak and he has also spoken at The Toastmasters Club Hong Kong, The University of Arizona, The University of Utah, NYU, Smith College, Drexel University and Johns Hopkins University.
He also narrated the only walking tour CD of Chinatown, NYC. See www.soundwalk.com.
Jami’s vision was to revitalize NYC’s Chinatown and to raise the awareness of talented Asians to the world.
History of TakeOut Comedy
My maternal grandmother lived in Hong Kong, and was beloved by all of her family. For many years, she lived in an elderly home and was hospitalized for the last five years in Hong Kong. When we were growing up, she encouraged us in school and loved us very much. Occasionally through the years, we would visit her in Hong Kong. All of us looked forward to the trips to spend time with her. My mom was traveling back and forth from NYC to Hong Kong for the last five years to take care of my grandmother. On Wednesday, November 27th, 2002 my mother called the family to let us know that our grandmother’s health had taken a turn for the worse. She told us it was urgent for all of us to try to get to Hong Kong as soon as possible. I was in retail and at that time, it was the busiest shopping time of the year. However, that was not as important as being together with my family. Luckily, my bosses understood and granted me a leave of absence. My family decided that I would go first and evaluate her condition before they all would fly to Hong Kong.
I bought my plane ticket and flew out on Sunday, December 1st. About midway through the flight, I got an idea that I should do a comedy show in my own neighborhood and bring BACK entertainment to Chinatown. The nightlife and entertainment in the Chinatown area had disappeared a long time ago. The four theaters that were around in the 1980’s have turned into a mall, a Buddhist temple, and two office buildings. I wrote down all my ideas and my vision on a barf bag in front of me. (The barf bag is now hanging in our HK Club) I was excited about my ideas, and I couldn’t wait to share them with my grandmother and mother. When I landed in Hong Kong, my mother met me at the airport and told me that grandmother had gone to heaven during my flight. My heart was crushed, and I stood there numbed. I truly believe that when she passed away, she gave me this vision of bringing back entertainment and nightlife to Chinatown. All of my siblings subsequently came to Hong Kong for my grandmother’s funeral. I still miss her dearly and truly do believe she gave me this idea during my flight.
When I arrived back in New York City, I immediately started working on my plans for a series of comedy shows. After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Chinatown had been going through continued hard times. The recovery efforts impacted access to the area, and therefore the local businesses. The situation worsened with the “Park Row issue” and access to parking, and later the false SARS rumors scare.
I wanted to do something positive to help out the community. I met with my friends Chun Wong, Emily Eng, and Josh Kaufman to discuss different concepts for shows. We came up with “TakeOut Comedy”. I was determined to fulfill the vision my grandmother gave me and sent out mass emails for performers. The response was overwhelming. People loved the idea of helping out Chinatown by bringing back entertainment to the area.
Next, I needed a venue in Chinatown.I pitched my vision to Mei Chan, the owner of Asia Roma. She supported me and gave me a night. Thank you Mei! The first TakeOut Comedy show started with two performances on February 6th, 2003. Both shows were completely sold out! Afterwards, we asked for audience feedback and received positive and encouraging feedback.
Later on, I heard my college friend, Alan Tong, was opening a new bar/lounge with friends called YELLO. The place was a bigger venue and the next TakeOut Comedy was held at YELLO on April 3rd, 2003. Seating capacity was about 90 people, and the place was packed again. It was awesome! We did many soldout shows afterwards!
Then I decided to introduce standup comedy to Hong Kong. After 2 years of research and 9 trips to Hong Kong from 2005-06, I decided it was a good risk to open a Comedy Club in HK and to discover local talent!
Opened since Feb 2007, The TakeOut Comedy Club HK, The FIRST Fulltime Comedy Club in Asia, continues to bring more laughter here as we are hitting an untapped market and creating a whole new comedy market from scratch. We have weekly English/Chinese standup comedy shows, Improv shows with The Peoples Liberation Improv, and we fly in professional American comedians occasionally. Now with regular shows in Shenzhen/Shanghai, China, Singapore and Macau, we are discovering new talent and bringing much laughter to Asia! COME LAUGH WITH US!