When Dallas-based comedian Peng Dang finished his ten-minute set and sat down, facing the stage, he didn’t expect Tony Hinchcliffe to take the mic and call him a “filthy little fucking ch*nk.” Dang had just introduced Hinchliffe, known for his live comedy podcast Kill Tony and appearances on The Joe Rogan Experience, as the next act at a May 6 comedy event at the Vulcan Gas Company in Austin, Texas. Hinchcliffe went on to use an exaggerated Chinese accent to mockingly reference some of Dang’s material. After joking that Chinese people come to Austin because of the bats — tying into common anti-Asian rhetoric during COVID — he criticized audience members who were not smiling for believing that he was serious.
Dang, who is originally from China, said he stepped outside after the first two minutes of the set. Hinchcliffe did not approach him after the show or reach out to apologize. Several days later, Dang took to social media to share a clip he’d received from an audience member of Hinchcliffe using the racial slur and accent. Hinchcliffe has since reportedly lost his WME agent and been dropped from two scheduled shows with Rogan, while the video has garnered over a million views on Twitter. Vulture sat down with Dang to talk about the experience, anti-Asian racism, and comedy in Texas.
Can you walk me through the thought process that led you to decide to post the video?
Well, the comedian in me tells me to not do this. The comedian in me tells me that I’m supposed to be professional, that I’m supposed to protect freedom of speech. But I think this is crossing the line. I am, after all, an Asian, a Chinese person, way before I was a comedian. And especially during this climate when Asian Americans are under attack, that kind of rhetoric has been around for so long. It is part of my brand as a comedian to uplift my own community, to speak out against racism. I don’t deserve to do that kind of material onstage if I can’t be that person offstage. I think that’s what eventually pushed me to come out with that video.
Your caption didn’t have a very direct call to action. Why did you decide to just let the clip speak for itself?
I was trying to raise awareness. As far as content getting shared, from that perspective, I think it’s more effective if I just make a statement and say “This is what happened” instead of accusing or telling people to “cancel” someone. Also, I edited the video; I cut it down. This is the comedian part of me — because we post clips on social media, we get to learn what kind of videos would get more views or get viral. I think Reel videos tend to do better than regular Instagram videos, so I had to compress it down to 30 seconds. I was thinking from the social-media perspective.
Tony has since lost his WME agent, and a couple shows. How do you feel about that?
That wasn’t my intention, to try to cancel another comedian. I think I made a decision, and it has consequences. I am also going to continue to face the consequences from my own decision. Obviously, there’s going to be angry fans of Tony Hinchcliffe; they’re going to be attacking me on social media, and maybe other fellow comedians that are friends with him would also criticize me or not want to work with me in the future, which is understandable. I have to live with the consequences too, so I think that’s something he has to deal with. But I do not regret that I made the decision.
Do you feel like there are people online who have misunderstood you?
Yeah, I just didn’t want to reply to all of them. I didn’t reply to any of them, actually. But people digging up my older tweets found one I posted about opening up for Tony Hinchcliffe on a New Year’s Eve show [in Plano in 2019]. And they have this narrative that Tony was the guy who gave me the chance to work with him, and I had my career because of him, and now I am turning into a snake, attacking the person who gave me chances. And that’s just not true. I was on the roster, and the club owner booked me. Tony didn’t request me. Also, after that, we didn’t speak to each other. But with all that said, even if he was the guy who helped my career, that still doesn’t give him the right to say those things.
Has Tony or anyone from his team reached out to you since?
His friends have reached out to me. Some of them told me that they were really sorry for what happened to me, including Jeremiah [Watkins]. Jeremiah was [Kill Tony’s] former band player, and we’re good friends. I haven’t gotten any apology from Tony Hinchcliffe himself.
What would you want to hear from him?
I think it really doesn’t matter. I don’t expect an apology. Maybe he’ll do it, but I don’t expect that from him, because I think that’s part of his brand. He’s known as an insult comic. If he apologized, his fans will be upset. I won’t be any more upset if he doesn’t reach out to me. I don’t think I would want to run into him anytime soon. [Laughs.] I don’t like confrontation.
When did you start developing the Stop Asian Hate material that was part of your set, which Tony referenced with the accent?
Almost immediately after the shooting in Atlanta. The shooting happened on a Tuesday. Sunday night, I went to Dallas for the protest. And then the following Wednesday, I did that set and recorded it. I had a lot of frustration when it happened, so I just decided I want to talk about it.
Tony called the audience “race traitors” for laughing at your act. Some of your jokes — told to audiences that weren’t predominantly Asian — involve comparing Asian people with white people. Do you view that material as social commentary? What’s your goal?
I mean, I try to be funny first. I wasn’t there trying to be right, trying to be correct. I would poke fun at, talk about all the different ethnicities and races. But I would never be racist; I would never be vicious with my material. And I hope the audience, by watching me, can realize, Oh, there’s so much in common between our culture and your culture. Because people tend to think that Asian people have less of a sense of humor, or we’re very serious. I want to break that kind of stereotype. I want to connect with the audience, even though we have completely different cultural backgrounds.
In your set, you talk about noticing that businesses didn’t board up their windows at a protest against anti-Asian racism. You say, “You think I won’t do it? Fuck you Target, show some respect!” You’re getting at this view of Asians as safer, less likely to rock the boat. Do you see any parallel there with what happened with Tony?
Yeah, that’s interesting. I actually asked myself, Does he think I won’t do it? I feel like that’s kind of the case for a lot of incidents happening or that happened in this country: People think they can get away with way more when they attack or target Asian Americans. They think we won’t push back. It is so crazy, you know? I was just talking about Stop Asian Hate, and I myself was met with the type of racism that I was talking about. I think that’s real life putting me in a test to see how I would handle that situation.
Some of the reaction online has been along the lines of, “Well, of course this would happen in Texas.” As somebody who’s done comedy in Texas for almost four years, how do you feel about other people having this perception?
It depends on how you look at it. I definitely enjoy the freedom, or the less rigid political correctness. People are more open-minded to all kinds of humor, even if I play at a more conservative city in Texas. But if you’re using that as an excuse to spread hatred, thinking, This doesn’t fly in West Coast Hollywood because everybody’s so liberal, and I moved to Austin … This isn’t me talking about Hinchcliffe. I’m just talking about if a comedian thinks, Because the stereotype of Texas is that they are all racist down here, I go ahead and just feel emboldened to tell racist jokes, that’s not acceptable, that’s laziness for a comedian, and that’s not right. You should not take that freedom for granted.
I lived in Georgia, Alabama, and Texas. I think the South is not what the general public makes it out to be. Nobody has ever called me that word. In the 11 years I lived in the South, nobody has ever called me that. And all of a sudden, somebody from Hollywood called me that. It’s just crazy. That’s southern hospitality: They might not like you, but they still try to be nice to you.
You’ve previously described comedy as a great equalizer, that who you are doesn’t matter if you’re funny. After this experience, have your feelings on that changed at all?
I still love comedy. I still think it is a great equalizer. The audience loved me when I performed in Austin. They were there to watch some big names, not me, but they still loved me. So I think that’s good. Humor still works.
Well, you might argue that Tony and some people online did treat you differently, and weren’t necessarily just focusing on your humor.
Yeah. That definitely showed me a darker side of comedy as an industry. Most comedians, even if you’re really successful, you’re at best a C-level, B-level celebrity. So our fame is actually very, very limited. Our fame stays within the 200-yard radius of the comedy club. Only comedy die-hard fans and these aspiring comedians respect and idolize you. If you can’t be respectful to this very small group of people, then you do not deserve to be respected by these people. I think that’s the least you can do: Respect your fellow comedian. Doesn’t matter if you’re a bigger comedian — treat them well, treat them better. It made me rethink the fame and money in this industry, and how it changes people.
Have you talked to any family or friends in China about this? How did they react?
It was getting media attention in China, too. My parents called me because they saw, and they were worried for me. They’re like, “You have to protect yourself, be really careful, don’t go out by yourself,” that kind of thing. They were just worried for my safety. They said, “We don’t need you to be famous. We just want you to be safe.”
Are you worried about your safety?
Maybe a little bit, especially if I had to go to Austin right now. I’m not suspecting Tony Hinchcliffe would do anything to me, but his fans are angry. I saw one tweet saying, “Oh, he’s not going to have any meaningful performance in Austin anymore.” I don’t know if that was a threat, but that just made me worry that maybe I shouldn’t be in Austin anytime soon.
What do you want other people to take away from this experience?
A lot of people already pointed out, had it been an African American person to bring him up — doesn’t matter what kind of brand his humor is — he would never say the N-word openly. Because there’s consequences. So why’s there a double standard when it comes to Asian racial slurs? It should be off limits. I hope everybody sees that there’s real-world consequences when you do that kind of thing. I hope that it raises awareness and opens up eyes, so that people don’t deny that there’s racists against Asian people. It’s real. It’s happening.
What would you say to an Asian American who’s faced with a similar situation?
It’s tough, but sometimes you’ve got to stand up for yourself. You’ve got to push back. But also, do it in a smart way. Had I went up on the stage and confronted him, I would have got thrown out of the club, and maybe hurt physically by his bodyguard. And I would never get the recording. I chose not to do it physically, but fight him in a better way.
This interview has been edited and condensed.