S3 E1: Social Cohesion and Humour with guest Diana Nguyen

No laughing matter. The role of humour in creating a more cohesive society.

In the first podcast of Season 3, Anthea Hancocks, CEO of the Scanlon Foundation Research Institute, talks to comedian, actor, entrepreneur, writer, and proud Asian-Australian woman Diana Nguyen about the role humour has played in her life. Realising from a young age that comedy was her superpower, Diana, the daughter of Vietnamese Refugees, describes how her comedy style has evolved over time to integrate, grow and own her cultural heritage.

This insightful discussion considers how humour can be used in diverse ways to contribute to a more cohesive society. 

Key takeaways:

  1. Using humour to integrate – As a second-generation Vietnamese female growing up in the 1980s, Diana felt like she didn’t fit in at school. Understanding that people were generally attracted to others who were funny, she threw herself into being ‘the funny one’ to avoid getting bullied. She quickly discovered that comedy was her ‘superpower’ giving her a way to connect to others and providing a form of protection.
  2. Overcoming cultural stereotypes – As was common in refugee families, Diana’s mother had high expectations for her. It was instilled from an early age that she should keep her head down, study hard and seek a well-paid job. Working in comedy where you frequently ‘cross the line’ was not condoned by her mother, nor was it consistent with many Vietnamese customs. Overcoming these cultural stereotypes and showing that it’s ok to be seen and have a voice has been inspirational for the next generation of Asian-Australians. As the only female Vietnamese performer at the Melbourne Comedy festival, Diana has paved the way but there is more work to be done.
  3. The importance of storytelling – Diana has shown over her career that humour can be used to educate, break down barriers, bridge cultural gaps, bring joy, process trauma and create connections in the community. Storytelling is at the heart of Diana’s comedy helping people to better understand her history and where she has come from. In particular, Diana’s comedy explores her critical relationship with her mother. For a long time, Diana was ashamed of her heritage and became disconnected. Over a period of 15-20 years, she re-learned and re-discovered her culture, falling in love with it again. Today Diana identifies as Asian-Australian and is proud to own her story, using it to celebrate her heritage and encourage others to do the same.  
  4. Steps towards a more cohesive society – Diana’s honest and joyful approach to comedy creates positive emotions and establishes ties between people. In a sense, it breaks down social barriers. Diana describes her style of humour as ‘punching up’ which celebrates others and has people laughing together – not at one another. Diana is an advocate for giving back to society and she believes comedy enables her to do just that. As Anthea surmises, supporting the arts and comedy helps to demonstrate how much the skills and talents that everybody brings to Australia are valued. Giving people the opportunity to get involved and participate in life provides a stronger sense of belonging and contributes to a more cohesive society.

Diana describes the shift in Vietnamese people standing up and being heard across industries as a positive one over the years. However, there is still a gap in the Arts which she says is important to fill so the 3rd and 4th generations of Asian-Australians continue to be inspired and educated. Without comedic role models and a community supporting them, the visibility and influence of Asian-Australians on society are diminished.

Listen to our podcast here: https://ow.ly/aB4l50SyCR0

Watch our podcast here: https://ow.ly/wO1O50SyCR1 or click below!