‘I can understand the criticism’: Michael Hing on The Project, stand-up and leaving Triple J

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Michael Hing’s comedy special, Long Live the Hing, recorded live during the Sydney Comedy Festival, covers a lot of ground. With his trademark apologetic goofiness, The Project co-host shares the indignity of sleeping with a mouthguard for grinding teeth, a dubious acupuncture session, the time he emceed a nudist wedding in the nude and his disaster-plagued proposal to lawyer and comedy writer Humyara Mahbub at the flooded Splendour in the Grass festival (she said yes). What he doesn’t much talk about is his Chinese heritage.

Michael Hing says he “can understand the criticism” people have of The Project, of which he is a regular co-host.

“There was a time, from about 1990 through to the early 2010s, when if you weren’t a straight white guy, you had to deliver your comedy in relation to how you weren’t a straight white guy,” Hing says. “There’s very little Chinese material in my special. There’s been an upswing of comedians who look and sound different to the old tropes, and the audience has changed. Fifteen years ago, the expectation was, you’d have to do two or three jokes at the top of every set, almost to reassure the audience that, ‘Hey, I know I’m Chinese, as well’.”

As he explained in his 2018 SBS documentary series exploring multicultural Australia, Where Are You Really From?, Hing is multi-generational Chinese-Australian. Last month, he married Mahbub, showrunner of ABC/Netflix comedy series Why Are You Like This, in a Chinese-Bengali ceremony on Sydney Harbour. Mahbub is a significant presence in Long Live the Hing, and not just through Hing’s intimate anecdotes about their relationship. Book-ending the broadcast are home videos of Mahbub reacting to the material.

“If I’ve written something that involves her, I will run it by her to make sure she’s OK with it,” says Hing. “Because you hear stories about people talking about their partners on stage and their partners getting pissed. And we’re a team. We write stuff together. She’s very much a part of the process, so it’s important for her to be part of the show.”

Since joining The Project in December, Hing has learnt he’s “not a very aggressive person”. He has clashed mildly with conservative commentator Steve Price over disgraced Melbourne restaurateur George Calombaris’ attempted comeback, but, “no one actually got mad at me or anything”. The highlight of the program for Hing so far has been interviewing Chris Pine from the Dungeons and Dragons movie Honour Among Thieves.

“After 10 years, everyone knows about The Project,” says Hing. “Some people think it’s this leftist communist propaganda show. Other people think it’s this racist, alt-right show. There’s been a real variety of panellists and guests and hosts, so I can understand the criticism that people have of it not agreeing with their values.

The Project’s line-up includes (clockwise from left) Sam Taunton, Michael Hing, Hamish Macdonald, Georgie Tunny, Waleed Aly and Sarah Harris.

“In my experience, it’s been the best. I mean, we joke about how the ABC has no money, but there are so many brilliant ideas at the ABC and there’s just no ability to execute them because of more than a decade of funding cuts. So the first thing I noticed at The Project is how incredible it is to never have to knock back a guest because you can’t afford to fly someone in.”

Alongside comedian Lewis Hobba, Hing is now touring Australia with Hobba and Hing’s Last Show Ever, marking the end of their Triple J Drive show after four years.

“It’s been incredible. You don’t realise how many people are listening,” he says.

“Radio is not like other mediums. People don’t sit down to listen to the radio any more – you’re in and out of their lives. They might hear you in the car or in a shop, or they might hear a snippet on social media.

“I notice, when I listen to radio, you become friends with the presenters. But when you’re presenting, it’s easy to forget that because you’re in a room with one other person, and someone’s on the text line, and it’s hard to put faces to that. The tour has been meaningful and genuinely very touching.”

Long Live The Hing comedy special air on Thursday, September 28, at 8.30pm on Ten.

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