Franco Nguyen

A talented comedian brings Vietnamese culture to the theatre

Good Morning, Viet Mom performed at Cahoots Theatre Production that ran from February to March was one of the remarkable shows that touched audiences with its meaningful messages. The title is a fun spin on Good Morning, Vietnam, starring Robin Williams. Written by Franco Nguyen, a Vietnamese-Canadian comedian from Toronto, the show is about his relationship with his mother. “It was a mix of comedy and drama. I would say the show is more dramatic than comedic” he explains. Nguyen is now working on a TV series for CBC called Tallboyz, which airs in the fall.

Instagram & Twitter: @francowins
What made Good Morning, Viet Mom so successful?

It’s a very personal show. There is footage from my real life, where I got a chance to visit Vietnam for the first time seeing my mother meeting her mom after 28 years. I think it is really impactful, because a lot of people, especially the first generation’s children don’t really have deep, profound conversations, for examples understanding family ancestral roots and what their parent were like growing up. Language becomes a barrier in our connection.

Growing up, my Vietnamese got worse, so I don’t have good conversations with my mom and I don’t know too much about her. What I learned about her was through the writing the show and my experiences going back to Vietnam for the first time. I think a lot of people growing up rarely talk to their parents. That is probably something we don’t have time to meditate on. The show connects with a lot of people since the memory of displacement is very profound and hard to talk about because you have to do other things on a daily basis.

Good Morning, Viet Mom makes you feel like those experiences are real. Those stories are important and your stories are important too.

What message did you try to convey to the audience about cultural diaspora and your identity as a Vietnamese Canadian?

There are multiple ways we can communicate our feelings. Communication occurs through actions and gifts, for example. Growing up from the second generation, English comes up in other challenges. We have to find ways to express how we really feel to our parents. It is normal and very common. I was trying to express these feelings that I had. As a result, people connect to it.

How are Vietnamese and Canadian cultures harmonized within you?

My personality is kind, calm, stoic, sometimes apologetic. That is what people know about Canadians, they are very apologetic. It’s also about peacefulness and simplicity. That’s where the harmony happens. I was never someone who was ravenous or superficial. I love to do things that make me happy.

I do not want to simplify the two cultures. Vietnam is very diverse, too. If you live in Saigon, your outlook might be different from someone who lives in Hanoi. On the other hand, someone living in Saigon might have the same experience as someone living in downtown Toronto. Or, people in Can Tho might have similar experiences with people in Barrie, Ont. We all have similarities. We all have an inherent goodness in us.

The acting profession is not seen as an ideal choice, especially in a Vietnamese family. What made you decide to pursue this profession?

There are a lot of challenges with acting. I think the worry is that you won’t make money. When I started, I never made any money. I’m only starting to now. What has driven me to perform is to share my voice with other people, as corny as it sounds. There are definitely a lot of struggles but that is why it is fun.

When you rise to the occasion and overcome some of these challenges, it is honestly worth it. I used to do standup shows with four people in the audience. I would wonder why am I doing this? When I was working a sales job, that was probably the most money I ever made. However, I was not happy. You only have one life to live. Is your happiness worth $90,000 a year? For some people, maybe.

Money can give you freedom and access, but it can be a trap.  Life is short. It is more about doing what makes you happy or gives you purpose.

What built up your confidence to speak in front of audiences?

A lot of preparation. I still get nervous, especially when doing a new skit.

People can sense that you are nervous, yet they might like you so much and want to see you succeed so that helps overcome nervousness.

One person told me that people were funny when they felt really comfortable. We mostly laugh with our close friends. I have never laughed as hard as I laugh with my friends. Comedians act confident so they give that illusion. Then, when the audience feels comfortable, they will laugh more. I’m still very nervous and awkward but I’m not as bad as five years ago.

So what do you do to overcome nervousness?

Go through my words, figure out my lines and what I need to work on. Also, drink water. One of my impromptu teachers told us to take it as a Buddha saying, “Where you are is where you supposed to be.” That was when he saw me and my colleagues being too nervous before a show. You can’t control any of that. Enjoy the moment. It might be really bad yet it could be really good.

For example, when you are present, you can comment on things that are happening instead of being stuck on the script or lines that blocked in your head.

What advice can you give an aspiring Vietnamese Canadian who is interested in pursuing in a career in acting?

I think one benefit of doing standup is that after doing it a lot, you start to find your voice. If you keep trying and stick to the present, opportunities will come. My advice is to start as soon as possible and try your best every time. Try to improve a little bit by little bit. Rejection and failure are part of the process. Do not let that discourage you. Let failure give you insight and learn from that.  You only lose if you don’t learn from the lesson.

By Christine Le

This content is also available in: Tiếng Việt

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