By Karina Espinosa
What would you do if you were forced to drop everything and move back to your hometown? That’s what Antony Hall asked himself when he came up with his comedy, Ming’s Dynasty. A CBC webseries, the show is inspired by Hall’s experiences growing up in Coaldale, Alberta where his family owned a Chinese restaurant.
“That place was everything to me. It’s where I’d go to eat, where I’d go to do my homework, where I’d spend the majority of my time outside of school,” Hall says. “I always had this idea to make a show that reflects where I came from, and what it means to be a Chinese-Canadian person growing up in a small town in Alberta.”
Hall eventually moved to Toronto, where he met Calwyn Shurgold while taking classes at Second City. Their collaborative relationship flourished when a friend booked Shurgold to do stand-up for her comedy festival. Instead of a traditional set, Shurgold opted to perform a few songs as a character he created: rapper Whyte Wyne.
“I needed someone to cue the music up on my laptop, and Antony just happened to be there,” says Shurgold. “He started out as my DJ, and it was this Paul Schaefer-David Letterman sort of ordeal. But we only did a few shows like that before it became obvious that we were way better as a duo.”
It was at that point that Hall worked up the courage to pitch his idea of Ming’s Dynasty to Shurgold. “He’s the one that suggested we do the show with our onstage characters, Whyte Wyne and Riesling,” Hall says.
Ming’s Dynasty centres on the exploits of two aspiring rappers, Whyte Wyne (Calwyn) and Young Riesling (Antony), trying to make it big in Toronto. But when Antony learns his dad is sick, he and Calwyn decide to put their music career on hold to help Antony’s family run their restaurant back in Coaldale.
In the spirit of Canadian television shows like Trailer Park Boys and Letterkenny, Ming’s Dynasty explores the wonderfully weird side of life outside of big cities.The show aims to dispel stereotypes often associated with small towns, especially in the prairies.
“Alberta is often cast across this country as the ‘Texas of Canada.’ People think it’s all cowboys and oil, conservative and mean,” Hall says. “But that’s not my experience. I have friends who grew up in the same area as me, and they’re gentle, creative beings.”
Rather than country music, hip-hop and rap played a large role in his formative years. The local music scene is a prominent feature in the show. The soundtrack features songs by Calgary-based hip-hop duo, Cartel Madras, and in one noteworthy episode, Antony and Calwyn encounter Indigenous rapper, Nite Sun (featured on Page 15), in a heated cypher battle. It’s one of the many moments in the show that defy expectations, but it’s also indicative of a much larger cultural movement happening today.
“Canada feels like a teenager trying on many hats, and I think that’s kind of a beautiful place to be. At the same time, it’s important to address what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate in terms of cultural identity. I think using hip-hop as a vehicle to ask those questions reinforces that theme,” says Shurgold.
For Shurgold, the show is a reflection of a country whose identity is constantly in flux. But even as the narrative changes to include different storytellers, some sentiments remain. Hall has been living in Toronto for several years now, but he attributes his drive and passion to his Albertan roots.
“I’m fiercely proud to be from Alberta. I really wanted to show that it’s all about real people just chasing their dreams and trying to make it work.”
Ming’s Dynasty is now streaming on CBC Gem.CBC Gem