The best way to avoid Asian typecasting is to produce your own show, says Springvale-born actor Diana Nguyen.
That said, her latest venture PhiL and Me — appearing at this month's Melbourne International Comedy Festival — is proudly based on a larger-than-life, identifiably Vietnamese family.
Nguyen vividly describes it as "pantomime on crack".
She says she's lucky to get roles on TV even if cast as "the token Asian".
"It's fantastic to get work but you get typecast as a prostitute or an Asian stereotype. I'd like roles for me as a doctor or just a human being. In reality I can play a white woman or any other role."
When in Toronto recently, she was struck by the range of nationalities on TV.
"Presenters and actors were not seen as Asian. They're just seen as Canadian. Here you don't see an Asian cooking roast beef on TV — even Po just cooks Asian cuisine."
This month's show is the third instalment of the Phi and Me family-friendly skits "with a few rude bits", created by Nguyen and long-time friend Fiona Chau.
The Phi and Me shows have built a cult following around the repartee between a high-voltage Vietnamese 'dragon mum' and her Australian-born teenage son. The previous two shows at the Melbourne comedy festival were sold out.
"We're known in the comic community in Melbourne but you want to engage more people," Nguyen says.
"We got about 3000 people at our shows in the past two years, but some comedians do 1000 in a room a night."
It's a big jump since Nguyen and Chau mucked around with their own skits as pupils at St Joseph's Primary School, Springvale. One of their first co-productions was fronting a Sister Act-like show in year 6.
Nguyen loves playing the mum character Kim Huong — "an adorable mix of wickedness and childishness" based on Nguyen and Chau's mothers.
In the upcoming show, Huong writes an instructional book on how to raise teenagers.
Her tips include tough love — using a broom, and no boyfriends or girlfriends until university — and revealing to the world Phi's deepest secrets. Then along comes white guy Phil — played by Nguyen and Chau's former drama teacher Steve McPhail.
■ PhiL and Me runs at The Upstairs Lounge, 240 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, on March 28-April 7. There's also a show at Clayton Theatrette on April 17.