Creators that inspire: Meet Andrew Phung
Andrew Phung captured our attention portraying the single, hip-hop loving Kimchee in the beloved CBC comedy Kim’s Convenience. He earned five Canadian Screen Awards during the series’ run, and it was while shooting the fourth season that he got the idea for another TV show.
“I started wondering what would happen if a character like Kimchee had kids,” says Phung on the line from Toronto where he makes his home with wife Tamara and his two sons.
“With a lot of storytelling now we hear about the immigrant experience, but when I look around my community, I see a lot of diverse families that are not living the immigrant experience—they are the next generation and I felt like that was a gap in the storytelling that I wanted to showcase.”
This concept serves as the basis for Run the Burbs, the 30-minute sitcom co-created, co-written, and produced by Phung. He stars as Andrew Pham, a stay-at-home dad looking after his teenage daughter Khia (Zoriah Wong) and young son Leo (Roman Pesino) while his wife Camille (Rakhee Morzaria) works in an office but dreams of running her own business.
To bring the right mix of comedy, Phung drew on a handful of other TV sitcoms.
“We did use Kim’s Convenience as an example,” explains Phung. “What Kim’s did really well was make the family relatable, so we looked at that. And we looked at Parks and Rec for the way they did the quirkiness of neighbours, and I used elements of Ted Lasso for Andrew’s positivity and how he believes so much in the suburbs.”
To get the show up and running, Phung turned to the Canada Media Fund for financial support. But what Phung says was more important than funding was the platform the CMF provides in highlighting a diverse Canada.
“So many people from diverse communities and underrepresented voices spend their day trying to justify to the larger community why they exist and why their stories are valued,” says Phung, who was born and raised in Calgary. “So that’s where the Canada Media Fund plays a role in equalizing those opportunities. I love looking at the projects coming out of this country right now and being blown away at how many stories this country is able to tell coast to coast to coast.”
“For the Canada Media Fund to elevate stories, to get them on a larger scale, is to me the ultimate goal.”
The first season of Run the Burbs drew positive attention from viewers who saw themselves onscreen.
“After the first few episodes, there were a lot of comments like, ‘Seeing a family like this on TV, just living their life is so refreshing, so exciting, we are this family,’” remembers Phung.
“And then on the other end there was this one person who wrote, ‘Oh this family doesn’t seem very Asian, they aren’t doing Asian things, they are so Eurocentric.’ I wanted to say I don’t think you understand that for so many families of colour who live in Canada, their day is very Canadian. I don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘Oh man, I am so Vietnamese.’ I wake up and say, ‘Oh, need to get the kids ready for school, I need to go grocery shopping, I have a meeting this afternoon.’”
“In theory, none of those are Asian activities, but they are activities all Asians in Canada will do. For me it was normalizing families of colour, living their best lives in the suburbs.”
The second season of Run the Burbs is set to air in 2023, and Phung can’t wait to expand the family’s onscreen experiences.
“We’ve established this neighbourhood, these characters, and most importantly, this family is a year older,” says Phung. “Zoriah Wong, who plays my daughter Khia, was 14 turning 15 when we cast her. Now she is 15 turning 16. Being a 16-year-old kid and wanting out of the suburbs is the most suburb thing possible,” he says with a laugh. “We are seeing the family’s life change and we are seeing their aspirations for a better life.”