University Will Teach You How to Think, Not What to Think

By Jenny De Guia

Award-winning actor Andrew Phung, BA'06, reflects on how his UCalgary experience shaped his career in the world of improv comedy, and how he pays it forward for the next generation.

Long before he began playing the loveable Kimchee on CBC’s award-winning comedy, Kim’s Convenience, Andrew Phung, BA’06, was already a fixture in the Calgary theatre scene.

He mastered the art of improv through the Loose Moose Theatre Company, which he joined at 16 and where, when time permits, he still remains active. Off stage, however, his career trajectory has been anything like the unscripted, spontaneous comedic performances that’s been his claim to fame. 

For Phung, every step he’s taken to stardom has been carefully rooted in what he learned as a student at the University of Calgary.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t any lesson gleaned from a drama class, but in the basics of economics and business 101.

“I learned to see the connection between strategic thinking and intentional outcomes,” Phung says. “And as a result, my success as an actor and artist, prior to the work I'm doing now, was because I ran my acting career like a business. I always tell artists, it's not you just being an actor. You are an entrepreneur and acting is your business.”

Phung checked off all the requisite boxes to market himself—he had the business cards, the website and as he puts it, the ‘hustle’ to make things happen. But it wasn't until he took an entrepreneurship course that really changed his perspective on his creative work and one that he credits as greatly affecting his career.

It was in that UCalgary class where he was first introduced to the notion that the seemingly disparate worlds of art and business actually do go hand-in-hand. His class project was to run an improv show for students living in residence, with the goal to sell out a show every week. 

Naturally, it was a success.

You can’t look at a city and not recognize the institutions that make up that city. Even if you didn’t go to the University of Calgary, it doesn’t mean you aren’t affected by what happens there. The university builds communities and gives people the opportunity to better themselves and that should matter to all of us.

Andrew Phung

“I never considered it until that class, but understanding business and understanding the arts allows you to recognize who your target demographic is and critically think about what it is they want,” says Phung. “That changed how I sell and creatively develop shows, and it’s helped me every step of the way.”

When he isn’t filming, Phung volunteers as often as he can. A passionate, active citizen, he believes a community is only as strong as those who contribute to it. He recognizes the university for its role in guiding him to a place where he’s able to both lead and inspire.  

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