Perhaps nothing says rap star less than a Chinese restaurant in Coaldale, Alta., which is what makes the premise behind Ming's Dynasty, a new comedy series from CBC, seem pretty promising.
That's the setting of the new show, which debuted June 21 on CBC Gem. It tells the story of Whyte Wine (Calwyn Shurgold) and Young Riesling (Anthony Hall), a couple of aspiring Toronto rappers, who find themselves relocated to Coaldale after Riesling is forced to put his musical dreams on hold in order to manage the Ming Ho Garden.
Art imitates life in the case of Hall, whose childhood experiences inspired the idea behind the show.
"It's no longer in my family now, but I grew up there and I worked there and I really want to tell a story that shows the restaurant," Hall said, in interview with the Homestretch Monday.
"Ming's is our opportunity to lift up a new voice in Canadian comedy that hasn't been heard before," said Executive Producer Michael Peterson, in a release.
"It runs the gamut, from hip-hop, to family, to small town life, Chinese restaurants, hockey and diversity — all showcased through one of Canada's foremost cultural strengths: being funny."
What Hall remembers is that the family's life centred around the restaurant kitchen.
"I remember spending a lot of time in the kitchen making won ton, doing my homework on bags of rice and watching my dad work really, really hard," Hall said.
Shurgood and Hall met not through rap, but rather through comedy, at Second City in Toronto.
"I had this character, Whyte Wine, that I'd been doing in my stand up and I was booked to do a show," Shurgold said.
"I was in desperate need of someone to play the music through the laptop and Anthony was there and volunteered to do so and afterwards he's like hey, if you ever need me to do that again, I'd be happy to."
"We started out with me being the front man and Anthony being in the booth — kind of like a Paul Schaefer [David] Letterman arrangement — but then we did a couple of shows like that and we realized it was way better if we were both front row centre as a duo — a wine pairing if you will," he added.
As far as rap part of the act goes, Shurgold brings the rhymes while Hall brings the comedy.
"It is a perfect pairing in the way that Calwyn can carry some of the more lyrically verbose verses and I come into it — just energy and really funny jokes about it and how much rapping is actually in the show," Hall said.
Shurgold, though, said Hall was underselling his rapping ability.
"Anthony's not giving himself enough credit. He spits hot fire. He's just got that humble vibe," Shurgold said.
Shot in Alberta
The series was shot in Calgary, Longview, and Coaldale — and while it wasn't actually shot in the family restaurant (which they no longer own), the duo did stop by one day.
"We did one day in Coaldale and it was amazing to be able to go back home," Hall said. "It was just really awesome to see where I grew up again and to see how it changed."
That included Ming Ho Garden, the real life Ming's Dynasty.
"We did go to the restaurant. I was a little bit nervous to go in," Hall said, "because I didn't really know anybody who worked there anymore, but we got a chance to see it and we took a quick picture in front of it."
"It was kind of an art imitates life situation," Shurgold added.
As far as rap scenes go, Hall said there wasn't much happening in Coaldale, but he said Calgary has something going on, rap-wise.
"We can say Calgary is straight flames," Shurgold said. "You guys are killing it. You've got Cartel Madras putting Cowtown on the map right now. Amazing."
And if there's a comparable beyond pop cultural reference points like Flight of the Conchords and Trailer Park Boys, it's not a show.
It's a recipe.
"To me, Ming's Dynasty is like ginger beef," Hall said. "It's influenced by Chinese culture, uniquely Canadian and proudly Albertan in its innovation and unapologetic attitude."
With files from The Homestretch