You likely know Andrew Phung as Kimchee, Simu Liu's happy-go-lucky best friend on the wildly popular CBC sitcom Kim's Convenience. His role on the stereotype-shattering series, which premieres its fifth season on January 19, garnered him the award for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series at the Canadian Screen Awards last year. It’s an accolade he can add to his wins in 2017 and 2018, and stands as another well-deserved seal of approval in Canadian comedy.
Phung started his career in Calgary, Alberta, where he was born and raised, working a number of stand-up and improv shows in fresh Jordan kicks. Originally, he studied economics with a plan to build a career in gas and oil, but that all changed in 2012 when he decided to quit his job and purse comedy full-time.
Today, he’s not just known as Kimchee but as one of Calgary's most passionate sneakerheads. Here, he talks about how that happened, shares his favorite grails, and talks about the projects he’s currently working on.
When did you first get into sneakers?
When I was 19, 20 and started doing road trips and traveling with my friends, whenever I would go to a new city I would buy a pair of sneakers. This was during a time when releases weren’t online so you’d have to actually find that shop or boutique. That was the exciting part. You would go to a store you’d read about in a magazine and you might find a shoe. So I can tie a lot of my early shoes to a place. Whenever I go to a city now I still check out stores. I’ll plot a walking tour of sneaker shops so I can still carry that tradition.
In our initial email exchange you talked about your sneakers having a personal connection. Is that true for every pair?
I go for shoes that have a place in my heart. I have to really want them. It can’t just be another Jordan 1. I try to pick shoes that have silhouettes I really enjoy for a variety of reasons. I love Air Max and Flyknit Racers, because it’s such an easy shoe. I brought two pairs of Flyknit Racers to Toronto when I started Kim’s Convenience and I wore those every day, walking through the city and going to set. They hold a special place. If you don’t have an attachment to the shoe, I don’t think it’s an ideal way to collect.
"I love lacing up a pair of sneakers and crushing it on stage. The way Jordan put on this shoe to win a championship, I feel, in a much smaller way, I can crush it."
And, as your collection builds, it almost becomes this library of memories.
Yes. It’s a library of hustles, trades and deals. Some shoes, like a Jordan Red 11, will always take me back. That’s how I need to collect. If we aren’t connected to the things around us, we’re just hoarding.
Your character in Kim’s Convenience is into sneakers. How much of that performance is your genuine love for sneakers?
In Season 1, when I was making the show, the writers didn’t know who we were yet. As the season went on, the character evolved with what I added to it. But, at the end of Season 1, I was getting deliveries for sneakers sent to the studio. I would sit in the greenroom and open up the shoes, and writers would come in and ask what I’m doing. As we got to Season 2, I remember a writer coming in and asking what it means when something is deadstock, what a Yeezy was, or what I do to keep sneakers clean. Then I got the script and I was like, oh man. They’d done all this research on shoes.
They wrote it for you.
They definitely did. They saw the connection to me, and that it really works for the character. For actors, the characters we play are often reflections of various aspects of ourselves. They knew it would resonate.
You’re born and raised in Calgary. What’s the sneaker scene like there?
It’s small. Everyone knows each other. I organized the first four sneaker expos in Calgary, and I moderate the big sneaker group, YYCSOLEdiers. Me and two dudes organized the first four events, and the third and fourth events I did on my phone while doing Kim’s Convenience. It’s slowly growing more and more. It’s similar to the scene in Toronto or Vancouver, but smaller. It’s a very caring community and because of that, we’ve been able to repel resellers, people who come in just to resell shoes, really easily. Because we’re such a tight-knit group they don’t stand a chance.
What would you say are your top three sneakers?
This could be three sneakers or one sneaker, but the Nike Air Yeezy 2 pack, with the Red October, Solars, and Pure Platinums. They’re all grails in themselves but to have the pack is pretty incredible. I’m really proud of that. The first one I got was after I booked a movie called Little Italy. I booked that movie and said to my wife I’m going to buy something dumb. So I scouted out groups, found someone I could trust, did the legit checks and that was the first purchase. The second one was from a guy in a shoe group. The moderator did a raffle and I ended up buying 20 or 30 tickets and remember waking up at midnight to a load of messages, and he posted the video saying I won the shoe. The third was a Netmagnetism raffle. Whenever there’s a raffle I buy a couple of tickets and I finally hit this year, which was really exciting. The pack in itself is such a rarity. I try as much as I can to avoid paying resale, so I find ways of trading in for a shoe. This happened over time. You have to be patient.
The next would be the Cement 3 Free Throw Line, 2013 pair. I wasn’t into 3s for a while and then I think it was the bright Crimson 3s that came out, and I remember getting them on discount, wearing them and loving them. They were so easy to wear. I always thought visually they’d be too bulky but they were so comfortable and I started falling in love with 3s. Especially white 3s. They’re clean and simple. Whenever I do a lot of press for Kim’s Convenience, I’m often wearing white Jordan 3s.
After that, the 11 Playoffs Bred. I was doing a run of improv shows, and I love a Jordan 11 on stage for improv. I don’t know what it is but through my career of live comedy, I love lacing up a pair of sneakers and crushing it on stage. The way Jordan put on this shoe to win a championship, I feel, in a much smaller way, I can crush it. There’s something about the shoes that gets me out of my head and makes me more fluid.
Did you always want to work in comedy?
I always loved comedy, but you’re told you shouldn’t pursue that creative endeavour. I went to university for a degree in economics because I thought I was going to work in oil and gas. But after a few years in university I was doing comedy at night and was enjoying it so much that I did it more. In 2012 I quit my job to pursue a career in comedy. It grew over time and I had to get over the hump of realizing I could succeed in doing it.
What can we expect from the new season of Kim's Convenience?
We made the new season with so much love. The cast and crew stepped up to support one another, and I think it really shows in the work. The season is filled with so much heart, and lots of changes for these characters. For any show entering a fifth season, you start to see these people evolve and change. For my character, Kimchee, he has so many personal moments and we get to see the person below the comedy. We also get to see some big comedy! I'm really proud of this season. I know how much people love the show, and this season will hopefully be a bright spot in such a unique time for us all.
What's next for you?
The hustle and grind doesn't stop! I'm constantly working on new stuff. I've been writing, directing, jumping into other projects that come my way. Kim's Convenience has opened up so many doors for me and I'm so happy I have the opportunity to do my thing. But also, I'm trying to be really conscious about my personal life and role as a father. This unique time has forced me to step back and make sure I'm present for them. So, as my career grows, I strive to be the best father I can be.