5 Things You Don’t Know About … Stand-Up Comedians
Everyone knows that one person who is considered by their group of friends as ‘the funny one’. Every class has a clown and every village has an idiot. In the past 5 years, a few of these weird souls took to the stage with mic in hand and told some funny stories. Thus, the urban KL comedy scene was born. The stand-up comedy scene is relatively new and most people don’t really know what makes us stand-up comedians tick. Read on as we, the MACC (not that one, the other one: Malaysian Association of Chinese Comedians), gives you a scoop of the insides of we brains.
Photo credit – Dr. Jason Leong. LtoR – Douglas Lim, Dr. Jason Leong, Phoon Chi Ho, Kuah Jenhan @ MACC I Want To Touch a Douglas 2015
- We really, really, really hate it when people say , “Eh tell me a joke!”
If you ever ask a comic to “tell us a joke”, I guarantee you the only thing going through said comic’s mind is a wish that you die a violent death.
It’s like asking a surgeon, “Hey could you do liver transplant on me now? C’mon, I am sure you have done lots of operations? Go on then!”.
Anybody can tell a joke. Scour the Internet or pick up a book of jokes, memorize and recite. Stand-up comedy however, is both more complex and intimate.
Just like how a surgeon needs high tech equipment, a sterile environment and a properly prepared patient for surgery to be conducted, we comics too have a checklist of things we have to have before we can perform stand-up comedy.
Lights, stage, sound and an audience that’s ready for a complete stranger to entertain them.
This may seem like a lot of work. Well that’s nothing compared to how…
Photo credit – Dr. Jason Leong. MACC I Want To Touch a Douglas 2015
2. The preparation of a stand-up comedian’s ‘set’ is nervewracking
Singers, dancers and actors practice and rehearse months on end before their show is ready. We also practice and rehearse but the major difference is, we do so in front of a live (and sometimes paying) audience.
The unique aspect of stand-up comedy is that our auditions and rehearsals are the actual show themselves. An aspiring stand-up comedian must try, test and tweak his material in front of a live audience. No comic is 100% sure how his joke, gag or anecdote will go over with the audience. Never.
Thus when you see a comic not doing well at a gig, it could be that he is still in the process of ‘rehearsal’. He is still searching for that one phrase, a choice remark or a snappy line that can turn his 5 minute set from passable to pure comedy gold.
In stand-up comedy, the audience is judge, jury and executioner. That is the source of the pure terror we comedians feel when we go onstage.
That’s not even the hardest part of stand-up comedy yet. The most difficult aspect is….
- Writing our own jokes
A true stand-up comedian writes his/her own jokes. It sounds extremely simple and basic, but there you go. A comic can take up to 5 years to come up with a decent 20-minute set. And when the 20-minute set is done, guess what will the audience expect next? A new 20-minute set, damnit! Many great comics like Louis CK does a new one-hour show every year.
The journey of discovering new jokes and then putting them on paper and rehashing it so that it sounds natural onstage is a lonely one. Singers have songwriters, vocal coaches and producers when they release their new hit singles. Actors have directors, scripwriters and acting coaches to guide them when they are shooting.
Comics usually write on their own. We are our own director, our own acting coach and our own producer. Thus, when we get acclaim and applause for our performance, the adrenaline rush is amazing because we put in so much work. But it’s a double edged sword for when our jokes don’t work, as all the blame rests squarely on our lonely shoulders.
It is this responsibility that we knowingly bear, to create original content by ourselves that makes it an absolute no-no in our eyes to…
4. Steal other comedians’ jokes
For as long as there has been comedy, there have been people stealing jokes. It is a cardinal sin for so many reasons, first of which is that joke thieves are blatantly lying to their audience. The people watching a hack telling another comedian’s joke as if it was his absolutely believe and trust that the observations and anecdotes are original. The comics who do come up with original stuff just die a little inside when watching such joke-stealers because it is the cowardly and easy way out.
Secondly, it takes away the hard work done by the comic who did come up with the joke originally. Sadly, it’s absurdly hard to prove who came up with a joke first, and this problem will never go away but hopefully audiences become more savvy with stand-up comedy and eventually get to a point where joke thievery can be pointed out by the fans of comedy themselves, and not just by the comics.
It sounds like a comedian’s life is quite dreary but actually, ask any comic in the world what they think of their job and they’ll say…
5. It is the best job in the world
Making people laugh is the best thing in the world. The best. Even sex can’t compare. The adrenaline rush of a gig going well, the satisfaction of seeing months of hard work paying off, and to see people laughing and enjoying themselves, man, nothing else comes close.
The satisfaction is also a bit more poignant in Malaysia because our country is now at her most divisive. Those who presume to lead us have been trying their best to make us fight one another over issues that really don’t matter. And for us Malaysian stand-up comedians, when we see Malaysians from all walks of life laughing with each other and more importantly, laughing together, it is an absolutely beautiful thing.
Because for that 1-2 hours we spend at a comedy show laughing at that clown/idiot/funny person telling jokes onstage, we unconsciously remind ourselves of that universal and unavoidable truth :
Beyond our race and religion and other qualities which we distinguish ourselves with, we are all one and the same.
Photo credit – George Wong – LtoR – Dr. Jason Leong, Douglas Lim, Kuah Jenhan, Phoon Chi Ho
About Malaysian Association of Chinese Comedians (MACC)
MACC was founded by renowned local comedian, Douglas Lim, who recruited Kuah Jenhan, Phoon Chi Ho and Dr. Jason Leong along the way. The comedy quartet has been making Malaysians laugh at corporate events and their popular public shows since 2009.