Has Phnom Penh’s nascent comedy scene done its dash?
During the week, Pontoon played host to the fourth Comedy Club Cambodia night since its inception last December, with a trio of performers entertaining a crowd of 120 – about half the size of January’s audience.
Logistical difficulties are hampering organisers’ efforts to build a comedy night in Phnom Penh as a sustainable expat event. Run as part of a wider Comedy Club Asia tour, the schedule means that performers only spend 24 hours in Cambodia at the beginning of the week, in between multiple performances around the more established comedy circuits of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
The whistle-stop visit to Cambodia by visiting comedians naturally doesn’t lend itself to developing local material, notwithstanding Zoe Lyons’ joke last month about Cambodians being pioneers of road safety through their use of twin airbags on motorbikes – one child behind the driver and another in front.
While the $10 and complimentary Tiger Beer ticket price may be steep for some punters, the event is half the price of its regional counterparts in KL, Singapore and Jakarta and has not deterred crowds at previous comedy nights.
Performing on a Monday seems to take its toll on attendance. With doors opening at seven, performances didn’t get underway until close to half past eight, with some of the attended slinking off in the intermission before UK balladeer Earl Okin’s closing performance.
Dan Riley, one of Comedy Club Cambodia’s organisers, says he is considering some changes to the event’s format to make it more sustainable. Foremost among these is setting up similar evenings in Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap, which would give performers more time to take in the region rather than frenetically rushing between airports in their downtime. Riley also hopes to engage more regional performers, particularly from the burgeoning scene in Singapore.
“We’re looking to fine-tune our current format, make it more appealing to this particular audience,” Riley says. “We kind of jumped the shark a bit in what we’ve been able to arrange. Nearly every show we’ve had three acts coming over, and maybe a format like in Indonesia with a reduced ticket price and only two acts and an MC would be more suitable.”
Riley added that sponsors, attendees and especially participating comedians have been positive about Comedy Club, and he was planning a big name for the May event, who has tentatively reduced a large appearance fee to travel to Phnom Penh from the US.
One can only hope that Riley succeeds, given the lack of live comedy alternatives available to expats here. The market for local comedy nights has already been demonstrated by Comedy Club, and Monday night was a reaffirmation of its importance, even if attendance was lower than previous months. Audiences laughed at Tommy Dean’s absurd rendering of his dad’s fixation with handguns, and as Ron Josol lamented the tribulations of a second-generation westerner trying to please perennially unsatisfied Filipino parents.
Observational humour relies on recognition, and for the crowd, these demented little vignettes from their homelands were a trigger for a nostalgia greater in potency than what a phone call from mother or a casual stalk of loved ones on Facebook could provide. But most of all, they affirmed why these people left home to seek adventure in the first place.