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Comic shifts in news

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Gary Eck impersonates a kangaroo caught in the headlights of an approaching vehicle. Photograph: Calvin Yang/Phnom Penh Post

A Canadian comedian due to perform at Pontoon last Monday had a panic attack at Singapore’s airport, which sparked erratic behaviour on his part that was interpreted by security guards there as a possible security threat.

Toronto native Christophe Davidson began doing Tai Chi movements to calm his anxiety as he neared immigration control at Changi International Airport with fellow comedian Gary Eck, the latter explained before taking the stage at the sixth edition of the monthly Comedy Club Cambodia on Monday.

Eck said the comedian’s panic had nothing to do with Phnom Penh’s reputation as a standoffish destination for comedians. After last month’s show, UK comedian Jen Brister quipped, “It’s like playing to a room of lesbians.” It was a joke that only a lesbian could get away with, at least in public. “They’re angry, easily offended and very, very intelligent,” she explained.

This week the audience finally lightened up. Emcee Evan Handed, a local comedian, began with jokes inspired by local news, especially the Post’s Police Blotter. Creative crimes, especially those committed with crossbows, are as delightful for comedians as they are for copyeditors (and audiences). Freak acts of nature, like a lightning strike on a penis, also work wonders in both comedy and what news has become. Perhaps a merger is approaching, with an increasing number of reporters becoming court jesters, entertaining and indulging the Lexus elite with ecstatic reports on cupcakes, while others hang on by speaking in code.

Eck performed twice to compensate for the AWOL Canadian. “I shouldn’t joke about it, but I will,” he said before explaining the scene that had unfolded in Singapore. At one point their were 15 armed guards surrounding Davidson, whose Canuck Tai Chi was a bit too jerky to pass for the real thing. When security finally realised they were dealing with standup in distress rather than al Qaeda he was advised to return to a hotel and calm down.

The panic attack was not contagious. Eck was composed and unperturbed on stage, connecting swiftly with the audience, perhaps because his humour was more cerebral than shocking, as well as interactive.

He seemed delighted to discover there was an NGO called the Asia Foundation. “Is that something you put on your face?” he asked one of its expat consultants, and as their conversation expanded Eck seemed to become genuinely fascinated with the entire sector. When he found out that the Asia Foundation employee wrote reports on governance projects, he asked who they were written for. When he discovered they were written in English for Cambodians he asked, “Do you give starving Cambodians the reports to eat?”

It was a fairly biting question, perhaps the most socially relevant at Comedy Club Cambodia so far, but Eck managed the exchange without making a single person squirm. On stage he was likeable, unthreatening and warm – so nice that it was impossible to take offence – but there were purposeful barbs beneath his neighbourly demeanour, and they linger, as they should.

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