Phnom Penh is in danger of acquiring a reputation as a bit of a challenge on the region’s emerging stand-up comedy circuit, which was apparent at the opening of the monthly Comedy Club Cambodia at Pontoon last Monday, when the seats at the front were empty and the audience crowded towards the rear.
It’s as though humour is something best to keep at a distance here.
Compère John Atherton had to go so far as to offer free drinks to entice people to inch a few rows forward so that he could insult them.
That may change now that a local stand-up has joined the line-up, and opened what could become a welcome respite for travelling comics desperate to connect with audiences here but lacking time to source local material.
Evan Handed portrayed one politician as a self-proclaimed madman selling off Cambodia piece by piece in a TV spot.
By the end, everything except the Mekong was gone.
The fire sale routine resonated slightly more than did the jokes about drugs and genitalia that comprised all but a few moments of Canadian Paul Myrehaug’s routine.
Myrehaug managed, however, to slip in one of the most memorable lines of the night: “sometimes comedy just writes itself.”
Malaysian stand up Rizal van Geyzel made his first appearance in Cambodia with a cheerful routine comparing the pickup lines of Americans to those of Malaysians, proving that cross-cultural confusion is a universal hit.
His debut also marks a jump for the regional circuit, which is now exporting performers.
Its organisers are eager to encourage the development of the stand-up scene here so that a Cambodian can one day make the leap from Phnom Penh to KL, though that may take some time.
After the show, the comedians loosened up around the bar – the conversation was far raunchier and less restrained than the lines delivered from the stage – and then headed off to Blue Chili for more drinks and possibilities.
British comic Jen Brister described her occupation as “more of a compulsion than a job.”
“In every aspect [comedians] are control freaks,” she said, adding that she also found comics to be “great company”, except for the ones she didn’t like. Dislike rises in ferocity when directed at a fellow comic, but so does affection.
What draws comics together is that they have stories to tell, she said, as she left a generous tip for the waiter.
The four stand ups and the emcee had found the audience “hard work”.
Maybe that’s why the unwinding afterwards kept bouncing back and forth between insight and dementia till it became impossible to believe that anything was inappropriate – in Cambodia.