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Comics talk courage and convictions

Stand-up comic Gina Yashere, who has appeared on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, is in Phnom Penh on a return trip and performing two shows this weekend. Photo supplied
Stand-up comic Gina Yashere, who has appeared on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, is in Phnom Penh on a return trip and performing two shows this weekend. Photo supplied

Comics talk courage and convictions

After performing at the Ecran Cinema in Kampot last night, elevator-engineer-turned-comic Gina Yashere and 84-year-old stand-up artist Lynn Ruth Miller will perform back-to-back shows tonight and on Saturday in Phnom Penh.

The Post caught the two over dinner and drinks to pick their minds about a life in comedy, and why they came to perform in the Kingdom.

“Smart remarks and a filthy mouth, that’s what we’ve got,” says Miller, who as an octogenarian standing tall at 4-foot-1 (not even 1.25 metres) notes that wit and humour are the only weapons she has to stand behind her convictions.

“Comedians have a very serious core . . . and we all have an axe to grind. Mine is feminism and ageism,” she says.

A former journalist who reviewed opera in San Francisco, the London-based performer says she has noticed many comedians were good, or at least decent, at their day jobs, but perhaps aspired to greatness.

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Comedian Lynn Ruth Miller, who will be performing shows in Phnom Penh tonight and Saturday night. Photo supplied

“It took me until I was 70 when somebody noticed,” she says. “The comedians that I know well . . . [are] not good at conventional, conformist occupations.”

For Miller, it was comedy, not two unsuccessful marriages, which brought her the feeling of being loved.

“It was my second gig and this young kid, he must have been 18, came with a ticket and asked ‘would you sign it?’ and I thought: he loves me!” she says.

“And I didn’t have to make him dinner. I didn’t have to change the sheets.”

While comedy audiences in the Kingdom tend to consist of foreigners, Miller hopes she’ll convey the message that “anything human should be discussed”.

“I don’t think anything human is dirty or bad,” she says.

Yashere, who has performed before in the Kingdom, and has recently produced TV specials and made an appearance on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, relishes the escape from the New York City winters and the chance to connect to a small audience.

“I got to mess around. I don’t just do the same set every time; I like to play around with the crowd and find out about people,” she says. “That’s why I’m back. I love the country, the people.”

Having toured Southeast Asia several times, Yashere notes a growing comedy scene, and while home-grown standup is virtually non-existent in Cambodia, where taboo subjects abound, she looks to countries such as Malaysia as an example that a local scene could be on the way.

“Malaysia is a Muslim country and they have a certain elements of that [repression and censorship] but there’s a burgeoning comedy scene,” she says.

“As the comedy gets better and they mix with artists like us, eventually they will get the courage to say, ‘Yeah, I’m a person and I’m going to get out what I need to say, regardless.’”

Gina Yashere and Lynn Ruth Miller will perform tonight at 3 Mangos Guesthouse and on Saturday at Box Office. For both, doors open at 7pm and the show kicks off at 8:30pm. Tickets are $10 for each show, or $8 if booked before the day of the show via email to [email protected].

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