Tonight at Malaman will be a free comedy show featuring mostly female comedians. One of them is Lune Dee, 23, a Vietnamese national and newbie to standup. This week, Brent Crane met up with Dee, who has only been in Phnom Penh for six months, to hear about what it’s like telling jokes to strangers in a foreign tongue in a new country.
Why did you come to Phnom Penh?
First I came here just to travel for a month. I came back because I like the people here and now I have a job. Before I was a cashier at a restaurant, but now I work at a Vietnamese call center.
Why did you start doing standup?
I started because I thought it looked fun. I didn’t know it before in Vietnam. There we have it too but it’s not really popular. My first time was at Sundance on Street 172. I was really, really nervous. When I got on stage I forgot everything. I was just standing there for what felt like five minutes but as soon as I spoke, it was cool. After that I just enjoyed it.
What’s it like doing standup in a second language?
It’s really hard, because I don’t really know what’s funny to you. Maybe it’s funny to you, but to me it’s not. It’s really different. But some of my friends help me. When I write jokes, they correct them for me.
What jokes work well here?
I’m half Vietnamese and half Cambodian. Mostly I do jokes about Vietnamese and Khmer people. In Vietnam, I didn’t know about the [animosity between] Vietnamese and Khmers. As soon as I got here, people told me: ‘Khmers don’t like Vietnamese.” Once when I got up to the stage a Khmer girl just laughed because of my accent. She said a Vietnamese accent is really funny to her. I was speaking English.
How does it feel on stage?
After the first joke it’s okay. Every time I’m nervous I just do the old jokes that I really know and after that I tell a new joke. Sometimes the audience you have here are all comedians so if you just tell old jokes they know them already. You gotta add new jokes, but you do it at the end. Sometimes I tell a new joke and I’m nervous and mess up. Once, instead of saying ‘Vietnamese wedding albums’, I said ‘Vietnamese albums’. Well ‘wedding’ is a really important word there. It destroyed my joke. Nobody understood it.
Can you tell us one of your jokes?
Here’s a joke about being an Asian girl: I’m still afraid to go to some Western bars here. The men look at me and ask, ‘What are you looking for?’ The women glare at me and tell their men to ignore me. So I think that if I date anyone here, I have to choose someone young and good-looking. Otherwise people might think I’m a prostitute.
Burne Dout Comedy #4 is on tonight at Malaman, #128A Street 19, from 8:30pm. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.