We’ve all heard the one about the research that confirms people are more afraid of public speaking than death. True or not, that public speaking and death are even compared underscores the anxiety that builds in most of us at the prospect of standing up in front of people and telling a story.
This fear is said to stem from a primal level where it’s not so much a fear of being embarrassed or judged, but the greater fear of being rejected from our tribe and left to fend for ourselves.
Armed with that knowledge and some lived experience, why anyone would entertain the idea of getting up on stage and telling jokes is baffling. Provoking those fears and living down the possible rejection of a joke all alone on stage in front of others doesn’t seem like a laugh by any stretch.
The First Time
But Ho Chi Minh City-based comic and founder of Virgin Jokes, Diana Bailey, disagrees. She came up with the concept of Virgin Jokes as a platform for aspiring comics to try out their material for the first time on stage in front of a crowd in a friendly environment.
“It’s a show where everyone’s doing it for the first time, so nobody’s any better than anyone else and everyone feels comfortable doing something scary for the first time — and they can bring their friends.”
While Diana’s definition of what takes place at a Virgin Jokes show sounds suspiciously more like how one might feel at a swingers’ party for the first time, her partner and fellow comic Brian Armstrong agrees with her.
“It’s not really that big of a deal to do stand-up for the first time,” he says. “The great thing about Virgin Jokes is that you have the opportunity to do at least two or three minutes up there in front of your friends. If you suck, they’ll laugh at you. If you’re funny, great. You’re safe no matter what.”
Keeping the Day Job
One well-known success story on the local comedy circuit is 23-year-old Saigon native Uy Le. In his first year doing stand-up, Uy has already won the opportunity to tour with a professional in Cambodia after his performance in The Big V comedy competition last year, and he warmed up the audience for UK comic Stephen Carlin when he performed in Vietnam last November.
“Thanks to Virgin Jokes, I was able to try out my material and win second prize at Big V,” explains Uy, who is a graphic designer by day. “But before that, I didn’t know there was a comedy scene in Vietnam, so I just watched YouTube clips of comedians like Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey and George Carlin, who have really inspired me.”
Uy says that for a Vietnamese person toying with the idea of doing stand-up on the expat scene, being able to speak English fluently isn’t enough to get laughs. He says that you also need to understand that while humour knows no bounds, the type of content and the way it’s delivered does.
“I have to select jokes that are more universal, not something specific to a certain culture or belief. When I’m preparing for an English-speaking show, I have to make sure that I’m up with what’s happening in English-language speaking countries. I need to know who Woody Allen is, for example.”
Another comic hoping to take his craft further is Hanoi-based Mike Ellis from the UK. Mike echoes Uy’s tip on universality and tends to draw on his experiences of living in Vietnam to create a connection with his audiences.
“Comedy is all about a shared frame of reference. Vietnam is a funny place to live and people love to laugh at how ridiculous this place can be sometimes,” says Mike. “It’s difficult to come up with a shared frame of reference in a room full of English, Australians, Americans, and Canadians, but the one thing we all have in common is where we live.”
10 hot tips that won’t get you laughed off stage (hopefully)
1) Know your audience to draw from a shared frame of reference
2) Practice your routine out loud in front of a mirror
3) Study the cultures behind the English language
4) Perform in front of an audience as often as possible
5) Focus on being funny first, not controversial
6) Don’t be afraid of hecklers audiences hate them too
7) Aim for laughs every 20 seconds or more often
8) Write down things you say or hear that are funny immediately
9) Don’t use your friends to gauge how funny your jokes are
10) Have a go yourself
For Hanoi, contact Mike Ellis through Facebook or join the Facebook group, Stand-Up Hanoi and send them a message
To read about some ideas for personal change, click on the following links:
Get Into Stand-Up Comedy
Take Art Classes
Get Professional Help
Nutrition and Vietnamese Food
The Power of Habit
The following stories are about people who have made substantial personal change. For some inspiration, click on the following links:
Todd Gilmore, The Triathlete
Sophie Pham, The Introvert
Ha Minh, The Woman
Laura Sheehan, The Mentor
Robin Babu, The Fitness Dude
Sheereen Amran, The Pastry Chef
Mitch Brookman, The Hairdresser