Since settling in Hanoi 20 years ago, Dan Dockery has been prolific in bringing performers to the stage. From international musicians and DJs as a member of CAMA, to magicians and comics who performed House of Son Tinh, CAMA ATK and now Standing Bar. Here is a man who’s been nurturing Hanoi’s live entertainment two decades.
However, although he’s been bringing in comedians from overseas since 2011 — the first headliner was Roger Rooney — Dan only started backing the comedy scene two years ago when he made the decision to brand his comedy nights under Stand-Up Hanoi.
Supporting the Local Scene
Since the formation of Hanoi’s premier comedy promoting vehicle, Dan has been busy booking international comedians to perform in the city, as well as helping amateurs based in Hanoi to get stage time.
The bottom line is that he respects the comedy as an art, which is what comedians want in a promoter.
“I’d never talk anyone down who’s been on stage,” says Dan. “It’s not something I’d do.”
Dockery’s ambition for the future of comedy in Hanoi is to bring more Vietnamese into the circuit, both as audience members and performers.
“For comedy to develop in Vietnam it’s essential to harness the local community,” says Dan. “It was great to see one of the Vietnamese comedians [at the Hanoi heats of the Vietnam Amateur Comedy Competition] in the top three.”
Plans for the Future
Dan and the team at Stand-Up Hanoi have earnt the respect of the comedians in Hanoi for their efforts in supporting the scene, but in his own eyes, there’s still a way to go yet.
“Everyone who comes to one of these shows wants to come back,” says Dan. “A few drinks with your mates and a good craic, what’s not to love? The biggest problem is getting people to come down for the first time.” — Billy Gray
For info, visit the Stand-Up Hanoi Facebook page. Stand-Up Hanoi will host the finals of the Vietnam Amateur Comedy Competition on Friday, Mar. 9 at Standing Bar. The competition is sponsored by Heart of Darkness.
PHOTO BY BAO ZOAN
Comedian / Promoter
In a brief sentence, American comic Keith Howard describes himself as a contrarian who likes to cook, especially Texan-style ribs. It’s somewhat a surprising choice given that he’s been doing stand-up since 2014, making the 35-year old a veteran on Saigon’s emerging comedy scene.
“I started doing stand-up in Brisbane because the only thing that’s free to do there is open-mic at places like the Paddo Tavern, Stone’s Corner and Logan, but it was horrible,” he recalls of his time as a university student short on cash. “The first time I ever hosted was my 10th gig and it was in Logan where an Australian farm ‘lady’ threw her muddy boot at my head. This was five minutes into the show. There was another hour and a half to go.”
While having a muddy boot tossed at him remains the most extreme an audience member has gone to express their sentiment at one of Keith’s shows, he is well-accustomed to being heckled while performing.
“I always get heckled, everywhere. My humour bothers people, not because it’s rude, but because it’s odd.”
On the Podium
Despite his claim, however, Keith recently enjoyed a heckle-free night at Saigon International Comedy’s amateur comedy competition at Heart of Darkness when he came runner-up from a roster of 12 comics in front of a packed house. His brief five-minute routine had the hallmarks of a seasoned campaigner, drawing laughs at regular intervals and eventually turning out to be one of the highlight performances of the night.
“I like the crowds here, they’re fun and you can get away with anything here, unlike in America where you can’t get away with anything any more. When you say you can’t do this or you can’t do that, it tends to kill the originality of it and people just end up doing Trump jokes again, and again, and again.” — Matt Cowan
Keith Howard runs the monthly Johama Comedy Night (Johama Bar, 341 Cao Dat, Q5, HCMC). His next show will be in March and will be headlined by Mary Bourke and Simon Clayton. For more info, follow Keithy Howard on Facebook.
PHOTO BY BAO ZOAN
Comedian / Promoter
Of all the comics that have passed through Ho Chi Minh City in the last couple of years that American comic and artist Adam Palmeter has MCd for, three names stand out.
“Phil Nichol, John Robertson and Gina Yashere,” he says. “Phil was on 1,000% for his entire set. He has charisma that’s so natural, he could’ve sold a car to everyone in that crowd. John Robertson’s Dark Room show was an incredibly successful blend of crowd interaction, character development and comedy all infused with technology. His dedication to his vision and performance are top-notch and I had a chance backstage to discuss it with him as he prepared. And Gina is one of the coolest comics working. It’s something special to see someone who seemingly doesn’t have to try. That’s when you are in the presence of something great.”
From Korea With Love
It all started for Adam in Seoul in 2011 where he began hosting shows and doing comedy, but it wasn’t until he started producing shows in New York City that it became a regular gig.
“After moving to Saigon, I started booking shows so more comedians could get consistent stage time to improve, including myself,” he says. “I kind of forced hosting everything on myself. Surprisingly, it’s been fairly tame in my experience. When I’m hosting, I personally don’t mind hecklers to a point. Most of the time I can do something funny off it, but when someone keeps chiming in on every joke, I want to hit them with a chair.”
During his time here, Adam has had a front-row seat watching the development of local comics like 19-year-old Phuc Nguyen, who speaks like he’s from Missouri, but has never left Vietnam.
“I’d keep my eyes peeled for him,” says Adam. “I think as locals go, his English skills and grasp of Western comedy is just about the best and his writing is consistently getting better.”— Matt Cowan
Adam is shortly leaving Vietnam, but you can keep track of Adam as he embarks on his trip across Europe by clicking on adampalmeter.com.
PHOTO BY OLGA ROZENBAJGIER
Comedian / Promoter
American comedian Ben Betterby first took to the Ho Chi Minh City stage in 2012. Since then, despite other promoters and comedians trying to take up the comedic mantle, the person who is here all these years later is Ben. In the process he has single-handedly had the most influence on the amateur comedy scene in Saigon.
“A friend, Dan Murray, and I came here in 2012 and saw that there weren’t any comedy shows,” he recalls. “We started putting them on under the name of Stand-Up Saigon. He left two years later, and I began running workshops to find other people who were interested in performing.”
Working the Audience
The focus on the workshops has paid off — in particular in terms of audience numbers.
“Our first 10 shows had less than 10 people,” says James. Now under the moniker of Comedy Saigon, his regular shows at Pingoling draw in crowds of 100.
The workshops have also helped create a growing quorum of Vietnam-based, amateur comedians.
“[The workshops] help people discover their own voice in the art form of stand-up comedy,” explains Ben, who works in the ELT profession during the day. “They are set up in a ‘zero to hero’ style that introduces participants to the basics of stand-up and prepares them for their first performance.”
Over the past year the workshops have encouraged participations by Vietnamese. It’s a strategy that’s paid off. Two of the top three comics in this year’s Saigon heats of the Vietnam Amateur Comedy Competition were local.
Despite his foray into the world of comedy workshops, Ben still has a passion for being on stage.
“I love having the opportunity to be in a room full of strangers, all laughing at the same time,” he says. — Nick Ross
For more information on Comedy Saigon’s workshops and shows, click on facebook.com/comedysaigon.
PHOTO BY MARCUS LACEY
Comedian / Promoter
It’s a boys’ club,” says Sara Butryn, runner-up in last month’s Hanoi amateur comedy heats, when asked about her biggest challenge performing stand up.
“There have been a few women in and out, which is wonderful, but right now the only one who’s performing regularly.”
Sara arrived in Vietnam in August 2016, and spent the first 10 months of her time here living 120 miles northwest of Hanoi in Viet Tri, travelling to Hanoi on weekends to perform comedy.
Journey to the Stage
“Before coming to Vietnam I was in a long-distance relationship in the US. I was supposed to move to California after finishing my master’s degree,” says Sara. “I hadn’t really thought much about what I was doing after grad school, and then we broke up.”
“I was going [to a comedy club] two or three times a week because it was the only thing that was making me feel better, and then I started writing, and then one day I was like, ah, let’s do this.”
Setting comedy as her creative goal, Sara later moved to Vietnam where she now runs the monthly event Mouth Off, which brings a number of comedians to the stage, hosted by a different musician every month.
Since relocating to Hanoi last year, Sara has been a prominent figure in the city’s stand-up circuit, regularly performing at events on top of running Mouth Off.
As a female comedian Sara is in the minority.
“You know, it’s not very often you get a woman who says, ‘I’m so confident and I have 10 minutes worth of things that everybody wants to hear’,” she says.
But although outnumbered, she remains undaunted and makes up for lack of numbers with raw comedic talent. She has quickly become a respected figure on Hanoi’s comedy scene. — Billy Gray.
PHOTO BY MARCUS LACEY
In early January Glyn Richards, from Southampton, UK took first prize in the Hanoi heats for the Vietnam Amateur Comedy Competition. This means that he’ll be one of the six comedians to go head to head in the finals — to be held in Hanoi in March.
Glyn owes his victory to his alter-ego, Henry the Seahorse. Henry is a seahorse who faces ridicule from his aquatic mates due to the fact that he is a male who can get pregnant.
Henry the Seahorse endures the torment until he can take no more, finally telling his mates to eff off, much to the amusement of the packed audience in Standing Bar.
“The seahorse part was actually one of the first routines I did, but it never had any punch-lines,” says Glyn. “Now it has three strong finishes that build on each other.”
Glyn got his first taste of stand-up as a student and has become increasingly involved in the Hanoi comedy scene since arriving in the city last September.
“Southampton University had a comedy society and I’d embarrassed myself in front of them, so I went away and wrote some jokes to prove that I wasn’t a prat,” says Glyn.
Glyn’s routine shook the roof off at the tournament and earnt him VND5 million prize money in the process.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how Alex, Sara and I [the top three in Hanoi] compare to the Saigon lot in March. It’ll be a good show,” says Glyn.
We can only speculate what other wildlife will be brought into Glyn’s riotous routine in the next round. Perhaps Henry the Seahorse will make another appearance. — Billy Gray.
PHOTO BY BAO ZOAN
Vu Minh Tu
Vu Minh Tu, or Tu as she prefers to be known on-stage, is one of the new batch of female Vietnamese comics beginning to shine on Saigon’s comedy scene. The diminutive 30-year-old from Saigon only recently took up stand-up after she was introduced to it by fellow Vietnamese comic Uy Le.
“I met Uy Le when we were doing some yoga and meditation workshops together and we became friends,” she explains. “I asked him if there was anything fun to do so that I could feel better about myself and could help me with public speaking. He told me there was something perfect for me.”
After completing one of Ben Betterby’s courses, Tu hit the stage at an open-mic night and has since built a reputation for what she calls “aggressive humour”.
Taking on the Audience
On stage, Tu demands attention with her acerbic wit and no-holds-barred confrontational approach towards the audience. In a recent performance at the heats of the Vietnam Amateur Comedy Competition at Heart of Darkness — where she placed third among 12 other comics — Tu squared off at the audience at one point by calling them “f***ers” and told them to stop bitching about their love lives. She’s not afraid to tee off on white, expat males, either.
“I used to think men were quite complex, but they’re not, they are as simple-minded as,” she says. “But it doesn’t mean that they’re not smart. Men are super smart. They just operate in a way that’s so predictable it’s hard to imagine.”
Tu’s material signals a refreshing departure from meek personas and cutesy repartee that aims to win the hearts and minds of audiences that are largely English-speaking and foreign. — Matt Cowan.
PHOTO BY OLGA ROZENBAJGIER
When Joe Nguyen went to the gala night at the 2017 instalment of the Magners International Comedy Festival, he was blown away. Five comedians took to the stage in an extravaganza of laughter that despite Joe’s international upbringing — he is half-Vietnamese, half-Malay and went to university in Hong Kong — he’d yet to encounter.
Since then, thanks to his close relationship with Nick Ross, the founder of Saigon International Comedy (SIC), he’s become involved in the scene. He now does the logistics for SIC, meeting and greeting comedians at the airport, looking after them while they’re in town, selling tickets and running the shows on the night.
It’s a departure for this 20-something Saigon socialite who by trade is an accounting auditor. “No-one believes me when I tell them what I do,” says Joe. Yet, it’s a departure that he loves.
“I love my role in putting on these shows,” he says. “It’s a challenge and can often be quite tough, especially when I have to sort things out in difficult circumstances. But at the end of it you have the shows, and the audience laughing, that’s what makes it all worthwhile.”
Making 'Em Laugh
Key, however, is the comedy.
“I love the colourful way the comedians bring entertainment to the audience,” he says. “Their jokes are based on their character, culture, life experience and lifestyle. So, each of them brings unique colour to the stage.”
In the past year, however, two comedians have stood out for Joe.
“I loved Phil Kay,” he says. Phil Kay performed in Saigon and Hanoi in November 2017. “He’s a man from the 1960s living in 2018 — he doesn’t even have a cellphone. It’s just him and his guitar and he can make you laugh for hours.”
The other comic is the much-loved British stand-up, Gina Yashere, who performed in January.
“I collected her and her best friend, Lyla, at the airport. The three of us just clicked. It was very funny.”
For more information on Saigon International Comedy, click on facebook.com/saigoninternationalcomedy.