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Lenny Bruce: [Stand-up comedy is] a terrible, terrible job. It should not exist. Like cancer. And God. 

Miriam “Midge” Maisel : But do you love it? 

[Lenny shrugs, grins sheepishly, and walks away] 

Miriam “Midge” Maisel [to herself] : Yeah. He loves it.

That scene from The Marvelous Mrs Maisel came to mind when I arrived at a comedy workshop here in Bali recently. The weekly meetup, hosted by Bali Comedy Club, is open to anyone who wants to work on their sets before coming on stage. I arrived at the restaurant where they hold the workshop two Wednesdays ago. After getting a seat at the table (the workshop had already begun by the time I arrived), I quickly scanned the attendees. 

A former bodyguard from France with an abundance of feet-related jokes. A sassy, petite, tattooed Chinese-Indonesian who casually jokes about dick pics. A widower who thinks comedy can be a cheaper alternative to therapy. 

You can find pretty much all kinds of people at this workshop: from seasoned standups to wannabes, all seeking to polish their sets and give each other feedback.

One of the cool things about this workshop is that you are not obligated to perform right away – anyone can attend as many workshops as they want before taking to the stage. 

“There’s this one guy who took a year (in workshops) before finally trying out his set,” Reggy Hasibuan, a Bali-based, English-speaking Indonesian comic who has established himself among famed comics in the country, told Coconuts Bali in an interview recently.

“There’s also one girl who took three months before finally trying her set. Most of the time she was just there [at workshops and rehearsals] just listening.”

While the workshops and rehearsals tend to be lighthearted (people are there for funnies, at the end of the day), the feedback is constructive and, for a lack of better term, quite serious. 

“I don’t want you to be too down on yourself all the time, man,” Bali Comedy Club founder Christian Giacobbe told a fellow comedian, Dana Pandawa, after the latter made a self-deprecating joke about his confidence. 

On one or two occasions, a participant would tell some jokes that turned out to be duds, and no one laughed. It’s a difficult art, after all. 

“One of the main reasons why people do not come back is because it’s hard work,” Latvian stunt performer Renars Latkovskis said, adding that charisma and stage presence alone can only get you so far.

“If you’re not going to sit down every other day and write some stuff. It’s not going to happen.”

Even seasoned performers such as Annie Yang, who has been doing comedy for almost seven years and gained notoriety after appearing on Stand-Up Comedy Indonesia on TV, still regularly join workshops and rehearsals – although she also occasionally hosts and facilitates them herself.

“What I really love about Bali Comedy Club is their rehearsal,” said Annie, who began doing comedy when she lived in Taiwan. She said that some of her best punchlines came from workshop feedback.

“Bali Comedy Club is a community. We’re like a family even though we’re competitive – we’re getting better together.”

Therapeutic laughter

Julien, the 39-year-old former bodyguard turned personal trainer who is originally from France, said he decided to try out stand-up comedy after watching it on TV. After browsing the internet, he found out about Bali Comedy Club and immediately contacted Giacobbe and asked if he could be a part of the community.

“The group helped me by directing me to learn the basics first, finding subjects that are easier to use when you start, and giving useful feedback on the subject I had chosen,” Julien, who preferred to use only his given name, told Coconuts.

He was happy to discuss both his hits and his misses. For example, one of his signature bits is about foot fetishes and he recalled how one of the jokes did not land.

“I have a set I do on foot fetish with a lot of puns. It went like: my birthday is coming soon so my girlfriend asks if I like high hills. I said, of course I like high heels. So we went trekking, trekking on high heels for my birthday,” Julien chuckled, adding, “It did not land. People did not understand the pun.”

Giacobbe definitely got it. The 37-year-old also understands that the comedy scene in Bali is growing, as he believes that many expats on the Island of Gods love to be in the spotlight. 

“The problem is that many people here know public speaking but stand-up comedy is a completely different skill set. It is very intriguing for some people but they don’t know when to start or how to start,” he told Coconuts after a recent workshop.

“And that’s why I started doing [this] workshop. Stand-up comedy is just like any other skill – you need to practice it and you need to study it if you want to master it and there was nothing of the sort in Bali.”

Giacobbe stated that almost immediately after he launched the workshop, there was a high demand and enthusiasm for it. He added that while stand-up comedy is booming in popularity amongst Indonesians speaking Bahasa Indonesia, there are people who want to be able to do stand-up comedy in English as well.

Internationally speaking, Giacobbe conceded that Indonesia is way behind Malaysia and Singapore when it comes to producing world-class stand-up comedians. Malaysia, for example, can already claim superstars like Nigel “Uncle Roger” Ng and Ronny Cheng (who also spent his formative years in Singapore).

“Indonesia has nobody. The only one that comes close is Pandji [Pragiwaksono]. He recently moved to New York, and that’s it,” he said. 

Giacobbe believes, however, that tourism-reliant Bali has potential, adding that his vision is to make the island the hub for English-speaking stand-up comedy in Southeast Asia and to discover and nurture new international comedy superstars in Indonesia. 

Christian Giacobbe hosted a past comedy special in Canggu. Photo: Obtained.

Towards that end, just this week Bali Comedy Club found a new home at Finns Recreations Club in Berawa, Canggu, where they will hold comedy specials every Friday as well as donation-based, experimental comedy nights on Saturdays.

The latter is catered towards new comedians who are starting out as well as veterans wanting to try out new sets or jokes. 

“We can’t wait to host Bali’s premier stand-up comedy club at Finns Recreations Club,” Lars Hoehn, who manages Finns events, told Coconuts.

“We look forward to becoming the home of the biggest and best comedy events in Bali. Offering both Showcase Fridays and Experimental Saturdays guests are guaranteed a load of laughs from a broad range of comedians.”

The Bali comedy scene 

The comedians I spoke with for this article believe Bali’s idiosyncrasies enable them to hone their comedic prowess in ways particular to the island.

“The audience in Bali is very unique. Sometimes we have 20 different nationalities in our audience. Some of them are tourists, some of them people who live in Bali. So the challenge is to make jokes that everyone can understand and enjoy,” said Giacobbe. 

“The second is the language barrier. So you have to speak slowly. You cannot use too difficult words because the level of English of the audience [ranges from] native to basic.”

Bali comedy audience. Photo: Obtained.

Annie Yang concurred, recalling that in the past couple of years Bali-centric jokes, like observations about the infamous Canggu shortcut, a massage parlor in Bali, or a famous bar in Petitenget where interracial hookups always occur, would always land since many people could relate to them. 

“If you mentioned any of these three, they would laugh. But now since there are a lot of tourists in Bali, most of them don’t even know the stereotypes in Bali,” she said. 

On a brighter note, Annie said that she believes the audience in Bali are open-minded.

“I think they love every type of comedy, in my opinion,” she said.

Bali comedy audience. Photo: Obtained.

Reggy Hasibuan, for one, is optimistic about the future of the island’s comedy scene.

“So far we have quality with sub-par facilities. Can you imagine the distance we could go if facilitated properly?” he said, adding that the new venue at Finns Recreation Club gives room for more comedy throughout the week – not only for feature shows, but also open mics, workshops and even comedy in other languages.

For now, it seems like Bali’s fledgling comedy scene will continue to grow. Which is a good thing. Given the current state of the world that we live in, it’s clear we all need more laughs in our lives, even here in paradise.

All pictures courtesy of Bali Comedy Club.

So you think you’re funny? Bali’s burgeoning comedy community invites you to find out | Coconuts

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