Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Comedy: Serious Business
.:The Serious World Of Comedy:.
First, let me get the shameless self-promotion out of the way: this coming Monday, I'm headlining at Barley Gastropub in Sct. Bayoran corner Sgt. Esguerra, in Quezon City. I would really appreciate if you guys could catch me perform there around 9-ish, because it's the first time I'm headlining a comedy show, and I'm both nervous and stoked about it at the same time.
I never thought about it until recently, but I've actually already spent half a decade as a standup comedian. While magic and mentalism is really my primary competency, I have to admit that I really am glad to be doing what I do in standup, and the opportunities I've been given over the years.
Don't call it a comeback. We never left.
Nonetheless, the Philippine standup comedy scene is definitely a growing scene, and the Herculean task of establishing the scene set up by the Alan Manalo's and Tim Tayag's and Mike Unson's of the country has paved the way for many comics to really thrive. Whether it's Alex Calleja or GB Labrador of Comedy Manila, or the newly-crowned Komikazee winner Chip Balbuena of the Comedy Cartel, there's room for everyone to be better and to grow, and healthy competition certainly makes for better comedians.
They're not marching to Malacanang.
And while all this is happening, growing with it side by side has been improv comedy. From Bacolod's Kinenkoy to SPIT and now Switch Improv, there's something to be said about how much the improv scene continues to thrive as well, despite the apparent lack of marketing drive it has in contrast to the standup comedy scene. Why is that, though?
I don't want to speculate, but I think the answer is that improv answers a completely different demand from standup, even if both of them usually end up in comedy, one way or another. Standup comedy is an entirely different skillset from improv, and it's hard to succeed in one or the other while carrying exactly the same attitude towards both crafts.
I've only been actively doing improv since 2012, which is three years after I started with standup. I've always had a healthy fear of improv, because while I could memorize jokes, there was something about being challenged to be funny at the drop of a hat in improv that frightened me.
Except the more I looked into improv, the more I realized it's not about trying to be funny that makes it funny. And the reason it's funny to people is also the reason it gets raised eyebrows from pure standup comics: the laughter comes from the truth, not from the punchline. We always say “it's funny because it's true,” but it's never been truer anywhere else than it is in improv. People laugh their heads off and give applause breaks for improv performances that did not contain a single punchline because reasons, and that's the magic of it all.
Yet, to say that it's better or inferior to standup comedy, to even compare the two on that level, is to do an injustice to both art forms. True, both have the same goal: to entertain people. However, the way they take it can be ridiculously different from each other, more often than not. Standup has a rhythm and method all its own that makes it work for what it is. Improv has a rhythm and method all its own that makes it work for what it is. And as vague as it may seem, those two are as different as can be when you pick up on all the nuances and small things they choose differently. For starters, one is a showcase of an individual's humor and point of view. The other is a group effort of people who build on the concept of “yes, and” with fanatical devotion. If you tried coming into an improv scene with a bunch of pre-planned jokes, you might be thrown for a looop when your partner decides to do something else.
Which one you prefer may very well be a matter of taste. But to say which one is better is ultimately a fool's errand. And to the practitioners of these art forms, there's absolutely no doubt that comedy is serious business.
So yeah. See you Monday, y'all!