It’s March 2017 and the ballroom in Caravelle Saigon has been set up with theatre-style seating and a stage. The organisers wait on, nervous. Thumbs twiddle. Stomachs rumble. Beads of sweat appear on foreheads.
Will they have a full house, or will this show, the gala show of the 2017 edition of the Magners International Comedy Festival be only half full? Despite reasonable advance ticket sales, it’s impossible to tell.
Stand-up comedy in Vietnam is in its infancy and has so far only played to small audiences — the largest head count to ever attend a show in Vietnam was 180. Now the organisers are aiming to more than double that to 400.
As the audience turns up, the concerns evaporate. The ballroom is filling up, even though it’s a Wednesday night. And as the comedians take to the stage — Lars Calleiou, Matthew Giffen, Dana Alexander, Andre King and John Robertson — the atmosphere of anticipation turns to one of laughter, hysterics, mirth, joy and fun. At the end of the night everyone leaves the venue with a smile on their face. The first theatre-style comedy show in Vietnam has been a resounding success.
British Comic Bill Bailey
Growing the Scene
Co-organiser of this year’s festival, Aidan Killian, has seen the development of comedy scenes in Southeast Asia first hand. Quitting a lucrative banking job in Tokyo 10 years ago to take up stand-up comedy, he initially returned to Ireland to cut his teeth in the local scene. Yet so fed up was he with scrambling for five and 10-minute slots that he eventually set up his own club, a 50-seater venue in Dublin called the Anseo Comedy Club that still runs to this day. Then four years ago a family bereavement saw him move to Bangkok.
“My uncle who lived in Thailand passed away,” he explains. “So, I came out to sort out his affairs. That took a year. While I was sorting out his stuff I started looking for gigs, but there was very little at the time. There was one comedy club in Bangkok where I performed — I was their first ever international headliner. They would run shows every three months or if anyone was passing through.”
Now just three years later, Bangkok is host to weekly gigs and last November the city held its first fringe festival, which was headlined by Joe Rooney of Father Ted fame, Phil Kay and Danny O’ Brien, and was organised by Aidan.
“I love comedy, I care about comedy,” he says. “I like to see it run really well. So, for me [organising festivals is the] dream job.”
South African diva comedian, Thenjiwe Mosely
This Year’s Shows
For Aidan, the 2018 edition of the Magner’s International Comedy Festival, which will be held in March and April across seven countries, is not only the chance to instil this passion on the stand-up scene in the region, but more importantly is the opportunity to provide great entertainment.
To do this, he’s putting on four shows in Ho Chi Minh City, all at Caravelle Saigon.
On Monday, Apr. 2, Saigon will host the regional finals of the Magners International Comedy Competition, with amateur comedians representing Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore and Bangkok. The show will be headlined by South African comic, Thenjiwe Mosely, who Aidan describes as “a sensation”. He adds: “She’s got millions of hits online and is a funny, funny woman.”
This will be followed on the Tuesday by the gala show which will include Thenjiwe as well as other huge acts: Tom Rhodes (US), Craig Campbell (Canada), Carvin Goldstone (South Africa), Aidan himself and possibly one or two more acts who have yet to be announced.
And then on the Wednesday, a one-man show with the phenomenal British comic Bill Bailey, a musician and stand-up who is presently one of the top comedians in the world.
Much loved and travelled US comic, Tom Rhodes
This is not to forget the little matter of an additional show two weeks earlier on Wednesday, Mar. 14 with one of the comedic geniuses of the modern age — Doug Stanhope.
For the audiences, says Aidan, this festival is huge.
“They may every month or every three months get the opportunity to see one, big headliner act,” he explains. “But when do they see three massive international headliners all at once, or four or five, like at the gala show, people who’ve done hour-long shows all over the world?”
He adds: “That would be like going to the Edinburgh festival, and getting to see five great comedians. But instead of having to do that, you can see the best of Edinburgh right at home in Saigon.”
To read more about Doug Stanhope, click on http://wordvietnam.com/people-culture/many-faces-of-vietnam/doug-stanhope. Further information on the festival can be found at saigoncomedy.com or facebook.com/saigoninternationalcomedy.
A Night with Doug Stanhope
Wednesday, Mar. 14
Tickets from VND700,000
Magners International Comedy Competition: The Regional Finals
Monday, Apr. 2
Tickets VND200,000 (in advance) / VND300,000
Available via http://regionalfinalssaigon.eventbrite.com
The Gala Show
Featuring Craig Campbell, Tom Rhodes and Thengiwe Mosely
Tuesday, Apr. 3
Tickets VND400,000 (in advance) / VND600,000
Available via http://galashowsaigon.eventbrite.com
A Night with Bill Bailey
Wednesday, Apr. 4
Tickets from VND800,000 (in advance)
Available via https://billbaileysaigon.eventbrite.com