Comic Jwyanza Hobson* walked on the stage at downtown District 1’s Heart of Darkness Brewery as he’s done many times before.
Only this time, instead of doing his typical stand-up routine, he sat down on a stool and pulled out an acoustic guitar.
“They said ‘Nobody wants to hear that joke again about how you want to turn Trump voters into dog food’”, Hobson said, referencing an actual joke he’s known to tell. Instead of getting into the bit, the 45-year-old performer began singing a morose, downtempo acoustic song that sounds like a B-side from the Alkaline Trio.
What’s going on?
Hobson was performing as part of a show hosted by Saigon Funny People, which originally started as just what the name says.
Following the exit of high-profile comic and comedy show host Adam Palmeter, the group was formed in part to fill the void he left as host and performer at a variety of Ho Chi Minh City venues including Soma Art Café in District 2, Indika Saigon in District 1’s Da Kao ward and Heart of Darkness. When Palmeter left Saigon, comics like Phuc Trang (“Berk Mark” on stage) and Angee Floyd stepped in to the space he left behind.
For their name, they kept it no nonsense and decided to perform as Saigon Funny People.
There were big shoes to fill, Floyd said. The sheer stage time alone that was required from each of the performers became a burden.
“Three, four shows a week? The comedians here couldn’t support that. They were getting really burned out,” Floyd said.
As the group’s creative resources were strained, Floyd said the Saigon Funny People were encountering other performers in the course of their work. Collaborating with them originally was offered as a way to bring relief to the small comedian collective, but the ground saw a greater need.
With as many other musicians and other talents in the city, the collective thought it best not only to take the stage, but share it with others.
Vu Minh Tu, one of the founding members of Saigon Funny People who performs under just her first name “Tu”, said it became a group mission to “just have a space for everyone to showcase their talent.”
“I saw this void,” Floyd said. “The venues and the artists weren’t really connecting. What we’re doing now is venturing in to a creative space, almost like a talent management agency.”
Art and Business
While some Saigon Funny People shows are offered without charge, like the open mic events at Indika, the group’s shows generally come with a small cover charge. The fees are pooled and distributed to artists.
Saigon Funny People currently has around 20 comedians, 10 musicians and a handful of poets.
“People need to get paid when they perform. That’s a big,” Floyd said, pausing... “I wouldn’t say ‘barrier’, but creatives are really putting their stuff out for free. And we want to change that.
We see that there’s money in this to be made.” If there’s resistance from audience members to paying a fee—resistance they wouldn’t have, say, for paying for their drink or their parking at the event—Tu said it stems from missing the value the work.
Part of the reason an open mic would not carry a fee, is because comics are using that platform perhaps to test new and unrefined jokes, Tu explained. At a show with set program of performers, like the bimonthly Bunker Bed & Breakfast & Bar show, paying audience members are going to see only practised comedians with material showing face for the second or third outing.
“It has to do a lot with art appreciation,” Tu said. “You have to educate the crowd about the value of your craft.”
Floyd estimated that the Saigon Funny People shows were consistently drawing between 30 to 60 shows nightly.
An Expanding Coterie
Saigon Funny People is expanding to more than just funny people. Among the newest additions to its menagerie of talent are drag queens from the newly formed GenderFunk performance group.
GenderFunk was recently founded by Ricardo Glencasa, who organises the Full Disclosure drag shows that have been known to appear at La Fenetre Soleil. Glencasa described Floyd, a previous participant in his drag shows, as “ultra fabulous” and said he looked forward to bringing Full Disclosure’s gender-defying entertainment to Saigon Funny People shows.
The Saigon Sounds show that Hobson performed, ended with performance poetry by Adam Clarke.
During her interview, Floyd spoke in a slightly raised voice to make herself heard over the South African guitar duet that had taken the stage at Heart of Darkness Brewery.
Floyd said working in a collective manner like this helps bring potentially isolated expats together in a collaborate and supportive community.
Saigon Funny People is growing in to a place that’s “bringing us all together as a community beyond the performing”, Floyd said.
*Hobson writes for City Pass Guide as a freelance writer