Stand-Up Comedy in Ho Chi Minh City

By: Jesus Lopez Gomez

A law student, a Hanoian and a group hawking something called “chicken beer” walk into a bar.

No, it’s not the set up to a joke. It’s a real encounter: a standup comedy contest at Yoko Bar in November.

It was not only the place for local entertainers to prove themselves as Saigon’s best comics. It was also the culmination of years of work by Ben Betterby and others who’ve worked closely with Saigon’s comedy scene creating what is today a blossoming segment in the local arts scene.

comedyImage source: i2.wp.com

Class Clown to Trained Performer

Trang Hoàng Phúc started his set at Yoko as he’s started many previous sets: introducing himself by name, “Berk Mark, but that’s a fake name,” and inviting the audience to make fun of him for wearing what he unashamedly reports are his dad’s clothes.

Trang boasts about his 8.0 IELTS score on stage—“which is the Asian way of saying I’m better than you”—and has the breezy cleverness of the casually brilliant.

“I was kind of a class clown already,” Trang said, recounting his first foray into comedy in late 2016. He messaged Adam Palmeter, an established Saigon comic, for more information about the comedy scene.

“And he said…there’s a comedy open mic happening that night.”

The fact that Trang had no formal training as a comic and no apparent raison d'être in the craft beyond just wanting to try it, is evidence of how big the tent of comedy is, Palmeter said.

“The cool thing about the expat comedy scene is that people from all walks of life end up here,” he said.

Palmeter, an entertainer who has in the past taken roles as a beatboxer in New York and a comic in Korea, hosts many of the city’s open mic events where comics perform. He said the city’s willing and able talent combined with a generally welcoming stage make for fertile grounds in which to grow Ho Chi Minh City’s comic talent.

“I think it’s unique because there is a… revolving door” of personnel from people coming as audience members and eventually coming on board as performers," Palmeter said. “That kind of creates a... 'loose’ isn’t a best word.”

For performers honing their craft, “It’s a fantasy setting. It’s almost like a sleepaway camp."

Unprepared though Trang was, he went and did eight minutes—for comparison, new comics who complete months of training in Comedy Saigon’s workshop get five minutes—of jokes about his family killing a rat.

“[Attendees] were obviously horrified by it,” Trang said.

One year later, he’s moved to his first compensated comedy show. Before the Yoko show, Trang had opened for travelling Scottish comic Phil Kay at Game On Saigon Sports Pub, his first paid show.

“It was very overwhelming” being paid, Trang said, adding, “It was like 10 bucks.”

Even wearing his dad’s flannel and a ruthlessly bored expression—or maybe because of it—Trang said he’s been told his work is unique, that “there’s not a lot of people out there that are doing what I’m doing right now.”

comedyImage source: City Pass Guide

Saigon’s Comedy Scene Is…Big?

If there’s anything wrong with Saigon’s comedy scene, it’s that it can be a little stagnant.

“There’s not a lot of shows to do,” Trang said. “So you have the same kind of audience…over and over again.”

Trang said since the audience is the same, I have to bring new jokes to keep them entertained.

But “by doing that you kind of fall into the trap” of presenting unrefined, half-formed ideas created out of necessity to keep things interesting.

Trang said his mentors told him “you should work on your old material.”

Small though the local comedy scene may be, new Saigon comic Vu Minh Tu—who performs as “Tu”—said it’s still venue-rich compared to Hanoi.

comedyImage source: i0.wp.com

“In Saigon, we definitely have more open mic and more opportunities for comedians to sharpen their skills,” she said.

After performing at Game On Saigon Sports Pub, Kay flew to Hanoi to perform with Tu as his opening act.

Overall, Hanoi doesn’t compare to the number of Saigon’s open mics—“maybe once a month” in the capital, she said—nor does the sister city have nearly as many working comics.

New Talent Proving Itself Early

Tu began telling jokes after she took the Comedy Saigon workshops in August. The training courses culminate in a comedy showcase. Tu and other graduates got to step on stage for the first time then and, “I just never stopped.”

Since August, Tu has been on stage 16 times, the last being her appearance at the Yoko comedy contest where she tied for first.

comedyImage source: pictures.ozy.com

The Saigon comedy scene seems to draw an overwhelming number of men. The balance is better in Westerners to Vietnamese, but still skews to foreigners.

Tu’s an uncommon figure demographically, but “I need to make it clear that I’m not very local,” the Hanoi-born, Singapore-educated comic said. And “I’m not a typical female.”

Tu’s candour translates to a searing openness on stage. Her jokes deal with her dating failures, making fun of men’s facial hair and various onanism-related accounts. Tu tends to eschew the contemporaneous and the political. “I try to write jokes that are universal,” she said. “I write about myself.”

Palmeter observed that “[c]omedy is always going to be a heavily straight, white industry,” but that Tu has “been stealing the show lately.”

He said seeing more successful Vietnamese comics like Tu will be critical to deepening its presence in the city’s art scene. Tu’s work is important because audiences and would-be performers need to “see people like her on stage.”

“She’s not just a funny girl, but a really funny comedian,” he said. “I think it’s an inspiration.”

A Little Startup

When Comedy Saigon owner Betterby was approached by Rooster Beer — or “Bia Ga” in Vietnamese, which is “chicken beer” in English — the similarity of his project to theirs was what seemed the most germane to him.

Like the craft brewer, “we’re like a little startup too,” he said.

Saigon comedy has come a long way from its comics practising material in karaoke bars.

When Betterby was doing standup comedy in 2012, he said you could count the number of comics on one hand.

Betterby said the open mic shows during those years were rough because “the audiences didn’t know what we were doing. We were going up between singers. They just wanted to hear songs.”

Video source: Saigon Comedy

So Betterby and other comics started organising dedicated shows, some of which he describes as “pretty bad” because of a lack of performers and original material.

In 2014, Betterby started meeting comics at karaoke bars around Saigon to try out their material, the first iteration of what would become the Comedy Saigon courses.

Over 200 individuals have graduated from Betterby’s workshops.

Where You Can Find Funny People

As Vu said, Saigon’s comics have a wealth of places to try their stuff around town. Here’s a roundup of a few places that host comedy shows. Look for events there via Facebook or give them a call.

Pingoling

58 Vo Thi Sau, D1

09 4568 5295

Pingoling is home base for Betterby’s Comedy Saigon artist community. Located in the rear of Lucas Cafe, this small theatre doubles as a workspace for the standup class that are held there regularly. In addition to hosting the graduates of the standup workshop during their seminal performances, Pingoling is also a host for other standup work, open mics and improv shows.

Heart of Darkness

31D Ly Tu Trong, D1

09 0301 7596

This District 1 brewery is one of the most centrally located venues where you can catch comedy. The craft beer vendor’s second floor is an event venue with a bar on side and a wall of glass on the other looking out over Ly Tu Trong street. A stage hosts an open mic known to draw out the city’s performers.

Indika

43 Nguyen Van Giai, D1

0165 658 1648

The DIY feel of Indika extends to its stage. Surrounded by tagged and stickered walls is a stage rising a seat’s height from the floor. Sometimes, they put a comedian on it.

Piu Piu

97 Hai Ba Trung, D1

0163 603 3222

Centrally located, Piu Piu is part of a network of venues that regularly host comedians. The vibe is a little like Indika, although the place is quite a bit smaller. Be nice to the performers, you’re seated close so they can probably hear you breathing.

Johama

341 Cao Dat, D5

0163 603 3222

This curiously named bar is sometimes known to host a comedy night. Maybe because they’re more infrequent than others — and maybe because it’s out in the hinterlands of District 5 — these tend to draw more seasoned comics.

Yoko

22A Nguyen Thi Dieu, D3

028 3933 0577

Maybe it’s Yoko’s polished charm or it’s larger seating area, but this tends to be the place that attracts the biggest crowds and the strongest comedians. The bar was recently the site of a comedy contest finale, but often hosts Comedy Saigon’s standup workshop graduates to give them a taste of the big time. This isn’t the most frequent site of comedy shows, but the ones that do appear there are not to be missed.

Banner Image source: City Pass Guide


Escape Hunt and Ubiquest in HCMC

By: Aleksandr Smechov

City Pass tries out two of Saigon’s most popular live detective games, Escape Hunt and Ubiquest, playing the role of a hard-nosed detective investigating a murder mystery.

Outside of theatre and video games, you don’t see much role play or interactive activities in Ho Chi Minh City. Luckily, we uncovered two detective games that drop you in the middle of a murder mystery, letting you live out those Sherlock Holmes fantasies (minus tobacco pipe and risk of death). Escape Hunt and Ubiquest are difficult (to an extent), immersive and rewarding – read on to find out exactly why they are some of the most fun you will have in Saigon.

Escape Hunt

Located somewhat furtively above The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf is the quietly decorated lobby area of Ho Chi Minh City’s Escape Hunt office. Four rooms sit at various angles, blocked off by tall curtains. These are the escape rooms, and you will know nothing about them until you walk in, have the door shut and locked on you, and be given one hour to solve the mystery and find the key to unlock the door.

Escape Hunt HCMC

Escape Hunt is the brainchild of an English Psychologist who, after experiencing health issues and moving to Thailand, developed the idea of a detective game that has 2-5 players pitted against an intricate mystery.

Escape Hunt now has 25 locations, with a slew of others set to open in North America. The Ho Chi Minh City Escape Hunt branch was opened in September and has been popular with teens, universities, companies, tourists and expats.

Escape Hunt Saigon

Three of our staff stopped in for a 60-minute sleuth session. We were ushered into a low-lit room, explained the rules and left to solve the mystery and find the key to the door within an hour timeframe.

We heard the door sadistically lock and some moody music creep up. The game master was available for hints, but each time we asked for help from her we got minutes shaved from our remaining time.

Escape Hunt in Ho Chi Minh City

The puzzles are tricky, teamwork-oriented, and require some outside-the-box approaches. Few if any have solved the mystery and escaped the room without at least a few hints from the game master. Finding the next clue or coming upon an item you were searching for feels highly rewarding, and you get sucked into the role quickly. Time flies as you use a whiteboard to jot down notes and figures, collect pieces of evidence and nervously glance at the large LED clock ticking away.

It’s thrilling, addictive and relies on individual strengths working in unison rather than outsmarting the other person. As a team-building exercise or a rainy-day diversion, Escape Hunt is ace.

To check out available mysteries and booking options, check out the Escape Hunt booking page.

Ubiquest

Ubiquest Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City’s second live detective game takes players outside the claustrophobic confines of a room and throws them in the streets of Saigon.

This doubles as a self-directed walking tour, but you may want to do the tour part after the live game – you’ll be too busy role playing a hard-nosed detective, questioning actors in various roles, finding mafia-tied ancient artifacts or any of the other challenges Ubiquest presents.

For our experience, we chose the Urban Tales game, a murder mystery set in Cho Lon, Ho Chi Minh City’s China town. We were picked up by a cute yellow 1967 Citroen 2CV, a happy-go-lucky young driver creaking away at the ancient dashboard. We arrived at a dilapidated living space, escorted up to the top floor and into one of the rooms, a few curious residents peeking at us through open doorways.

We were briefed, told to search the evidence room and given our gear (map, notebook, water, etc.), including cell phones for further instructions from the head detective.

Urban Tales takes three to four hours to complete. Be sure to go when the wind blows and the sun’s behind the clouds – you can easily get exhausted walking around in the unbearable heat on a cloudless day. Sun block and a decently wide hat are all but mandatory. You’ll be provided water but it’s a good idea to bring a bottle of your own too.

Ubiquest detective game

For entirety of the game, we set out into the streets of Cho Lon with our map and collection of evidence, going from actor to actor, uncovering details of the murder. The characters drop you clues and hints when you press them for information, sometimes refusing you if you don’t put enough pressure or reasoning into your argument. The acting is hilariously campy, and the game would benefit from some natural English speakers with an acting background, but the campiness is tolerable in the grand scheme, and allows you to play out your own amateur detective fantasies without judgment.

Ubiquest Cho Lon

We were pitted against two other teams, and although we were the first to find out the murderer, another team found the sacred artifact before us. Afterwards we all took cyclos to a Chinese restaurant for free lunch.

Urban Tales is an eclectic way to discover Cho Lon – or any other part of Saigon – just be sure to go when the sun isn’t blazing.

For more games, check out the official Ubiquest page.


Best Things to Do with Kids in Saigon

By: Barbara

Many of Ho Chi Minh City's things to do are suitable for families with kids of all ages. If you are living in Vietnam as an expat or just visiting, we list the 10 best things to do with your children in Saigon.

Don’t forget to comment below to let us know what are your recommendations!

City Parks and their Playgrounds

The city's parks are places where childish exuberance, which can be hard to contain in a hotel room, can be unleashed. Van Thanh Park in Binh Thanh District has paths and a field for little people who just need to run, as well as a small playground and a swimming pool. While the kids are busy being energetic, adults can relax in a bamboo hut over a small pond or work up a sweat on the tennis courts.

Saigon Parks

Listening to Songbirds

Tao Dan Park in downtown District 1 also has room to move, making it a popular spot for city dwellers to take their morning and evening exercise. And it's not just people who visit the park. Songbirds are taken to the park's little cafe (fronting Cach Mang Thang Tam Street) every morning, their cages hung from purpose-built frames to encourage them to sing. It's a fascinating experience to visit the bird cafe, especially watching the bird owners take their beloved pets home by motorbike.

Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre

The park, which has large playground and an indoor play centre, is a short walk from the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre. The 55-minute water puppet shows, all in Vietnamese, need to be booked a few days ahead.

You could continue the bird theme with a visit to Pet Me Coffee in Phu Nhuan District. This small drinks-only cafe has a resident mini-owl and several parakeets, which can be petted, as well as some larger more exotic birds who hang out at the front of the coffee shop.

Photo Source: Golden Dragon Theatre

Family-Fun in Suoi Tien Amusement Park

One of the city's wackiest attractions in town is the Buddhist-themed Suoi Tien Amusement Park. Allocate a full day here, especially if you plan to visit the vast water park section. The amusement park can be quite baffling if you're not well versed in Buddhist stories because there is limited signage in English. Still, a stroll through the strange displays, which include a wish tree and The Royal Herbal Wine Palace, can be very entertaining. There is also an aquarium, 4D cinema, a dolphin show and the Snow Castle, the perfect place to escape Ho Chi Minh City's heat ... by plunging into a sub-zero world of ice and snow.

Photo Source: Suoi Tien - Andrea Hale

Pretending to Be Adults in Kizciti

Younger kids will enjoy learning about the world of work at Kizciti in District 4. The staff here usually has enough English to explain how each activity centre works. Each child receives a small amount of kizo, the Kizciti currency, on entry and they must decide how to manage it. Some activities cost kizo, and some earn it. A small open-air cafe serves basic food and coffee to sustain the "kiz" and their parents through a long day of "work", which can entail learning to be a pilot, a paediatrician, a delivery person or a firefighter.

Photo Source: Kizciti

Indoor Kid’s Play Centres and Playgrounds

Ho Chi Minh City has several indoor play centres and amusement arcades. In the city centre, Vincom Center has a play area and a game zone in its basement. In District 2, there's a play area in the garden of Snap Cafe and in District 7 there's an air-conditioned indoor playground inside Bee Bee Premium Kid's Cafe (4th floor, 96-98 Cao Trieu Phat, Phu My Hung).

Older kids can while away a few hours at Paintball Saigon, X-Rock Climbing, in the pool at Lan An Sports Club or at the bowling alley on the fourth floor of Diamond Plaza.

Photo Source: Snap Café

Visit a Witch-Themed Café

Younger kids can be entertained for hours at the witch-themed Ba Cay Choi (Three Broomstick) cafe on the third floor of The Vista Walk in District 2. Activities at the cafe, which can be entered via the stairs or a giant slide, include candle-making, baking, hat-making and painting. Make sure you order something with a suitably disgusting name from the food and drink menu, such as bug mud or ghost pumpkin spaghetti.

There are more cool cafés for you to bring your children to: A long rainy Saigon afternoon can be spent playing board games and snacking on poutine at Monopolatte Au Play Cafe, while a long scary evening can be spent eating ribs. (There's a pool in the outdoor section).

Photo Source: Witch Coffee

Playing Detective in Escape Hunt

Escape Hunt is a game played indoors with a group of two to eight people. You are locked inside a room with a mystery murder to solve. It is one of the best thing to do in Saigon for families with teenagers. You must work together to find clues that will help you find out who is the killer and how to escape.

Learning Arts in Vinspace

In the expat area of District 2, there is a range of activities for older kids. Some of the more interesting include taking a workshop or joining a summer camp at Vinspace art studio.

Photo Source: Vinspace

Saigon Reunification Palace

The Reunification Palace is a prime example of a must-visit family-friendly attraction that has a special appeal for kids. The roomy but slightly run-down public areas could be the backdrop for a princess fantasy, while the basement war rooms will appeal to hero-types. Making the palace even more appealing is its location, a short walk from the Haagen-Dazs ice cream cafe.

Families traveling to Vietnam with kids should not worry about things to do in Saigon. We only listed our top 10 attractions but there are many more great ideas that will make your stay memorable. You may also want to read our article What to Do in 24-hour in Saigon.


Arabian Night in HCMC

By: Quang Mai

Funds raised from the event will be donated to Nguyen Dinh Chieu School for the Blind in District 10 to renovate and buy equipment for a Multi-Sensory Room that supports 305 students here to develope their academic learning. Multi-Sensory Learning happens when more than one sense is used to acquire and retain information – so applicable for children with multi-disabilities.

Date:

Saturday, 15th September 2012

Time:

From 7pm till late

Venue:

InterContinental Asiana Saigon
Corner of Hai Ba Trung & Le Duan St., Dist. 1, HCMC

Ticket cost:

VND3,165,000 per ticket
VND31,650,000 per table of 10

Bookings:

events@auschamvn.org
Tel: (84-8) 3832 9912

Please click here to visit Arabian Night micro website

XO Tours: Much imitated but never replicated!

By: Barbara Dorothy Clarke

We all know that it is near on impossible to copyright an idea and protect intellectual property in Vietnam.

But what does that mean for your day to day business when you have an original idea and an excellent product?

Luckily although people can steal your ideas – in minute detail – and almost totally replicate your offering - it’s the little things that make a brand – and ensure that brand still stands head high above any pale imitations.

Spend 5 minutes with Tung who is the founder of XO Tours and his passion and enthusiasm for what he does is palpable. It is a simple idea – tourists want to see the real Saigon but not on the back of a grubby motorbike and behind an even grubbier driver. Step up XO Tours with female drivers with class, style and excellent English who are also able to provide a female perspective on life in Vietnam.

XO Tours was the first company in Vietnam to offer affordable motorbike tours with attractive female tour guides dressed in traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai. All the XO guides are handpicked and fluent in English but it is Tung’s focus on service that really sets XO Tours apart.

Tung invests heavily in every detail of his brand and his employees imbue the same high brand values. All his employees are trained to the highest standards – whether it is presentation, language skills, driving skills or personability . All employees are full time and their bikes are upgraded at Tung’s expense to ensure maximum comfort and safety for clients.

This is a business where the customer experience is king – people are buying memories and that is what he aims to deliver. Staff retention is key and bonuses and profit sharing make for motivated and loyal employees who are focused on growing the company by providing the best experience they can.

Customers come from all over the world and a high percentage of business comes from word of mouth – simply the best publicity you can get – being number 1 on Trip Advisor for 2 years can’t be bad either.

Bristling with new ideas, Tung started with basic tours – he was the first to do night tours – then first to do foodie tours. Now others are jumping on the bandwagon - some good -some not so good….

In spite of this, XO Tours is expanding and bookings are full – anything between 18-24 guests go out on any one night.

So competitors can steal his ideas, follow the same routes , and visit the same areas, cosy up to the same suppliers…..

Imitate they may – replicate never!

Do you know of any businesses with similar experiences?


Saigon Artbook Did It Again!

By: Phuong Tran

Saigon Artbook Did It Again!

Saigon Artbook is a quarterly publication that catalogs the work of three artists who live in the Saigon area, in the hope of promoting innovative and undiscovered artists. With each catalog, Saigon Artwork hosts a party where people can come to meet the artists and enjoy their work. For more information, visit Saigon Artbook Webpage.

The third Saigon Artbook, held on 24 and 25 April at 2 Le Cong Kieu Street, District 1 in Saigon, attracted a huge number of spectators and fans to the illustrations of Kristopher Kotcher (Frenemy), Khoa Le and Laurent Judge. Strong interest during the first two Artbooks had prompted the organizers to hold the third Artbook over two days. Given the success, they may have to extend future events even further.
The exhibition was only open to people who had registered online for a limited number of free tickets, but such was the interest that all tickets had been claimed within the first half-hour! This proved the effectiveness of Saigon Artbook’s viral marketing.
With each ticket, a person was given two coupons: one for a bottle of Peroni beer and one for the beautifully designed book featuring artworks of the three artists – the main reason most people come to the quarterly exhibition.

Saigon Artbook third versionTwo coupons were used to exchange for one Peroni and one artbook copy

The building that Saigon Artbook chose was a run-down, old-style house on Le Cong Kieu Street in District 1. They had spent several days painting and decorating it, and I was surprised at how they virtually turned it into a new house.

Saigon Artbook third versionFrenemy Artwork on the rooftop

On the first floor, right after a typically French, narrow stairway, was a big room with a yellowish wall offset by windows painted red. This provided a good background for the artworks.

Most people could lurk around this exhibition area, have a chat, exchange their coupons for a beer and the book, and of course talk to the artists.
Each artist had their own ways to express their skills and artistic sense. Kristopher (or Frenemy) occasionally chose a random wall to draw on. Khoa Le created an awesome body-painting on a female model. Meanwhile, Laurent was busy signing fans’ books – well, he not only signed but drew: every single one of his signatures was an artwork in itself.

Saigon Artbook third versionLaurent's signature (I think this one is specially for me!)
Saigon Artbook third version

 


Frenemy was busy with his iconic cartoon creatures

The second floor was the rooftop where people could enjoy the DJ’s performance and watch Khoa Le’s body-painting model (many guys took photos with her as well). This was a great place for people to relax in the fresh air while sipping Peroni beer and having a good chat with new friends.
I went to the last two Saigon Artbook parties but this one was the biggest and it just keeps growing. I really look forward to introducing my foreign friends to this must-see event in Saigon.

City Pass Guide caught up with the three illustrators:

From left: Frenemy, Khoa Le and Laurent

City Pass Guide: Could you define your style in one sentence?

Frenemy: Cartoonist, colorful with a mixture of graffiti.
Khoa Le: Pop-surrealism meets illustration.
Laurent: Many, many styles mixed together but mainly impressionism and surrealism, I think. 

CPG: What is your source of inspiration?

Frenemy: From the cartoons and comic books that I watched and read when I was a kid. I have read a couple of manga titles before but never get into it much because I don’t like the style.
Khoa Le: From many things, music, film, cartoons, books, novels, magazines, etc. I particularly listen to Radiohead and Muse.
Laurent: I basically read, watch and observe whatever exists around us.
 
CPG: What is your favourite artwork out of all the ones displayed here today? And why?

Frenemy: Each of my artworks communicates a different message and has its own beauty and characteristics. It would be unfair if I favour this over that.
Khoa Le: It would be my “Deep Sleep”. It completes my satisfaction.
Laurent: It is “Lightning Bolt” because it comprises many styles: impressionism, surrealism, cubism, etc. I also have all the times and a huge variety of objects combined altogether. Its details are so rich that one can easily get lost while looking at the piece.Saigon Artbook third versionDeep Sleep by Khoa Le


Saigon Artbook third versionLigtning Bolt by Laurent Judge

 

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