October 9th, 2020 was the first time I went on stage to do standup comedy and ever since, I’ve become a standup comedian. I’d never plan to be someone who regularly perform on stage, tell jokes and be judged by hundreds of people, let alone being paid to do it. It happened accidentally and maybe naturally.
A week before that, I just arrived in Bali from South Africa after my fiancé died on 30th of June 2020. I was (and still am) just a bereaved partner whose grief at that time was too strong for me to handle. I love life, I always do, but at that time my love for life was the least I’ve ever had, like if my life just had ended that time, I wouldn’t care. I decided to try standup comedy at that time just to find a way back to love and life, at least keep my mind busy for that day, let me survive til the weekend and for the next week, I’d find a way again. That was my only intention and game plan at that time.
The reason why I chose comedy was only because it was during lockdown and there’s no other things to do (say paragliding, etc). I happened to be on the same flights and hotel from SA to Indonesia with a South African girl, Thoko, whose boyfriend is the founder of Bali Comedy Club. At that time Bali Comedy Club (BCC) was the only comedy club in Bali. Christian Giacobbe co-founded the club (now he owns the full ownership) in February 2020 and they performed at Deus Cafe Bali every Friday night, but due to lockdown, they had to stop for several months and when I arrived in Bali, they just started performing again, like 1-2 months prior. When Thoko told me about it at the airport, it didn’t cross my mind to try, I was just like, “Well this is the first person I’ve known dating a comedian in Bali.” I’ve lived in Bali since 2019 and never heard of a comedy scene in Bali before that.
BCC always does rehearsal before the show day, so comedians don’t just do impromptu sets, they need to prepare a set and during the rehearsal they may get feedback about the set or delivery to make it better. I didn’t know that when I contacted Thoko, so when Thoko told me to prepare something, it was one night before the rehearsal day and I just wrote anything that came to mind.
Maybe they knew about my story from Thoko so they were prepared to be gentle to me, especially with my feminine and all-pink fashion, they were like, “Let’s just give this weak widow a chance and don’t expect much.” (LOL, until now they keep their expectations low on me, haha). I didn’t have any comedy background, I didn’t know how to write comedy. Usually I’m the person who always research before I do something, but at that time, I just wanted to survive and live one weekend longer, so I didn’t care less, I came up very raw. I didn’t care about the consequences of being booed, or not funny, whatever, I just wanted to forget.
When I started telling my set, then people laughed, I was not expecting it. I was like, “Did I just make you laugh? Did I just make you forget about your problems for a second? Whoa.” My first performance has led me to many more performances and sets to now, then I started to study it, what structures a joke, a set, the techniques etc. I was also one of the very first students when Chris started doing comedy workshops. Actually, the theory is very simple but very hard to implement or to nail. I’ve learned many skillsets and I’ve worn many hats in my life, comedy is the second hardest skill for me that I’ve ever learned, the number one hardest skill is the coping skill.
As I was also taking a break from work, it made doing comedy rehearsals and sets was my routine for months. Maybe because I started my journey with BCC and at that time the comedy scene was not a thing yet in Bali, it had made my journey not only an individual journey, but also collective. Because even though we perform individually, but the success of the nights and following nights are a group work. So, during the rehearsal, we help each other to craft the sets. And because it’s during lockdown, the audience was likely the same audience that come regularly (unlike before corona time), so we had to come up and be funny with new sets every week. Being funny on stage one time is not an easy thing but doable. But being funny on demand every week is a big challenge. Sometimes we have good nights, sometimes we have not-so-good nights. I remember that on my second set, I happened to be the crowd fave of that night, but for the whole show, it was a bad night, even Chris had to swear more than usual, LOL. It felt good for a second to be the most celebrated one out of the comedians, but then it ended right away, I don’t like it when people came to me and said “You’re the only funny one. Others didn’t make us laugh.”, I hate it though I respect the freedom of speech, because I know how hard all the comedians put their heart, time and effort for their sets and everyone has their own styles, it’s not easily compared. I don’t care about being the funniest one, it’s better for me to be the average one because it means others are good and it’s a good night. But that’s how I gain more respects to my comedian friends, because no matter how bad a show night can be, they don’t stop. It’s just one night, there will be more nights like this but we just move on, what’s done is done. Even though there have been splits and a bit drama in Bali comedy right now, deep down they’re all doing it for the same reasons.
The comedy clubs in Bali are open for both experienced comedians and bucketlisters (people who just want to check a list in their life, and then done. Might not do comedy again.) All are welcome and it’s okay. Having been doing it for quite a while, I sometimes can see who will do it again and who will do only once, who cares about the whole night and who cares only for his/ her set. The attitude during other comedians’ set is really telling. And because it’s a small community, I can see the growth of other comedians as well. There are some friends who might start not really strong but overtime find more about his styles. Maybe they also see it in me.
Out of the comedy process, the part that I enjoy the most is the comedy writing because it’s the only phase where the comedy is only for me, the steps after that, we have to share it to others and being judged (rehearsals and shows). While writing a set, I can laugh by myself because I think it’s really funny, it just feels so funny at that time and maybe when I shared during rehearsals, people might cringe, like “Where the heck is the punchline?”
The second part that I enjoy is the rehearsal because my friends are funny even though they might have imperfect lives but they make fun about it. And during rehearsals, even though, let’s say, one comedian has personal problem with other comedian, they put that aside during rehearsals and only focus on crafting the art (comedy itself). Comedy is still a men-dominated field, so I don’t know whether this is a man thing or a professional thing, I mean, with women, you can hardly do that.
The part that I actually enjoy the least is going on stage. It makes me nervous, want to pee, throw up etc, and it’s worse than Tinder dates. Also, I’m an introvert, I don’t like being stared by many people or being in front of camera. Even though I have a YouTube channel, you can see that I don’t enjoy it, I do it because I just feel I have to in order to get my idea accross. To be honest, I prefer to be a backstage person, maybe if I started comedy somewhere else, I would have started by writing for other comedians or shows than performing.
However, performing has made me learn some things about myself that I was not aware of before. For example, only months after doing comedy I realized it’s my vibe/ stage personality that adds to it when a friend mentioned an established comedian name to describe me, “You remind me of Yumi (a Canadian Japanese comedian), people don’t expect you to have this kind of mouth and thoughts.” I was like, “Really? You don’t expect me to be nasty? Is that how people see me? Is that why my mom sad? lol.” For months I didn’t know that people see me as innocent and maybe expect me to be a brown Taylor Swift but I turn out to be this sarcastic.
Sometimes I get reactions that I didn’t expect from people, especially from other women and other Indonesians. The most common question I got from women audience is, “How do you find the gut to be in a men-dominated field?” Well, the answer is, because I never see it like that, when I started, I was not aware that there are more men than women comedians, it’s only because people asked that I started to notice. For me, everyone has his/ her opportunity, it’s not about gender. If you’re funny, you’re funny. If you’re not, you’re not.
My style and comedy is different than common Indonesian comedy, especially Indonesian women ‘comedians’. There’s this common style in Indonesian comedy that places women comedians as just an additional but never the main essence in the show, the women comedians also behave the same way, as if women have to look stupid or slow-thinker to be considered as funny. Indonesian comedy is also more slapstick, the concept of standup comedy is still considered new in Indonesia since Raditya Dika started it. I just hope there are more Indonesian women comedian who don’t follow this stereotype and can come up as who they are, especially if they can do sets in English. So I am happy to find another woman comedian, Annie Yang (also have performed in Bali and other cities, and countries. She’s more experienced than I am and already did specials), who doesn’t feel the need to follow this trend of Indonesian women comedians. I ever received reactions like this from Indonesian audience, “You’re too cute to be a comedian. You should look like Sule, or Mpok Atik, to make yourself funnier.” Well, I don’t want people to laugh at my look, I want people to laugh because of my materials.
In the beginning, we didn’t get paid for doing comedy beside getting free drinks. But now promoters like Chris have been able to get us compensated more, so we’ve been paid for shows even though not a lot but it’s still something. Also, more and more business owners in Bali getting more interested to host comedians at their venues and are willing to pay. I guess when lockdown is over, it’s gonna be a big opportunity. Comedy clubs in Bali also grows, it gives comedians more opportunities to hone their crafts.
There are many styles of comedians but I personally prefer to respect more when the comedians put more efforts in the writing than just selling personality. There are some people who have a high stage vibe, but you can’t really rely on that because I think what makes a good comedy performance is also about timing. Sometimes comedians are too confident to just improvise just because it’s their mother tongue language, or because they think their English is good enough, but in the end the sentences became redundant.
I have the confidence that I am not so bad as a comedian newbie but I am also still very very far from good. I have a lot of flaws that I need to work on and learn from other comedians. As to the reasons why I do comedy and what my ambitions in comedy are, I still don’t know. I know why I started doing comedy but I still don’t know why I keep doing it and I also don’t know where I want to go, or how far I can or want to go. Money and fame are definitely not the answers (lol, if a comedian sets money as his intention, then he sets himself to be broke). Maybe I just want to forget other things in life? Maybe I just want to be entertained by myself when I am down by watching my sets? I don’t know. Some of my comedian friends have ambitions for their comedy journey, meanwhile I don’t. I don’t have milestones I want to reach, I just go with the flow. People think I am an ambitious person, meanwhile actually I don’t have a lot of ambitions beside my career, with my work, I set milestones I want to achieve, other than that, I set myself loose. If I happen to be good in that field, then maybe it’s luck. I do that on purpose, I don’t want to have too many ambitions in life because it can give me a burnout. Especially with comedy, I’m still very new in it and still trying to figure out many things. I don’t mind performing in front of hundreds of people or even just 10 people. But I also don’t know why I do that. Maybe I will find reasons and goals along the way, for now I just want to go with the flow and set no expectations.
Watch some of my sets here.