Trista di Genova, The Wild East
September 3rd was a proud moment in time, for all of us. Eleven local comics from the UK, South Africa, USA – including myself – congregated at a Sports Bar on Wen Lin Road in JuBei for ‘Hsinchu’s First Comedy Night!’ It was billed as an event ‘Bringing Comedy to the Taipei Countryside’. Over a hundred comedy enthusiasts, mostly expats with a strong Afrikaans congregation, showed up.
It was a landmark event. Why? Well, let me tell you a little story.
It all seemed to hot up at the Taipei Comedy Club a few months ago; this is where a great number of comics met up and joined forces.
A mostly-in-English comedy night was held last month at the Taipei Comedy Club, with the theme ‘Best English Teacher Contest’ (the brainchild of the Club’s Sosio Chang and Ross), MC’d by Torch Pratt and Puppetman Matt Bronsil. Outside on a smoke break I met Luke Georgiou, a UK comic who’d taken the high-speed rail from Hsinchu that evening to take part in the contest. No, I wasn’t going to perform that evening, I said, but I would if wasn’t chronically anemic at that time and likely to pass out onstage from all the excitement (In fact, I’d ignored my doctor’s orders to go back to the hospital that afternoon for a blood transfusion). He expressed enthusiasm about organizing a comedy night in JuBei, and I agreed to perform in that event and support it as best I could.
I’m so glad I was there that fateful night, not only to support Taipei’s nascent comedy scene get back on its feet – but because we all fortuitously converged there at that point in time: Torch Pratt, Matt Bronsil, Tobie Openshaw, Nicholas Sando, Luke Georgiou, for starters, and even the Turkish sensation in Taiwan, Rifat Karlova.
Taiwan’s Comedy Scene has had its fits and starts. For the past decade, before the Taipei Comedy Club opened a few years ago, there has only been a few Open Mic nights. In about 2003, I met another driven comic, Kurt Penney, at Citizen Cain, for an evening Emceed by Moshe Foster. There was a Funniest Joke contest, and I took first prize with a feminist one-liner. Kurt, I would find out over the years, would never forgive me for that — having lost to a woman when he’d been practicing and dreaming of ‘comeding’ for so long!
Nevertheless, Kurt helped pulled together some local comics, and organized some events, publicizing them with the local newspapers as best he could. As a journalist for a newspaper at that time, I covered his events. He invited me to comede at a Halloween show at the then-new Taipei Comedy Club when it opened in the ShiDa area. I was happy with my performance, but he accused me of being drunk (I did have a few, for courage, but thought I held it together for the most part), and more importantly to him, he was furious I didn’t sing my “English Teacher in Taiwan” a cover/spoof of “Englishman in New York”, as he had asked me to. I explained I hadn’t finished it, didn’t really like it, and also thought “Ghosts in Taiwan” would be more appropriate for the Halloween show. But he never forgave me for that, either!
Then one evening, he got loaded and wrote some crap on my Wall on Facebook, and we parted ways. Then, the next I heard, he’d tried to sue his buxiban (cram school); however, he didn’t have a legal leg to stand on in terms of his status here, and was summarily deported! Kind of a befittingly dramatic exit there. There was no love lost between us — and other local comics I talked to also felt he was very difficult to work with — but he’d been the main organizer of comedy events in English for years, and now there was no horse driving the cart.
For a while, the comedy scene in Taiwan took a blow – at least the English-speaking scene did. But slowly but surely, new talent stepped forward, perhaps satellite actors of other groups like the Taipei Players, but also new people who had a serious interest in comedy – and performing comedy.
There was a bit of a boost to the comedy scene coming from other theatre groups. The Sando explained: “The Taipei players were definitely important in keeping the English speaking performance scene alive (and they would often perform comedy pieces), so in that sense the players were an important soil for performance in Taipei. The Taipei Improv Group has several members who are involved with the players. Honestly, though, I don’t think the stand ups are too involved in the theater scene and vice versa except for Matt and myself.”
Most importantly, about a year ago, thanks to Matt Bronsil, Brandon Thompson, Brian Funshine and Nicholas Sando, the Taipei Improv Group started up, meeting at filmmaker Gary Byrne’s place in Yonghe at 8:30pm on Mondays (9 Boai Street, Yong He City). People who are new to the group and new to improv are more than welcome to come — it’s an open house.
“Oh rock!” commented The Sando. “Brian Funshine started the group up a while ago, with Brandon Thompson, though it died for about a year before I got into the country.”
Quoth Mr. Funshine, “Hi Trista, yeah I did start the Taipei Improv Group but mutual credit goes to Brandon ‘cause without him I wouldn’t have. He is the one I went to for experience and guidance! Nick and Colin have become co-organizers due to their dedication and experience. Matt also has done some workshops and improvising but he is mostly involved with the Taichung group.”
So it was this happy confluence of factors – The Taipei Improv Group, comics like Matt Bronsil and Luke Georgiou taking on (enthusiastically) some much-needed responsibility for organizing these events, and a renewed interest in seeing and being part of live comedy in Taiwan.
Here’s how to get involved:
1) Would-be Comics: Check out/join the Taipei Improv Group on Facebook (or the TAICHUNG IMPROV group, if that’s closer).
2) Catch a show or try your hand at stand-up comedy at the Taipei Comedy Club!
Address: No.20, Lane 553, Sec. 4, ZhongXiao E. Rd., Taipei City (MRT Taipei City Hall Station)
Open Hours: 6:00pm-1:00am (Tuesdays off)
Tickets: NT250 or higher (1 drink included)
Free Wednesday & Open Mic: Every Wed. 8:00pm
＊With MC ‘Torch’ Pratt
＊2 Comedians will perform, free entrance, 100NT minimum order.
＊Open Mic after the show.
＊Try Stand-up! Tell a joke and win a beer.