Struggling comics should leave the country

Hartley Pool on entertaining the expats

Have your dreams of Ross Noble-like fame come crashing down in the face of one bemused looking Japanese tourist, a rather unfriendly looking cat and an overly enthusiastic compere? If your comedy career appears to have, like an excited old man, peaked too soon, one thing you might consider is moving to a non-English speaking country.

It worked for me.

There are gigs all over the world, just crying out for talent. I train people to teach English as a foreign language, and my first ever gig was at the Budapest Bardroom – a Central European platform for poets, writers, singers and me that started up eight or nine years ago. It’s a wonderful gig, with a guaranteed audience of between 50 and 100 ex-pats and fluent English speaking Hungarians, who will reward even lines you hadn’t thought were particularly funny with gales of laughter and perhaps even the odd smattering of applause. Sure, it’s the only gig in the whole city, but as quite possibly the only comedian in town you’re almost guaranteed a spot. Especially given that I don’t live there anymore.

I’ve lived in a number of cities around the world, and every one of them has had a friendly, homegrown, well-attended night catering to stand-up comedians. Well, every one of them except London.

The scene here in Taiwan, for example, started almost a decade ago with open-mic nights and now has its own comedy club, with an English language show twice a month. Once again, they’re a forgiving audience - well they have to be, because sometimes I give in to my ambitions and put on a two-hour Hartley-based extravaganza that sees an upswing in take at the bar, as people try desperately to drink themselves into a state of hilarity.

The great thing about clubs like these, though, is that you can usually negotiate a nice deal that gives you a fairly high percentage of the entrance fee. On top of that, starved of any other comedy events, the local English language media will usually end up doing most of your promotion for you.

Okay, so perhaps you’re not convinced – but at the very least you should try combining a holiday with a gig or two. If the homegrown clubs aren’t to your taste, or perhaps you’re already headlining in the UK, well then all is not lost… there’s something out there for you as well.

John Moorhead started up the Punchline Comedy Club in Hong Kong in 1994, and since then it’s spread to Thailand, Japan, The Philippines, Macau and – all too briefly – Taiwan. He flies out headline acts from the UK, Australia and Canada to put together a 90-minute show to rival any in the world.

Or at least, that’s what he usually does – unless he’s been persistently harassed by an annoying Hartley who insists he knows the local situation intimately and can easily do, oh twenty minutes and get a standing ovation. In those - albeit rare - situations, he puts together a 94 and a half minute show that almost rivals any show in the world, apart from that 4 and a half minutes when some damn fool comes out, starts off reasonably well, but then notices there are 200 people watching him, panics and descends into meaningless babble.

There are other gigs, like John’s starting up – the 1NiteStand Bar in Singapore is as professional as they get and has played host to such luminaries as Phil Nichol, Kevin McCarthy and Nick Wilty. Even Mirth Control has gigs in Guernsey and North Cyprus and may be looking for more. I can’t confirm that, though, as the last time I saw Mirth Control boss Geoff Whiting he had his head in his hands and was quietly weeping as I pranced around the stage at the Comedy Cavern in Bath dressed as a vicar.

Perhaps I’ll stay abroad just a little longer...

Click here to watch Hartley on stage in Taiwan.

Published: 25 Mar 2008

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