“Balik-bayan ka ba?”
“Sinong balik-bayan dito?”
These were some of the most frequent questions the comedians asked the audience during our class excursion to the comedy bar Laffline. And when I had heard this question for the nth time, I finally turned to my block mates and asked them what the relation was between comedy bars and balik-bayans. As we mulled over this question, we came to the conclusion that Filipinos who spent an enormous amount of time overseas, probably went to comedy bars after returning to the Philippines to relieve their nostalgia for the humor of their motherland. If this was so, then humor would have had to differ around the world, and much like the topics we discussed in class, it must also be something that is cultural or societal.
In fact, this phenomenon was very evident to me during my experience in Laffline. You see, I grew up in a household where the favorite pastime was watching television and movies. But unlike most Filipino families, mine was much more inclined towards watching American situational-comedies or more commonly known as sitcoms which were mostly from the 80s and 90s. And so while most Filipinos my age grew up with shows like “Idol Ko si Kap”, “Bubble Gang”, and variety shows reminiscent of “Wowowee”, I grew up watching shows like “The Nanny”, “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”, “Seinfeld”, and other reruns of American sitcoms. As a result, I developed a rather different sense of humor compared to most Filipinos. And because of my propensity towards Hollywood movies, I also became a very huge television show and movie buff who relishes in jokes with popular culture references.
Because of this, of all the jokes that were thrown around that night, my favorite ones contained movie and television references. For example, since I am a fan of Star Wars, the joke I enjoyed the most, even if I was probably the only one who did so, was the one where the comedian alluded to one of the audience members looking like an ewok. Another bit I enjoyed very much was the one where one of the comedians was playing on the body size of his partner, and together they parodied popular animated figures such as Po from Kung Fu Panda, Shrek, Barney, Doraemon and even a devious green pig from the game Angry Birds.
Aside from this, the same can probably be said about the way the different audience members reacted to the comic relief provided by the comedians. For example, due to the rather large population of Ateneo students present that night aside from my block mates and me, the single joke that made fun of the way conyo people spoke was rather well-received. Apart from us, the group of students from La Salle who were also there probably enjoyed the joke, too, since both schools are hubs for people who speak conyo and those who find it comical. The comedians also told a few pun-ny jokes (pun intended), but we did not really take to them since most of us were accustomed to puns that were more clever.
One of the more popular jokes sought to poke fun at the general tendency of Filipinos to stereotype rich and poor people. Some pointed out the relationship between one’s skin tone and level of wealth where fair-skinned people were probably rich and dark-skinned people were poor. Other jokes took the same technique, but instead of skin-tone made use of the area where a person lived. These were probably well-received by the audience because it made something that we Filipinos do or have had experience with appear very silly.
Since Laffline was not only a place for comedy but was also a bar, the audience was mostly composed of individuals who were of legal age and above. And because it catered to an older, more mature audience, sexually explicit jokes were in abundance (even despite the presence of the few individuals in the audience who still applied to or just graduated from the PG-13 restriction). In fact, these types of jokes were one of the most popular gaining the loudest and most laughs from the audience. This was probably because it tackled an awkward topic by using outrageous stories which exposed not only the folly of the comedians telling the jokes but also that of the foreign characters within the jokes. But being a very conservative type of person, I personally found it very hard to stomach these kinds of jokes. I did, however, find it slightly amusing when one of the gay comedians was trying to seduce a female audience member.
All in all, although I did not laugh as much as I thought I would during my Laffline experience, I can say that it was still an enjoyable night. And even though I found myself doing a face-palm more than once, the night was still a good opportunity to experience Filipino humor and find out that it was not my cup of tea.
Alexis Avery C. Garcia