As I got down from the car, a feeling of excitement and anxiety crept down my spine not knowing what to expect once I go up the concrete steps, pass through the handful of guards trying to look tough, and into the black doors of the unknown. Truth be known, I have never been into a place such as this: with its windows all tainted black so passersby cannot see what’s happening inside, at least ten cars parked neatly in front, around four men, some in black shirts and some in white cotton barongs, keeping watch by the door, and a neon sign with the words: Punchline comedy bar brightly lit by different colored lights. I was excited but at the same time a bit fearful as to what I might find inside or worse what might happen to me inside.
It was around 9:30pm when I got in. I had just paid the 300 peso entrance fee and had just gotten a circular pink thing stamped on my hand. I took a few steps to the right and behind of the reception area where the hall opens up to a dimly lit room choked with chairs and tables of different heights and sizes bundled around the room in small groups. To the far center back is the stage where a classic superman movie was screening. Immediately to its left is the tech booth where a man half-wearing a pair of headphones is going through a list of songs they’re probably going to use for tonight’s event. While huddled around the stage are more than a dozen circular chairs and tables very few of which are occupied. To the far left is the bar and grill, where all the heart attack-inducing yet aromatic orders are taken to and eventually served.
And as I scanned the room hoping to find a familiar face among the twenty or so people already seated and the several others still standing hoping to get a good view as far away as possible from the stage, I noticed that most of these people, besides the fact that they are drinking and being sold alcohol, are middle aged – probably in their early thirties and mid forties. And judging by the number of cars parked outside and the number of plates on most of the tables so far, it’s safe to assume that most of these people watching are middle-class people or higher.
The show was about to start and it was already 10pm on my watch. And as I got to my seat with the few people from the class that I know, I realized that within the last 30 minutes that I spent watching superman try to beat up the bad guys the bar has gotten quite full, of course excluding those from my SA class. Most of the people I saw coming in are more or less in the same are group as those who came before me. One can tell, they didn’t look as young as Meryl does, but they didn’t look any older that sir Skilty either. Some of them were smoking. More were drinking. Even more were eating their hearts out. However, all of them were talking, chatting and telling stories to one another. Who can blame them? The show hasn’t yet started. It was just about to, but not yet. Plus, what’s the purpose of going out with your friends if not to socialize with them? But why go to bars and clubs if they can watch movies, go to the mall or crash in a friend’s house? And why a comedy bar for all that matters? Is it because they’re too old and are already used to doing such childish stuff, but still too young to spend the night just lying on the bed watching TV? It is at this point where I realize that these people are here not just so that they can socialize, but rather to be able to unwind from a hard day’s work, release stress that has been accumulating through the week, and most importantly to be humored. People go to comedy bars to enjoy the pleasure of being with friends, eating, laughing out loudly, and drinking beer while some unknown person throws insults at you, or your friends, or some other unfortunate victim for other people’s schadenfreude.
As the night dragged on, as the beer kept flowing so did the insults, sarcastic remarks, and surprisingly so did the well sung songs keep pouring in. The insults came consistently, often focusing on the people seated nearest the stage, and often about their looks and the first impressions the comedians had about them. It was interesting to see how the comedians were able to fool around with the audience as if what they said meant nothing to them. The funny thing is, jokes are always half meant. The grill, I noticed, was surprisingly never short on pork, since throughout the night almost everyone I can see has ordered some kind of pork-based dish. The comedians on the other hand were never short on green-minded jokes. They dished it out just as fast as the cooks at the grill can dish out their fatty orders. But it was most interesting when they started on the word plays. They played on the notion of how a Filipino, someone unaccustomed to the English language, would understand the English words said to him. I then realized that the things we were laughing about were things that we normally didn’t do in public – some sort of a taboo. Take for example, sex. Who would want to publicly talk about sex or publicly talk about how lewd a woman is based on her figure? Or who in their right mind would be willing to insult or be insulted by others for fun? No one, of course. But in the world of the comedy bar, everyone does. So in a sense, comedy bars provide us an avenue with which we can discuss what society believes to be taboo if discussed publicly. Then it hit me, all these things which we laugh about, which we yearn so much without having to feel guilt, boils down to this one word: Schadenfreude which in German, is the pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.
It didn’t come as much a surprise to me that the comedians at the bar are gay as to when I found out that all the comedians are gay. Well, probably because I was expecting someone who wasn’t gay like Rex Navarette and whose jokes didn’t revolve as much around sex and insults. But what came more as a surprise to me is how easy it is for these gay comedians to make the audience laugh with the stupidest or even the simplest remarks. How do they do it? How do they, with a simple play on words, a bit of stupidity and sarcasm, make the crowd go wild? And it occurred to me, the reason why there are a lot of gay people who are so good at being comedians is because of their sexuality. Their uncommon behaviors and attitudes, most especially their way of talking to others, help them in making others laugh. They have a certain weird vibe going on with them that makes a person just want to laugh out loud. Yes, they go against society’s norms, but are able to make use of this uniqueness to their advantage. Moreover, this welcoming and accepting, if not lenient, society allowed these gay comedians to feel empowered and in a sense contributed to their overall attitude of being loud and daring.
But despite all of the secondhand smoke I’ve inhaled, the energy I spent laughing, and the brain cells I used trying to understand why people enjoy going to comedy bars, I only really learned one thing: never sit in front. Ever.
Mark Balce 090342
Gabriel Cuartero 101056