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Behind the Laughs

14 May

To be honest, I have never been to a comedy bar, or to any bar, for that matter. By the time I did stepped into Laffline with a group of classmates, I felt like an alien landing on a new uncharted planet.

When I entered the establishment, I could not tell the difference between the bouncers from the waiters. It was difficult because all of them did not look like they pumped iron at a gym, but instead they meld in well with the giddiest members of the audience. One such instance was when I spotted one of the waiters was air drumming to the music being played.

When the show started, I felt surprised by the appearance of several cross-dressing, homosexual performers, yet I’m not one to close my eyes to such things. A singer myself, I admired the ensemble for their talent because all of them could sing well. Meanwhile, some of the audience members continued to have a good time with one another. Before I knew it, people started to occupy the once empty tables. Some of my fellow guests were Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs); some were families with members who came from the provinces; most were groups of friends hanging out after a hard week’s work, while many were couples. It did not take long for Laffline to be a ‘full house’ event!
The audience was intent on listening closely to the performers for the night. The gang on stage interacted with the audience most of the time, and belted to a variety of tunes with much aplomb. Part of the ensemble was a guy who underwent a sex change procedure in Thailand. Her Mariah Carey number was indescribable! She can sing the bass level of a male’s and the soprano level of a female’s. I never knew somebody could actually have the talent to sing both parts!

When it came to comedy, the comedians exhausted their bag of rather ‘green’ jokes like no other. Not all of their jokes were malicious, but they never ran out of what to say when it came to giving the audience a hearty, perverse laugh. From describing private parts to topics on sexuality, they were not a bit embarrassed talking about their own little businesses or of one of the audience’s. The patrons may feel insulted about the topic, but they never showed it for the sake of the jolly atmosphere. In the end, everybody was open to the topic. With the ice broken, the comedic performers even shared bits and pieces of their experiences in their lives, such as the discrimination they felt from people who were against their orientation or their experiences being prostitutes in foreign countries. Still, the mood did not wane from its happy-go-lucky nature. My classmates and I went with the flow laughing at the performances and jokes. In the end, I think my classmates and I agree that this is a place that we would gladly return to.

It’s obvious I’m new to bars, but I’m not new to the realities I saw. For me, one of the reasons why the hosts talked openly about sex was because they are de facto the only people to have experience on how to be both sexes. Plus, their experiences of prejudice during their younger years only enhanced their stance on being homosexual because they wanted to show that even their kind deserves equality. However, the truth is that life has been difficult for them. They have to earn a living like everybody in spite of their situation; some were unemployed, and a few of them, with only a certain degree of education, have even resorted to cyber sex and prostitution in other countries. But not long then, they became part of the comedy bar, earning a small but steady income through making laughs and smiles. Still, they are part of the lower income bracket. Clearly, reality has to set in and this is not something to laugh about. Yet, its something that continues to be generally accepted.

However, what I did not understand was why did they not audition for any other act in showbiz? They would surely pass with their level of talent. So why stay at a comedy bar, get paid little, and miss out on being famous? I found my answer by the time my classmates and I started to leave: its simply making people happy.

These people have come to love their job. By giving happiness to other people, they too have become happy on the job. They would not want to leave their jobs to go to showbiz, where critics punish and scandalous gossips thrive. And perhaps we can learn from them: salary and affluence gained from one’s occupation is only secondary to feeling satisfied or happy about one’s job.

Moreover, one may call the comedy bar the pinnacle of escapism, yet it does not stop the fun. This was not only because the performers were jocular, but also because people interacted and laughed together. Everybody was exuberant, and for once, reality and its very points of tension were forgotten. I know for a fact that the Philippines is one of the happiest countries in the world despite having a so-so economy. But I realized that to be part of this category is something we should not be ashamed of. Happiness is a feeling that we have oft forgotten because of the seriousness of facing life and all its grueling conflicts. We have forgotten what it was like to simply stop and enjoy the company of friends or family. People like those who laughed and jeered with me would rather escape from reality for a while to enjoy the simple joys in life. That is why even the workers of the bar have become easy-going as well. Laffline may not be an ecstatic paradise, but I realized a lot about comedy bar culture, while all the more a little more than a few laughs from the performers.

Harveen Ang

SA21 I

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