It was night, the sky was a muggy black, and I was in an unfamiliar place.
Technically, I was still sitting in the backseat of my car, a very familiar place to be, but only the car’s thin encasing of metal and safety glass separated me from the neon-lit street that was Timog Avenue. Something in the glow of the streetlamps made even the pavement look sinister. I spotted Laffline by virtue of its eye-grabbing signage in big letters. From its outside entrance, the lighting inside mirrored the lighting on the street – dark closing in, and a sparse light source that only emphasized it. For a comedy bar, Laffline wasn’t exactly welcoming; one thing I noticed there is that as soon as you enter, the waiters try and force you to sit in groups so they can pack the chairs and tables in as tightly as possible. Laffline isn’t a bar for individuals, and what the waiters hate the most is a lone person sitting apart, surrounded by empty chairs.
I was terrified when I arrived inside. I had heard that Laffline comedians made a show out of making fun of the audience, and mostly I was terrified that they would target me. So I sat at the way back, and I actually got a pretty good view of the audience from there. I was not surprised to see that around a third of the audience was composed of what seemed to be Ateneo students, as it was the scheduled field trip of Sir Skilty’s classes. There were a group of young adults sitting near the front, as well as some graying, middle-aged people. The shocker for me was spotting a family of about five or six around a table somewhere near the middle of the bar; the youngest was a boy of around eight years old. It got me thinking why their parents would want to expose them to this kind of place – a comedy bar – this kind of comedy, at such a young age.
That last sentence makes me sound so prejudiced. Honestly, when I entered the bar, I was prejudiced. My parents have always told me to set myself apart from the “uncouth” typical Filipino, and though I always thought that was a bit harsh, that night in Laffline exposed me to the kind humor my parents would probably find unsavoury. I spent half the time trying to understand the fast-paced jokes, and the other half trying to imagine why they would be funny. But I am getting ahead of myself. I first ought to describe the bar.
The comedian’s stage was lit by spotlights and was painted yellow-gold with a loud mural on the back wall. The surrounding walls were red and blue and muffled the light rather than reflected it back. The ceiling was bare, composed only of rafters and insulation. The audience was cast in shadow. The regulars sat at the very front, eager to be up close to the performers on stage. Obviously, the place was set up to draw as much attention to the comedians as possible. When I saw the performers themselves, though, I thought, They don’t need that over-painted stage; they’d draw attention to themselves even if they stood in the farthest corner.
The comedians were gays, and they owned that stage. They were dressed up in glittery outfits with poofy skirts and high high heels, and they demanded the attention of the audience. In that comedy bar, the gays were in charge and positions of power were reversed; the ones which were typically seen to be oddities in society were now the ones making the audience feel out of place, and the thing was, everyone was okay with it. It was all in the name of fun. The comedians could make dirty jokes and derogatory comments about someone, and he or she would still laugh with the rest of the audience. They had a knack for complimenting you with what sounded like an insult. They swore at each other and insulted everyone within a five-foot radius, but everything they did was funny. Everyone around me was laughing so hard, while I was struggling to piece together the humor of the thing. Was this acceptable? Was this what true Pinoys did for entertainment?
I stayed for about two hours that night. All in all, I saw a total of four performances, each around thirty minutes long. It’s difficult now for me to write this from a neutral point of view, or even an analytical point of view, because I have had such little exposure to Philippine pop culture that I understand next to nothing of it. Any analysis I make now would be hindered by my ignorance. The best I can offer is an observation: Filipinos love to laugh, for any reason at all, and when everyone knows it isn’t intended to hurt anyone, no one is offended. Another is that even while the gay comedians insult the audience, the audience still respects them. No one raised a word against their being gay, and people respected them enough not to interrupt their act whatever happened. One of the attractions of the acts, I think, was also the prospect of singing to a live audience, which is what happened in some; people actually volunteered to go up on that stage and perform alongside the comedians.
All in all, the Laffline experience was an eye-opener for me, and I wrote this mainly to sort out my prejudices from the experience. I guess this bar was selected for our trip as a representation of all other comedy bars, and if all of them are like Laffline, then it says something about our Philippine culture. I don’t know what it is yet, but I’ll keep trying to understand their jokes – and maybe one day, I’ll finally be able to laugh along with the rest of them.
Rebecca Georgia V. Yu,
2 BS MA