No laughing matter

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Stand-up comedy is serious business, says Vietnam's most popular exponent of the art, Nguyen Phuc Gia Huy


Nguyen Phuc Gia Huy, 30 and better known as Dua Leo (Cucumber), performed in "Vietnam's Got Talent" qualifying round. His sole mission, Huy says, is to popularize stand-up comedy and the show is helping him do that.

The short man climbs on to the stage. He has a withered left arm.

After a perfunctory hello, standup comedian Nguyen Phuc Gia Huy cuts right to the chase: "I notice that girls usually fall for bad guys. They say "˜he treats me so badly, he did not make a phone call for three months, but I love him.'

"Good men get told "˜You are perfect, but it is better for us to be friends'. What the f**k!"

Huy then takes a dig at traffic, love, journalism, cinema, and anything else he fancies, leaving the audience in stitches.

The 30-year-old, better known by his nickname, Dua Leo (cucumber), is one of the few stand-up comedians in Vietnam.

He tells Vietweek that he has no time for traditional Vietnamese comedy, which usually takes the form of a skit, dismissing it as "humdrum."

He is also scornful of the Vietnamese notion that comedy should always have a message.

"Why must comedy be profound? It appears that traditional comedy is trying to cram lessons into people's heads. They forget that people can learn moral lessons from anywhere; it is not comedy's responsibility. Nobody can teach you how to live your life."

"People come to see comedy to laugh, not learn."

But this has caused him some problems with self-appointed arbiters of public taste considering it heretical.

Thuy Hanh, a model and judge on the reality show "Vietnam's Got Talent," slammed Huy's three-minute performance at the audition this year.

"It is complete nonsense, just hollow laughter," she said.

Fortunately for him, the rest of judges noted actor Thanh Loc and music composer Huy Tuan did not share Hanh's disdain. "I cannot say such a bad joke as funnily as he did," Loc said, giving the comedian the thumbs-up.

Huy qualified and is busy preparing for the semifinal.

His sole mission, Huy says, is to popularize standup comedy and the show is helping him do that.

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"Comedy is a tough business and stand-up is the cruelest form.

"I can understand the conflicting attitude [toward stand-up comedy].

"Even my parents do not back my career. But being a stand-up is no laughing matter. I know what I am doing. My performance in "˜Vietnam's Got Talent' broadcast nationwide has garnered bigger public attention for the art. And that was my goal in taking part in the show. YouTube does the same thing."

Ready for the spotlight

It was a clip of Pablo Francisco that inspired Huy to pursue his dream of becoming a standup. He had few role models in Vietnam where only Hanoi comedian Chien Thang and Dat Tran have explored this genre.

"My voice is not good enough for me to become a singer, and I am not "˜normal' looking to apply to the college of art and cinema. But I do not want to live a normal life, I am addicted to applause. I took me a few years to make up my mind about becoming a stand-up comedian.

"Finally, I was fortunate to discover what I was really good at and liked. Sooner or later we will die, just follow your heart."

In 2009 he posted the first clips on the Internet.

"They were totally s**t. I could not stand them myself. When I watched those clips again, I knew why people hated me at that time."

But he is now the most famous stand-up comedian in the country. He no longer walks into cafes offering to perform. They come to him. He also performs at showbiz awards ceremonies and other events.

"I do not change my jokes," he admits, "just the delivery. Little details make all the difference."

He learned the art from books he bought online.

"A book titled "˜How to become a killer standup comedian' seemed to be the usual boast, but it was damn good'."

Watching stand-up comedy stars is another way of learning, he says.

"Timing is the next important thing. If you cannot make people laugh in the first 10 or 15 seconds, you have definitely failed."

Besides being a standup comedian, he is also a TV producer.

"I am the family bread-winner and stand-up cannot provide a livelihood. But I will never quit. I know I am born to do it."

Doing a 90-minute live show is his next ambition.

"You must watch Robin Williams. He keeps people in splits. Amazing! I want to bring the house down"¦ like him."

What has been his worst experience as a performer? He tells Vietweek about a show three years ago: "Nobody laughed when I performed. My performance ended suddenly when a guy grabbed the microphone from my hand."

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