In the early days of the Jakarta Comedy Club we were lucky enough to catch some of today’s comedy superstars on their way up the ladder to fame and fortune. The headliner for our first ever show in April 2001 was Jason Byrne, who is now the biggest selling act of all time at the biggest comedy festival in the world, the Edinburgh Comedy Festival. Jason has also released three best-selling DVDs, hosts his own radio show and has appeared in multiple TV shows and movies. In July 2001 we also had the great fortune to catch comedy legend Ross Noble on his way to the top. Since then he has become a household name in Australia and the UK and has a massive following of fans all over the world. Over the last 12 years we have presented three of Channel 4 UK’s Top 100 International Comedians – Bill Bailey (No. 7), Ross Noble (No. 11) and Emo Philips (No. 77). Not bad for a tiny little comedy club in the middle of nowhere.
But what is it that makes a regular comedian break through from the professional comedy club circuit to the hallowed halls of comedy fame? One thing is for sure, it’s not just being “funny”. Comedy is so subjective, and what might have one person rolling on the floor could very well leave another person rolling their eyes. And what might drive Pommies to hysterics could very well drive Ozzies to drink. And even if EVERYONE thinks you’re funny, it still doesn’t guarantee you a place alongside Jason Byrne, Bill Bailey, Ross Noble or Emo Philips.
The only common factor I have noticed that sets people like Jason, Bill, Ross and Emo apart from the crowd is being “different”. I can’t say different in what way, because it is extremely hard to describe, but I CAN tell you that “different” is the equivalent of “memorable” in this context. We have many regular customers who have been coming to the Jakarta Comedy Club since the beginning, and very often after a show and a few Bintangs we will get to talking about the acts we have had here over the years. It is usually the same few names that come up, and invariably the person who remembers the NAME of and act remembers a PART of the act – a particular gag will stick out in the person’s memory for some reason. I believe these gags stick out in people’s memories because they are different AND funny, not just funny. The other thing that makes the gag different is of course the way that it is delivered. If Jason Byrne used an Emo Philips gag for example it wouldn’t necessarily work because they each have their own unique styles. So a funny and different gag, delivered in a unique way, is what people remember. Comedian Paul Ogata is a Japanese American from Hawaii, and his unique and hysterical routine about Japanese culture is one everyone who has seen him remembers – but it wouldn’t work for any other comedian.
So “different” is the key factor for me that can lead to fame and fortune for a comedian. But not necessarily. We have had many different and funny comedians at the JCC over the years, but only a handful have become famous. So success in the comedy business, like in almost every other business, is about hard work, having a product that is unique or different in some way, and a hell of a lot of luck.
People often ask me who my favourite comedian is from the past 12 years, but I can’t answer that without offending somebody. The vast majority of the comedians we have had here have been an absolute pleasure to be around and we have only ever had one or two acts that “bombed”. Great jokes or rehearsed acts are one thing and can be hilarious, but the funniest things I have heard in my life have been said on the spur of the moment or “off the cuff”, with no rehearsal and no planning. These comments are made possible by wit and quick thinking, and they are for me much funnier for that reason – and they are “unique” and “different” because nobody has ever said them before. The trouble is they are generally only funny at the time and “you had to be there”, so there is no point in me sharing any of them with you. The only remotely funny thing about this article is the title, and it’s only funny if you are a fan of Monty Python, and even then it’s only slightly funny because it’s unexpected. And then the irony; an article about comedy that isn’t funny. Har-de-har-de-har.