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Not just for laughs: Portrait of a stand-up comic

Making people laugh can be hit or miss; after all, jokes are often made at the spur of a moment.
It happens at the dinner table, during a phone call, in the middle of a car ride, and all those
casual moments when one’s wit and humor spontaneously strike gold.

Standing onstage, however, the setting changes; for a few minutes to an hour, a stand-up
comedian is paid to deliver a series of jokes—and make an expectant crowd laugh. For them,
humor is a serious, tricky business where making people laugh is not just a chance moment but
a requirement.

Offstage, onstage

“I still remember that feeling, and I still experience that today. Parang nasa cloud nine ka lang
kapag tumatawa ang crowd,” Victor Anastacio, a veteran stand-up comedian and comic actor,
recalls of his first stand-up experience 13 years ago.

(It’s like you are on cloud nine when the crowd is laughing.)

Before Victor became a familiar face, having been featured in film and television shows such as
Tonight with Boy Abunda and The Gift, he was simply known among his group of friends as the
funny guy. Yet, upon watching Dave Chapelle’s performances, he saw the craft in a new light,
realizing that comedy can serve as a medium to deliver strong messages. “May substance pala
ang comedy,” he stresses, “not just kenkoy laughs.”

(Comedy can have substance; it’s not just silly laughs.)

Though he has drawn inspiration from other comedians, he admits that “you don’t really choose
your style of comedy”—it just comes naturally. “I guess my style would be saying ridiculous
things based on normal everyday events that actually happen to me,” he says.

“The audience,” he adds in Filipino, “appreciates more of an observational style—when
comedians share their impressions on the country, on daily life, on relationships, sometimes on
the government; these jokes work rather than insults and repeated routines.”

Comedians make stand-up comedy appear natural and effortless, but Victor points out the
challenges that come with this set-up. “Walang costume, walang soundtrack, walang kanta,
walang stinger, walang laugh track, wala kang ka-partner. You, your ideas, your timing, your
material, and the mic—iyon lang ang kailangan mo,” he explains. Originality is also held in high
regard in the comedy scene; copying or borrowing someone else’s jokes is a strong taboo that
“makes you unacceptable in the tribe of stand-up comedians,” he reveals.

(That’s all you need.)


Mic test

With a pen on one hand and a blank sketchpad on the other, Victor composes his next
performance piece. His source of inspiration? The monotony of daily life. “Basta galing sa
everyday normal life…something imaginary, ridiculous, or ordinary,” he says.

One of the requirements for a comedian is the ability to craft original and creative jokes, and
Victor is no exception. While he says he can procure ideas from the ordinary and the mundane,
he veers away from sensitive topics like religion and politics. Underscoring that “no one likes to
be laughed at,” he crafts his performances thoughtfully, avoiding jokes that target specific
subgroups.

“I try to be sensitive around topics kasi comedy is such a powerful force,” he asserts. “The
victims, minorities, or repressed, ayan ‘yung ina-avoid ko.” When the #MeToo movement was in
full swing, Victor sought feedback from his female friends to evaluate the message of his
performance pieces.

To ensure that a joke does not cross the line, Victor and his fellow comedians hold “open mic
nights”—sessions where they assess whether their planned punchlines are not insensitive. He
highlights the importance of these sessions, saying that most of the time, comedians will only
realize that a joke is distasteful when an audience member points it out after the show.


The show must go on

Despite the pandemic bringing stand-up comedy to an uncertain standstill, Victor affirms that the
industry continues to thrive, albeit in a virtual stage. Instead of audience members going to
comedy bars and live shows, they can enjoy programs at the comfort of their own home. Victor
reveals how his shows have garnered viewership overseas; from the United States and Norway,
to Myanmar and Singapore, there is never a shortage of viewers that attend his shows.

“We don’t expect the pandemic to end anytime soon, so more Zoom or online shows [will be
hosted],” he remarks, though he hopes that live comedy shows can resume in the future
“because nothing compares to the actual experience of being there.”

By Joaquin Luna

By Isabelle Santiago

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