Sometimes, laughter is the best medicine

It has often been said that laughter is the best medicine. And in the case of the fearsome Covid-19 pandemic, this age-old adage still rings true, especially when it comes to our mental well-being. With many in forced isolation, jobless or struggling with livelihoods, levity has become a much-needed, yet rarer-than-ever commodity.

Still, even as the crisis rages on and with physical entertainment venues still closed in Singapore, local comics and comedy clubs, though struggling with loss of income themselves, have found a way to still bring us laughter and joy by taking their material online, uplifting spirits with their brand of humour all across our sunny island as they do so.

Navigating uncharted territory

Earlier this year, five well-known, local stand-up comedians including Sam See, Jinx Yeo and Jacky Ng banded together to offer Singapore Stands Up! An Online Comedy Show. The ticketed event premiered digitally on May 8.

As one might imagine, digital productions like these have never been done before, and for good reason. Lag may occur, unwanted background noises may pipe in, technical errors are always a concern, and worst of all, the lack of interaction between spectator and performer means it's impossible to pull off certain bids or gauge how audiences are reacting to one's jokes. After all, stand-ups are best done live and with a level of spontaneity.

In fact, one of the comics, Ng, was initially hesitant to perform in the aforementioned production organised by Discover by Circles.Life, since this was all uncharted territory.

“Now that comedy clubs are closed, there are no more regular gigs which means a less stable income. But personally, what’s more difficult to deal with is that without a physical space and live audience, it is tough to practice, tighten and craft jokes. It’s not easy to stay motivated in such cases,” the local comedian, actor and host shares.

“I was originally very against the idea of performing virtually but told myself that this is something I will have to get used to. As it turns out, the performance was a lot of fun and even allowed me to do things I would never be able to do at a comedy club,” he adds.

The difference in presenting live stand-up and virtual shows has led the comedian to think outside the box, and to adjust his approaches over the last couple of months. To combat sound issues, he encourages audiences to switch off their microphones to prevent noise pollution. He also asks that they turn their cameras on so he may observe their reactions. This greatly helps with his self-esteem and confidence in carrying out the entire set, he says, and aids in post-show evaluation too.

In terms of material, it is nearly impossible to perform like he did last time. Instead, on the virtual stage, Ng offers his jokes in a more animated manner to make them funnier, and sometimes relies on older jokes he knows will work in order to ensure a level of quality in his sets. On the other hand, there is also a larger pool of topics he can joke about, since people are generally now more informed about current affairs.

Doing good with humour

Also offering comedy digitally while championing a good cause is the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC), in conjunction with Singaporean theatre company Dream Academy and donation platform Giving.sg with their live comedy series, The City of Good Show.

Held across a couple of weeks in July and August, the shows were hosted on Giving.sg’s Facebook page to conjure awareness for charities which have fallen under the radar of public consciousness during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Boasting a star-studded line-up of local celebrities including Kumar, Hossan Leong, Pamela Oei and Selina Tan, these performers have been generous with their time and talent, allowing the series to raise over $320,000 from the first four episodes.

The initiative was made even more impactful with Tote Board’s Enhanced Fund-Raising Programme which provided dollar-for-dollar matching of donations for the charities, up to $250,000.

Speaking to SG Magazine, founder of Dream Academy and household name in Singaporean comedy Selina Tan, said: “Creating interesting, world-class, local content is a creative service that Dream Academy has been providing over the years. Most of our work happens onstage at theatres, but we've also done this online before. But now that theatres are closed and we have no real source of income, this has been a good opportunity for us to continue our creative work while providing livelihoods for actors and everyone else associated with the production.”

More to come

If digital comedy content sounds like music to your ears, then you’ll be pleased to know that more are coming your way. At popular comedy club The Merry Lion, shows, workshops and other experiences are all moving online.

The regularly sold-out venue has been taking its events online via Zoom, even as they prep for the possibility of their reopening. Rounding up some of the best comics in Asia and around the world, these comedy shows are hosted to spread laughter and joy amid these tough times.

Other than comedy specials, virtual storytelling and public speaking workshops organised by the hotspot also received positive feedback from local audiences.

“People seem to be looking for new skills and fun now, more than ever. The workshops are also accessible to everyone and no prior experience is required,” said Aidan Killian, owner of The Merry Lion.

“Online comedy shows with a live audience are a new phenomenon and everyone is in the process of learning to do that to a high standard. A large number of audience love that they can tune in directly from the warmth of their cosy sofas, laughing off the absurdity and frustration of the pandemic,” he continues.

The Merry Lion will soon be staging an online comedy show on Aug 22 with an early bird price of just $10, starring three local acts as well as three international ones. Among the line-up is even one of the most senior performing female comedians, Lynn Ruth Miller, so audiences are definitely getting a bang for their buck.

Evidently still intent on bringing laughter to Singaporeans, our local talents are staying strong, putting a smile on everyone's faces despite the impact of this unforgiving pandemic.

Sometimes one just needs to laugh it off. And if anyone can help make light of this harrowing situation and turn our moods around, it’s these guys.