Meet the trio that’s making Saigon a funnier place
Started in mid-2017 by Adam Palmeter, a stand-up comedian who has since returned to his native country, Vu Minh Tu, Jwyanza Hobson and Angee The Diva took the mantle and ran with it, expanding Saigon Funny People from comedy showcases to include dating events, storytelling, dance parties, variety shows, drag shows and more. With a stable of more than 40 performers, both Vietnamese and expats, Tu describes the group this way, “We aim to provide diverse entertainment to people for an affordable good time.” Or as Angee puts it, “Saigon Funny People is your hub for underground entertainment in Saigon.” To which Jwyanza adds, “We encourage people to get onstage and have fun performing. We do.”
Not only do they have fun, but they stay active. Saigon Funny People hosts an open mic at Indika each Monday night (a free beer to anyone with the courage to perform), a monthly storytelling event known as The Strange and a monthly variety show called Saigon Sound Series, both at Heart of Darkness, as well as a monthly all-female comedy showcase at Bann Bar known as BannShe; and that’s just scratching the surface. Wanna dance, sing, play a tune or speak your truth? Looking to connect with the LGBTQ community or in the mood for a speed dating session? Saigon Funny People hosts something for you. They’ve held Christmas bashes, costume parties and many other one-off events. To attend or perform at one of these events is simply to connect with one of the three.
The Dynamic Trio
Tu is a spunky Vietnamese girl. She exudes femininity, yet delivers fierce lines in a way that would garner punk scene approval. When Tu takes the stage she bites back at topics like sexuality and expat entitlement, yet her start in comedy came from a much different place. “I started exhibiting symptoms of depression. Uy Le (another local comedian), one of the friends I got to know from a hypnosis workshop, suggested I try stand-up comedy and the first step was to join a comedy workshop. I took the workshop for one month and on September 16, 2017 I performed stand-up comedy at Yoko café. Since then I have been performing consistently.”
As she builds her name, comedy has taken Tu flying all over Southeast Asia for stand-up gigs, and she names Ali Wong and Sarah Silverman as her influences. “Doing comedy offers a rare chance to question and examine everything in a more lighthearted manner. I like sex jokes because I enjoy sex, everyone does I hope, but still it’s a taboo to talk about, especially in the context of an Asian country like Vietnam.” That being said, in the current cultural environment is there any pushback when she pushes the envelope? As Tu explains, “The impact of PC culture has definitely affected comedy. However, most of the time non-PC jokes fail to entertain, not because audiences are a bunch of tight-ass judgmental social justice warriors, but because making good non-PC jokes requires fine craftsmanship and sharp observation and a ruthless conviction to deliver, which is very difficult. My style is not to be PC, so come at your own risk.”
While Thu’s comedy is edgy, she is a delightful doyenne of the Saigon comedy scene like her counterpart, Angee The Diva. A native Hawaiian, boisterous and bold, with a hair revolution for each performance, Angee has called Saigon home for the last two years and is often the emcee for the events. Starting standup in the fall of 2017, she describes her origin: “I attended a show and was the only one interacting with the host. I guess I said some funny things because after the show the showrunner asked if I’d like to get into comedy. About a month later I did my first show and killed. The next night I got to fill a spot on an all-women’s international show. After that, I realized pretty quickly that this was exactly what I was meant to be doing.”
With influences such as Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and Dave Chappelle it’s no wonder Angee describes her comedy as: “Raunchy, unexpected and real. A good deal of it is on the fly. It’s derived from my actual experiences, so I usually take notes about something I find funny, then work the joke out before I perform it, usually at an open mic for the first time. I reflect, then tweak as needed. If you’ve ever felt like throwing out your kids, blowing up your job, or strangling a random person on the street but restrained yourself, you can come live vicariously through my stories!”
Whereas Angee and Tu have found the stage more recently, Jwyanza comes from a performance background. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in New York City, he cut his teeth in the ‘90s NYC punkmetal scene as a guitarist and bassist before eventually moving to southern California and joining the band Crisis in 1998. They cut an album, released in 2004, entitled Like Sheep Led to Slaughter and toured to support it. Then while living in Los Angeles he decided to give stand-up a try. “While doing a field study of an LA subculture for an anthropology class I wrote a small set and performed it at Marty’s on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood to a whopping two people, but I really liked it. It’s a lot different from music. You can play music in front of an audience that doesn’t like you and not care. In comedy… not so much. My comedy leans into political and social issues, so I’m always trying to find the audience’s line, and then I intentionally cross it and try to bring the audience with me,” he says.
Although he comes across as upbeat and affable, with influences like Bill Hicks and George Carlin, Jwyansa does like to dabble in darker takes on social phenomena. As he describes it, “It helps me to embrace the darker part of myself, which I think is healthy. At the end of the day, we’re all figuring our comedy and ourselves out. The best part of comedy is overcoming your fears and turning anxiety into energy. I love it when I feel something is important or dear to my heart and it gets laughter or applause. That means, ‘I feel you man!’ I live for that.”
While Tu, Angee and Jwyanza are witty and facetious on stage, they are equally approachable off it, serving them well as they’ve built their comedy careers.
Whether you would like to participate or spectate, to learn more about upcoming events check them out on Facebook or Instagram @SaigonFunnyPeople.
Image by Vy Lam