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East meets West on the comedy stage in Ho Chi Minh City

Wednesday, April 01, 2020, 16:53 GMT+7
East meets West on the comedy stage in Ho Chi Minh City
Patrick M. Davies (right) is seen at the premiere of his short comedy film 'The Hours We Wasted' in this supplied photo taken in 2019.

A group of five people from different countries who share a passion for humor, scriptwriting, and creative work have teamed up since 2019 to tell untold tales about a genuine Vietnam to foreigners.

Well aware that making a living in acting is not an easy job, even for indigenous Vietnamese, the five are still determined to rush in because they prefer a sense of challenge, not a path full of roses.

Jesse Peterson, the Canadian team leader, may be the most familiar face to the public, primarily as an author and regular op-ed writer for local newspapers.

The remaining members include Ryan Nguyen and Caleb T. Jones from the U.S., Patrick M. Davies from the UK, and Cory Jackson from Australia, who all have backgrounds in comedy and film production.

Jones has had a few years performing standup comedy in Vietnam. He ran about three shows a week at coffee bars around town before the COVID-19 pandemic.

With experience in writing comedy scripts and possessing a gifted face and voice, Jones has just completed his short comedy movie, which tells the story of a couple visiting Vietnam.

Throughout the journey, they are accompanied by a female tour guide, with whom the husband makes failed attempts to flirt.

At the end, when the wife hails a cab with the tour guide, it dawns on the husband that the two women already fell for each other right from the start.

It was one of the short comedies the group made for their Ho Chi Minh City audience.

Having lived in the southern metropolis for a while, it has become imperative to Jones that his movie be set here, in what he calls his "second homeland."

"I want my work to be perceived by the majority of people from different cultures," he said.

There is always something unique about their work – a sense of Canadian, British, American or Australian humor, or a blend of Western and Vietnamese cultures.

That is what Peterson, the group leader, aims to achieve.

Their audiences are certainly not just foreigners residing in Vietnam. With members having lived in this country for up to ten years, they believe their target audience may very well be the locals themselves.

As a group of foreigners living in Vietnam, Peterson said, they want to exhibit the East-West mix in their projects from a humorous perspective.

"That's our selling point,” he said.

The Vietnamese touch in their movies is not merely achieved by casting locals.

In the short comedy 'Nail Gangster,' screenwriter Jackson integrated scenes and situations familiar to Vietnamese people, such as an old man watching the classic cartoon 'Tom and Jerry' and the respect for the elderly people.

All the characters in the film are Vietnamese. With his many years of experience in film production and casting, Jackson said he had always envisioned the Vietnamese people he is familiar with playing the roles.

Davies lives in a small motel room in District 1, where he hangs an orchid on both sides of a balcony.

His room is his art studio, his balcony the tea and music space, and, for work, he can write his scripts anywhere whenever ideas spring to mind.

To his audience in Ho Chi Minh City, he is known chiefly as a comedian.

Davies likes to experiment with new ideas in scripts and expressions. He likes putting music into his comedy and is not afraid of trying things out.

During his performances, sometimes he will play to the audience a familiar melody, like a melancholy Christmas song for lonely people in Ho Chi Minh City, or stories of Westerners traveling to Asia for prostitutes.

Davies prefers clever ideas and is not fond of shallow comedy. His gigs might take a bit more time to appreciate for the Vietnamese audience.

His sense of humor is also quite uniquely British. Apart from comedy, he also makes documentaries about life in Vietnam.

Quite frequently, he roams the orchid markets in the southern metropolis, seeking new orchid branches.

Based on this personal interest, he wants to travel across Vietnam to make documentaries about the craft of orchids, which do not grow as easily in England.

Five foreigners in a Ho Chi Minh City-based comedy team that blends Asian and European cultures are seen in this supplied photo.

Five foreigners in a Ho Chi Minh City-based comedy team that blends Asian and European cultures are seen in this supplied photo.

Ryan Nguyen, a writer with a Vietnamese father and an American mother, says that he enjoys drawing on Vietnamese life in his works.

Nguyen said that pressing social issues such as traffic, flooding, and congestion are good materials for humor.

For Jackson, what he wants to tell foreigners the most are stories of the Vietnamese alleys – the real face of Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam that will never be fully revealed if visitors merely swing by the famous 'backpacker' street of Bui Vien in the southern hub.

Indeed, Jackson said he loves to live in an alley where there is an auntie selling coffee, a friendly vendor selling pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup), and even youngster gangsters with tattoos all over their arms.

Life in the alley is so laid-back that even when one is having a coffee at one vendor's, they can still order a bowl of pho from the opposite vendor, he said.

All five members of the team can make easy money with jobs that many foreigners in Vietnam choose to do, but they insist on taking the difficult path.

Their products, in the perception of some, may not have a smooth mix of Western - Vietnamese humor, but the team are still deciphering the essence of the audience they are targeting.

"We simply can't stop," Peterson said, adding that even though many may think the group are not very good at making a lot of money, they would still keep on going.

The members are passionate and understanding of one another’s strengths and weaknesses. Each of them is unique in their own way and is very different from the others.

They must learn how to work in groups with a sense of responsibility and punctuality and with an open mind for constructive feedback.

Fortunately, they are all ready to do so.

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