Under the spotlight, infront of a crowd-this is not the time you want to get caught with your pants down! Doing stand up comedy probably conflicts with everything your better judgment tells you. Getting up on stage and public speaking is one thing, but trying to get an audience to laugh is something that some can do, and others cannot. Zainal Bostaman shared these same doubts about himself, but despite being introverted as a child and being told by his family “You were never the funny one” he started his journey into standup comedy.
The key to Zainal’s philosophy is that comedy is for everyone, not just to enjoy watching but also to produce. By this he means it is a skill, one that can be learnt by anyone, anywhere. He shares in his chat with us the same thing he teaches at his BruHaHa comedy club workshops- everything is comic material, and ironically its usually the things you try to hide from people that are the best source of laughter. “Comedy is great because you are learning a new skill but you are also forcing yourself to reflect on your difficulties and look at them in a new way. Once you laugh at them, and allow others too as well, it doesn’t seem so bad.” I have heard people say ‘laugh at your mistakes’ before but now that I’m hearing it from someone who openly admits to being bullied in school and not easily finding a girlfriend, I feel like my insecurities are bit of a joke too. If laughter is the best medicine then writing comedy is the best therapy.
Zainal’s quest to bring comedy culture to Brunei involves bringing over comics from all over the world. His only conditions are ‘nothing about religion, politics, or sex.’ This seemed to be a sticking point for most people. “People think they can’t be funny without being sexist, prejudiced or talking about sensitive material.” I know what he means immediately, people mistake being outrageous with being funny, audiences are shocked and then they laugh to mask that sensitive feeling of offence. So what do people joke about? Their awkward moments, relationships with parents, girlfriends/ boyfriends (or lack thereof), and having less than ideal circumstances to name a few. Zainal tells us that the best part is that people laugh at what they relate to, they are laughing because they get it, they’ve been there too. And, at the risk of sounding like a hippy, I’ll say that it was beautiful to think of these universal experiences and insecurities that everyone shares regardless of country or culture.
The act of delivering a joke, he tells us, is actually very simple; comedy across all mediums shares the same structure- setup, and punch line. But to get to that point requires a process and practice. His process began with setting himself specific goals, for example, starting the comedy club in Brunei (check), and completing 20 hours of stage time. To create his material he conducts stream of consciousness writing everyday. From here he picks the best possible ideas and hashes them out, he creates mind maps and then sets up his bits. What I like about his process is that it requires the same fundamental things that all achievements demandfocus, discipline, and action.
It is this same process that he believes brings true happiness. I asked if laughter brings happiness. He agreed that it did, but only for a short time, and then its gone. He argues that true happiness is found in the pursuit of a goal. “The other day I was working until 5 am. I stopped, not because I wanted to, but because it was so late. I’m truly happy dong this.”