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Just for Laughs – Hong Kong’s Comedy Kingpin Recounts his Asian Invasion

By crystal_wilde 27 February 2014
  Over the last two decades, Punchline Comedy Club founder John Moorhead has done more to make Hong Kongers laugh than perhaps anyone else in history. Since hanging up his hat as a standup comic back in the 90s, his work as a booker has bought us legendary British funny men Bill Bailey, Al Murray and Michael Macintyre, the latter of which still owes John for a round of drinks! As he prepares for an All Irish Show to coincide with St Patrick’s Day, Hong Kong’s hottest comedy kingpin took the time to grab a quick word with Localiiz.. When John Moorhead took over the then-called Hong Kong Comedy Club in 1994, it was under rather dark circumstances. The baton was passed to him after fellow amateur standup and the club’s previous organiser, Mike Sinclair, tragically died of AIDS. Back then it was an altogether slapdash affair - in John’s words, “with the same old expats regurgitating the same old jokes”. But after John left his presenting job with Hong Kong’s Star TV to try his luck (or lack of it as was the case) in London, he decided to send over a few professionals, “just as a stopgap until he found a job”. Twenty years later, the rebranded Punchline Comedy Club is not only thriving in Hong Kong, but has expanded all across Asia, giving expats and locals alike a taste of Western wit. It certainly wasn’t easy at first; in both China and Indonesia, John faced accusing questions and demands for scripts from armed censorship authorities who had never before heard of standup comedy. But after successfully bringing China their first ever Western comedian, Tim Clark, the door was officially open. Trawling smoky UK comedy clubs and forging ties with London’s celebrated Comedy Store, Moorhead succeeded in bringing some of the best of British talent to Asia over the years that followed. “Right back at the start, people like Bill Bailey and Michael Macintyre had only just come out,” John told Localiiz from the Gold Coast, Australia, where he now lives. “I knew them and their agents when they were nobodies, so that certainly helped build the relationship. I guess it's like anything - if you do it for long enough, people get to know you.” Nowadays John is a little less nationalistic with his billings, and his monthly three-comic shows rarely feature an all-British lineup. Acknowledging that comedy is very subjective, he explained, “I tend to try and mix it up both nationality and style-wise as much as possible. You don't want three people doing one-liners or three really rude comics. Everyone has to appeal to an international audience however, as some comedians are great in their home country but their work doesn’t travel well.” But despite playing to mixed-nationality audiences wherever Punchline takes them, the imported comedians still report huge differences between the various Asian locations. While Thailand’s Hua Hin coastal resort is said to be a tough, mainly male crowd, the older expats in the capital are easily offended, having their comedy radars firmly rooted in the Jim Davidson days and remaining rather baffled by the alternative comedy revolution that happened in their absence. Hong Kong audiences are altogether younger and more savvy confirms John, although he ventures that the scene is not quite as “bananas” as before the handover when he didn’t have to compete against Soho, a sprawling LKF and stricter visa regulations. All the same, Punchline’s shows nearly always sell out, and all John has to worry about from his sunny home in Queensland is that the acts will hold their own.

“Bombing is my worst nightmare because people wait for my shows for a month or two months, so it's a really big deal. It rarely happens because I use very experienced professionals, but even the best comedians have bad nights every now and again.”

See for Yourself at Punchline’s All Irish St Patrick’s Day Shows In the lead up to St Patrick’s Day 2014, this year falling on March 17th, Punchline will be bringing Hong Kongers ‘the craic’ courtesy of three of Ireland’s best-love comedians. Performing on March 13th and 14th at Tamarind and March 16th at Grappa’s Cellar, these three likely lads promise to bring the house down, Irish style. PJ Gallagher Topping the bill is PJ Gallagher, who won the hearts of Ireland with his various outrageous roles in hit TV shows Naked Camera and Next Week’s News. Since exporting his unique knack for terrorising celebrities and the general public to the US, this cheeky character actor has become one of the Ireland’s hottest exports. Andrew Stanley Described as a “comedy tsunami”, Andrew Stanley has performed all over the world, from the legendary Comedy Cellar in Dublin to the prestigious Just for Laughs festival in Montreal. In 2006, Stanley teamed up with Australian comic Damian Clark at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and masterminded the critically acclaimed ‘I Dare Ya’. The act was subsequently turned into a TV programme, and is still the highest rated debut comedy show in Ireland. Keith Farnan If Eddie Izzard was more political and Irish, he’d probably be a lot like Keith Farnan. After appearing on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow and adapting his own comedy documentary 'Money, Money, Money: Keith Farnan Versus the Economy', this deadpan dish has taken the world by storm, appearing on Holland’s highest rated comedy show, The Comedy Factory, and performing live standup on America’s ‘Showtime’.

What: Punchline Comedy Club’s All Irish Show When: March 13th (8pm), March 14th (9pm), March 15th (9pm) 2014 Where: March 13th & 14th Tamarind (2/F Sun Hung Kai Ctr, 30 Harbour Road,Wanchai) March 15th Grappa’s Cellar (Jardine House, 1 Connaught Place, Central) Price: HK$320 Book: Call +852-2111-5333 or Book Online

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