A reality TV show is teaching the next generation of Thai comics the fine art of being funny
The first competitive reality show ever to be completely drawn up and designed by a Thai team, “The Comedian Thailand” sets out to prove that the old adage “comedy can’t be taught” is rubbish.
“Even other comedians have always believed that comedy can’t be taught,” says Dr Thunya “Ped” Phovijittra, aka comic Ped Choenyim, managing director of Comedy Line. Ped, who is working on his doctorate in sports management at Kasetsart University’s Faculty of Sports Science, is a firm beliver in teaching.
“I would always retort that if a seal can be trained to perform at Safari World or another amusement park, then surely an intelligent human being can be taught to tell jokes!
“Even Johnson ‘Joey Choenyim’ Amidou, who started his career as a goalkeeper for the Ghana under-17 football team, was able to switch to comedy after lessons from some comedians. And why was the late autistic comedian Sayan so funny? Wasn’t he trained by Der Doksadao?
“Also, if we’re not careful. Thailand will be without any comics when Charoenporn ‘Kohtee Aramboy’ Onlamai calls it a day. He’s the last generation. Thailand’s comedians fell off the face of the earth when the night venues known as cafes closed down,” Ped says.
Ped is also out to change the image of Thai comedy by cleaning up the jokes.
“Most of the comedians who worked at places like Dara, Villa, Rama IX and Thonburi cafes used foul language. I want to change that. These are the three main reasons why I’m trying to revolutionise the comedy circle.”
Before designing the show, Thunya spent months researching the history of comedians both in Thailand and overseas. The country, he says, has four types of comedians, while many Western nations have comedy institutes and a curriculum.
Ped, 61, explains that Thai comedy’s roots go back to the talok luang, royal jesters who belonged to the Fine Arts Department. These first Thai comedian starting performing during the reign of King Rama II.
The second type of comedian performed at funeral ceremonies as well as at night-entertainment venues – the cafes – and belonged to such well-known troupes as 4 Saming, Lor Tok’s Luk Thai, 4 See and Den-Der-Thep.
The third type played in folk-art performances such as likay, lamtad, mor lam and khon. Finally, there are the stand-up comics, of which Udom “Nose” Taepanich is a prime example.
Ped has even consulted the chancellor of Chankrasem Rajabhat University to help him draft a comedy curriculum with 138 credits. The two have worked hard on it but it has yet not to be introduced as part of the university’s courses.
“The curriculum has a theory about laughter and divides it into two parts: ‘truth’ and ‘non-expectation’. Truth is learning about singing, dancing and acting, while non-expectation is about the sound of laughter and will be taught by professional comedians. All the contestants in ‘The Comedian Thailand’ have to learn about voice, dance, acting and folk art performance, as well as the language of comedy,” he says.
“The Comedian Thailand” premiered last year with 20 contestants selected from the best of 500 applicants. It cost Bt60 million to bring to the air.
The second season is now underway and is being broadcast on TrueVisions.
“The contestants of this second season are more skilled thought they’re not as good looking as the ones in the first season,” Ped says.
“I prefer to focus on personality. My aim is to build a new type of comedian to present our Thai folk art performances like pleng choi and pleng rua. I want to rebrand Thai comedy and transform it from the dirty and crude jokes told in the cafes to clean jokes told by new-wave comics with good personalities and good costumes. They can’t afford to be anything else because with the advent of digital TV, they’ll be talking to people in their living rooms.”
Rapeeporn “Katai” Puangpet, a 22-year-old third-year student in communication arts from Silpakorn University was crowned the winner of the first season. She is now appearing with comedians Nui Choenyim and Ped Choenyim in a TV drama.
“I felt discouraged while we were practising khon,” Katai says. “My classmates laughed at me, especially some of the skits where I wore weird costumes.”
“For me, the worst moment was having to sing the foreign song ‘Genghis Khan’,” says fourth-placed Mongkhon “Nine” Saardboonuyapat, 26, who performs in his father’s Yod Aroi likay troupe in Nakhon Sawan.
“Everybody says that I’m similar to Kom Chuanchuen because of his teeth and voice. I take that as an enormous compliment because he’s my favourite comedian,” Nine adds.
In 2011, Five Star Production released the movie “Ha Zard”. Set at a university for comedians, it featured a parade of Thailand’s best-known comics but failed to draw the crowds. Was it perhaps the death knell for Thai comedy?
Thunya thinks otherwise. “As long as sound of laughter is still heard on this Earth, comedy will never die,” he says firmly.
He aims to make sure it doesn’t either. Among his future plans to start a Comedy Institute of Thailand that would be supported by the Education Ministry and a Comedy Town featuring a studio, restaurant, comedy parade, juggling and shows, comedy theatre and cafe as well as a comedy channel.
Have a giggle
_ “The Comedian Thailand” is broadcast on TrueVisions’ Reality, Hey Ha and HD channels. Routines by the challengers air at 3.45pm on Sunday on Channel 7.