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A time to laugh: how some performers react when the pandemic hits their gigs

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Let me start with a familiar story: a wrestler, two comedians, and a comic book artist all walk into a bar… except they don’t, because there’s a pandemic, and we’re all still stuck at home.

Standup comedian Micah Andres had wrestler, lawyer, and musician Trian Lauang, comic book creator Rob Cham, and comedian and writer Israel Buenaobra over on his webshow, Nagmamarunong, late last month to talk about their situations in quarantine, and to see as well the new directions they may take when it comes to performing acts during the pandemic. “A lot of people do overlook artists during the ECQ. A lot of us have artist friends who we should be reaching out to kasi feeling ko nasisiraan na sila ng ulo (because I feel that they’re going crazy),” began Mr. Andres.

Mr. Andres asked everyone when they last had a gig. As a member of a band, Mr. Lauang said, “2019!” Apparently, in years past, they would begin collecting gigs late in January or in Februray, but the eruption of Taal volcano earlier this year interrupted that. March and a pandemic rolled in after that. “On the band front, we are doing absolutely nothing,” he said, and was greeted by laughs. He cites the difficulty of exchanging ideas over chat, as well as not being in a studio.

He said it’s his gig in wrestling that might be most affected. Aside from the fact that there wouldn’t be live audiences to watch them, “In wrestling, you get used to getting hurt… if you don’t do that for a long time, sobrang maninibago na naman kami (it will feel like we are starting over all over again).”

“That’s what scares the most of us right now. Kaya pa ba namin tumanggap ng sakit ng katawan (can we still deal with physical pain)?”

Meanwhile, Mr. Andres asked Mr. Cham about how being under a community quarantine affects his art. “A lot of [time] is spent watching the news; trying to pay attention to what’s happening.” He admited that he sometimes finds himself in a funk, not being able to draw anything. “Getting clients is a lot harder. Trying to talk to clients; trying to get paid is a lot harder because usually it’s bank deposits.”

Mr. Buenaobra keeps himself busy with a comedy webshow. “The show keeps me sane, kahit papaano (somehow). It gives me a reason to put on a T-shirt.”

Mr. Cham made a point about why performers like his co-panelists and artists like him are having a hard time. “People can’t really spend that much on culture. In the case of you guys as comedians, musicians, and wrestlers, you need a public venue to do that. On my end, will they spend on art?”

Mr. Buenaobra thought about the scene for performers like him when the lockdown ends, as we enter what everybody calls “The New Normal.” “Kailangan pa natin magbenta ng tickets para kumita tayo. Iyon ang mahirap dito (We’ll need to sell tickets to earn. That’s what’’s hard here).” He also noted that the restaurants and bars they normally perform in might be reluctant to take them in due to their own losses during the lockdown. Mr. Lauang pointed out that a lot of those places may not even survive.

As mass gatherings are not allowed right now, they were asked when they could start performing again. “Kayo ba, gusto niyo magperform (you guys, would you like to perform) for a crowd shortly after ECQ is lifted?” Mr. Lauang pointed out the risks involved in wrestling, which would entail body contact between performers, increasing a risk of infection. “Would you risk that for something [that is] not necessarily an essential service?”

Mr. Buenaobra said, “Ang matutuloy lang siguro ay iyong Open Siomaic every Tuesday kasi ganoon kakonti iyong tao,” making a joke about his small audience draw during a gig at a Quezon City bar.

Since he also performs from home via a webshow, he points to a new direction of comedy. “Masasanay tayo na for comedians na mag-perform in front of a camera (We’ll get used as comedians to perform in front of a camera).” But he noted the difficulties of this — that there would be “Minimal or no feedback at all,” since you can’t always hear laughter online. “Ano pang magagawa ng laugh reacts sa baba?,” he said, referring to the laughing reaction button Facebook employs. He also joked about the slow internet speeds in the country: “Naka-panlimang joke ka na, unang joke mo pa lang tinatawanan (You’re on your fifth joke, and they’re still just laughing at your firste).”

As a wrestler, Mr. Lauang bills himself as the “Inch for Inch Best Wrestler in The World” (it’s a joke about his height) but still said pretty big words: “We’ll find a way. That’s the thing about art: it’s always growing, it’s always evolving. We’ll find a way, because we want our [stuff] out there for people to consume.” — Joseph L. Garcia

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