After 7 Years Of Wanting To Try Stand-Up, I Did It! My Saigon Comedy Journey To MC Host
Seven Million Bikes started as hobby but led to being a comedian, hosting A Vietnam Podcast and MC Hosting.
By Niall Mackay
B.S. (Before Saigon)
I have always loved stand-up comedy. Since my wife and I, Adrie, first met, one of our favourite things to do in Melbourne was go to a comedy show every month where you paid by donation on the way out. It was SO funny that we always gave more than we had planned.
Despite being on the other side of the world from home, we’ve been lucky enough to see Flight of the Conchords in Australia, and both Arj Barker and my comedy hero, Billy Connolly, in New Zealand amongst others.
When we decided to extend our stay in Saigon, like many expats, we were always looking for “something to do” that didn’t involve drinking. Nine times out of ten we would end up drinking.
With Arj Barker in Wellington, NZ (2017)
In a country with such cheap beer, available on every corner, most expats will probably relate. In this teeming metropolis of 9 million people, there was surely something cultural we could enjoy that didn’t involve drinking beer. But as foreigners who don’t speak the local language, we didn’t know what events were on and probably wouldn’t have understood them anyway.
There wasn’t much live music in 2016 and we certainly didn’t expect to find stand-up comedy in Vietnam. I’d never heard of any famous Vietnamese comedians!
L to R; Adrie, Pete, Anika, Jason & Niall
For those that haven’t been in Saigon as long as us (since 2016), you may only know the Saigon where delicious craft beer and handcrafted cocktails are found everywhere, the restaurant scene just keeps getting better and more diverse and there is something different to do every night. Nowadays these scenes are all thriving. Just look at the Events page on Facebook or Saigoneer on any given night to see shows ranging from drag bingo, open deck DJ nights, salsa nights, music, and, of course, comedy shows.
As 2016 drew to a close, we were again looking for something to do when we came across the Stitches Comedy at Emergency Room (RIP) by Brian and Diana. We were so excited to find comedy in Saigon. We soon learned that there was already a burgeoning comedy scene here — with Comedy Saigon hosting regular shows and Ben Betterby running comedy workshops, amongst his various other comedy shows.
We continued to regularly attend Stitches Comedy but got even more thrilled when we came across Adam Palmeter – who had won the 2016 Magners International Comedy Competition Saigon heat – and his shows Stand Up Piu-Piu, The Strange – Dark Comedy Storytelling and The Saigon Sound Series. This, along with his Snoop Dogg Open Mic at Indika, perfect for anyone wanting to try their hand at stand-up, or existing comedians trying out new material and practicing their craft.
Around the same time Adam made the decision to move back to America, a new addition to Saigon from Hawaii, the comic Angee The Diva started Saigon Funny People along with another new Saigoneer JK Hobson and Hanoian Vu Minh Tu.
It was in late 2017 that I saw JK Hobson and Angee the Diva for the first time at Stand Up Piu-Piu and have never forgotten something from that set – not a joke, a story that JK told about a Buddhist monk hitting on him, inappropriately, that very day.
As a comedy lover, a common question I always asked comedians I met was whether their stories you heard on stage were true or not. Almost always the answer was, yes. So when I introduced myself to JK after the show I had to ask, “Did that really happen?” Of course, the answer was “yes!”
From then on I regularly saw JK at shows and started to get to know him better. And his interesting background as a member of a “fairly well known” thrash-metal band called Crisis, as well as being a Fulbright Scholar. When I decided to start Seven Million Bikes; A Vietnam Podcast (then A Saigon Podcast), immediately JK was the first person I wanted to interview, learn more about and share his story.
And I’m glad I did.
We have continued to be friends ever since and perform together on stages all over Saigon and even Vung Tau. Since then I have been fortunate to have shared several local comedians’ stories on A Vietnam Podcast, including Devin Gray, Nghia Mai, Vu Minh Tu, Angee the Diva and visiting comedian Lars Callieou.
Over the next few years the local stand-up comedy in Vietnam, both in Saigon and Hanoi, continued to develop. With not only an influx of expats from around the world, both experienced and new, but English speaking Vietnamese comedians such as Nghia Mai, Uy Nguyen, Uy Le, who won the Vietnam Comedy Competition 2018 and Vu Minh Tu, who placed third that year.
Saigon Funny People took over Adam’s shows at the Heart of Darkness, including The Strange, and the Snoop Dog Open Mic at Indika. They continued to develop a variety of shows including Comedy Femme Fatales (an All-female stand-up show), The F&*% Did You Say? (raw and unfiltered comedy) and LQBTQ friendly shows with Gender Funk. This was until last year when Angee the Diva moved back to the U.S., Vu Minh Tu took a hiatus from comedy, and JK Hobson started putting on shows under Asia Out Loud.
Over the years Adrie and I continued to go to shows, including The Big V Amateur Comedy Competition Heats at D2 Sports Pub in 2017 and – where we met a young Tommy Pruchinski for the first time after his set. Thanks to Saigon International Comedy, who had been bringing international comics to Saigon since 2014, many well-known comics performed here over the years from Tom Green and Phill Jupitus to Doug Stanhope and Gina Yashere, even Bill Bailey.
As the local scene continued to develop at pace and after years of wanting to do stand up comedy, literally performing sets in my head before I went to sleep that never made it to any stage, I finally made the leap from the audience to the stage at the Indika Open Mic night in August 2018.
From then I was hooked, I’d finally been able to get the courage to get on stage and you couldn’t get me off of it. After just a few open mics I was given the opportunity to perform at one of Ben Betterby’s shows – I don’t think I’d ever been more nervous in my life before I got on that stage. But I was making people laugh and getting enough positive feedback that by January 2019 I decided to enter the Saigon Heats of the Vietnam Comedy Competition at Game On (RIP).
If I had been nervous before, it was nothing in comparison to this. I nearly threw up on the back of my GrabBike and almost got off and went home, I was that scared. At what, I’m not sure.
I didn’t place in the top 3, but I’d had a good set and enjoyed performing with so many of Saigon’s great local talents. The top 3 were Angee the Diva, Ben Betterby and, JK Hobson – who all qualified for the finals with 3 of Hanoi’s top comics. Ben Betterby went on to win the title of Vietnam’s top comic 2019.
As part of my job at ILA Community Network raising funds for our charity partners, I combined my experience in events management and love of comedy to put on the School Daze Comedy Night in March that year. This was my first foray into putting on comedy events and featured local comics Devin Gray, Uy Le, Vu Minh Tu, Nghia Mai, JK Hobson, Caleb T. Jones, Trọng Phan and Kirk Ramsden. The night was a great success.
L to R; JK Hobson, Kirk Ramsden, Niall Mackay, Angee the Diva, Caleb T. Jones, Uy Le, Vu Minh Tu and Nghia Mai
Despite performing often at open mics and doing well (people consistently laughing was a good sign of this!) I was rarely being asked to perform at shows and rebuffed when I put myself forward to host even an open mic. So, as many comedians are want to do, I decided to take matters into my own hands like Adam, and produce my own shows.
A Vietnam Podcast had been building and was getting more well known in Saigon and Vietnam. So in September 2019, I started the Where You From? at Hop Shop (RIP) in D1 and put on the best shows I could, based on years of watching live comedy around the world. The first-ever show featured four of the best comics in Saigon; Devin Gray, JK Hobson, Angee the Diva and Vu Minh Tu, with myself hosting.
The night was another big success, with the small venue and good beer flowing making for a fun environment for an intimate comedy show. And if I had been addicted to doing stand-up comedy I was now hooked at hosting and MCing.
From then on the shows and the podcast went from strength to strength, hosting a first-ever Live Show of A Vietnam Podcast and being asked to host and perform at more gigs, before being approached by another venue to host a show after they had heard of the fun and success at Hop Shop.
The Blue Monkey Comedy Show started In Dec 2019 at Wam Saigon in Thao Dien and both shows are still running to this day, albeit at a new venue for the Where You From? Show.
From then Seven Million Bikes continued to grow, adding The Headliner Show in February 2020 featuring Angee the Diva, before the pandemic hit in March ending all events temporarily.
As the first wave of covid in Vietnam passed and events started up again in September 2020, The Headliner restarted at 1920 Prohibition Bar and has given a platform to comedians that hadn’t been available in Saigon before – a 40 minute headline set showcasing their best material. If you think it is hard to get on stage for 5 minutes and talk, never mind 15, then it takes great skill, craft and dedication to be able to do it for over 40 minutes.
So far The Headliner has featured amazing local talent such as Devin Gray, JK Hobson, Tommy Pruchinski, Erick Garcia and Kelso Dowling. These shows have been a massive success also, with nearly every one selling out.
Always looking to do something different, bigger and better, Seven Million Bikes hosted the first musical comedy show at The Hard Rock Cafe to over 100 people! In the process introducing Wanye Westt and Tony Byleveld, alongside comedy regulars now adding a new bow to their strings; AJ Miller, Tommy Pruchinski and myself. Musical comedy is a new, regular feature on the Saigon comedy scene now, showcasing the talent and diverse skills of the performers here.
By December 2020 a D7 show was added, aptly named The Bubble Comedy Show, bursting the D7 bubble and bringing comedy to the local residents who don’t like to venture too far from home.
Now, the comedy scene in Saigon is bustling, alongside Seven Million Bikes you can find shows on nearly every night of the week.
From a charity event, and a small show at Hop Shop, Seven Million Bikes now has four comedy shows a month in Saigon, two quiz nights and recently hosted its first music show, featuring Coastal Connection, as well as private events. Covid allowing that is of course. And, as of January 2021 now regularly hosts comedy shows in Da Nang and Hoi An with Hue next!
None of this would have been possible without the amazing support of so many people from venues to guest and the unbelievable talented comics in Saigon. The standard here is amazingly high for a such a new and small scene.
Make sure you check out all the upcoming Seven Million Bikes shows here.
A special thank you to the woman behind the scenes who also has a suggestion to make things better, my wife, Adrie. And also a massive thank you to Tommy Pruchinski and Devin Gray, who without Seven Million Bikes would never have come this far.