Life on the road with comedian Brian Aylward
October through December of last year was a busy time for comedian and former Korean expat Brian Aylward. He was on a dizzying tour across Asia, honing his material for the March release of his comedy album, Brian Aylward: Live in Busan. Haps asked the very talented Canadian-native to keep a travel diary throughout his journey, recording his thoughts on the people, the places and whatever else he fancied. Here’s what we got. Enjoy.
OCTOBER 9, 2014
After a 32-hour, multi-stop journey from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada to Seoul, South Korea, I arrived back on my old stomping grounds. Based on a bet, I got my start in stand-up comedy in South Korea. It was November 11, 2005, lest I forget. It was at a rowdy, expatriate bar, in Anyang City, where I worked as an EFL teacher at that time.
“Are you going to North Korea or South Korea?” Incredibly, I have been asked this question by many people. I answer, “North Korea,” and let them assume I am doing comedy in North Korea, where all the punchlines must be about Kim Jong-un. “Where’s Korea?” is another question I get asked a lot. Simply, I just say, “next to Japan.” Basically, Koreans are like Japanese people who hate Japanese people.
OCTOBER 10-11 – Busan
I forgot about soju. I woke up alone, late afternoon, in a seedy motel room in Itaewon. Itaewon is an infamous expat district in central Seoul. I got ‘soju drunk’ the night before, with some old buddies of mine, on an apartment rooftop. Soju is a Korean rice wine that tastes like apologies and erases memories.
All my bags were on my friend’s rooftop, and he would not be getting home until later that evening. However, even in expat show business, the show must go on. So, with all my things at my buddy’s place and very little money in my pocket, I got a train to the southern port city of Busan. I have to do comedy. I’m not good at much else.
I don’t recommend traveling by train, standing room only, while fighting a vicious hangover. I thought about death, just to comfort myself during the journey. That night, the first show of the tour, I did one hour and fifteen minutes for a great crowd at Sharky’s Bar and Grill, in a t-shirt, shorts and sandals. No opening acts. Fun.
The next night in Busan, I was the opening act for American stand-up star Kyle Kinane. Also on tap was Adam Clayton-Holland, who is Kyle’s friend and a hilarious comic in his own right. Great show. We finished the night drinking on the beach across the street from the bar and shooting fireworks at passing vehicles. Growing up is overrated.
OCTOBER 18, 2014 – Seoul
This was world-record day at the Haebangchon Festival. I performed 21 sets, 10 minutes each, at 21 different venues – all different material. As far as I know, that is a record number of stand-up comedy sets in one day. Haebangchon is a popular expat neighborhood in central Seoul, which is basically three streets full of hippies with cell phones. The close proximity of the venues made such a record logistically possible, along with help from festival founder, Lance Reegan-Diehl. Thanks, Lance!
OCTOBER 23-25, 2014 – Hong Kong
This was my second time in Hong Kong. My first time was in 2008, when I was runner-up at the Hong Kong International Comedy Festival competition. Hong Kong has the oldest people ever. I saw a man so old, he looked like Bruce Lee if you dug him up.
And the air pollution in China is unbearable. I’ve never chewed air before. It was like sky gum. I was walking around blowing dirt bubbles.
I was in China for less than 24 hours. I ate at an Indonesian restaurant, performed at an Irish bar and hung out in the ‘Africaville’ section of the city. I was even invited to a Canadian bar. Maybe next time I will actually visit China.
November 27-28 – Indonesia
Jakarta is where all the world’s smells go to die. It smells like someone’s feet covered in another person’s shit. There was only one show in Jakarta, at the American Club. The American Club sounds like a place where a bunch of Americans get together shooting guns and gulping steaks, next to a bonfire full of geography books. Yet, it is an international membership club that has served the social and professional needs of Jakarta’s expat community since the 1960s. It was my fourth time performing in Jakarta and my favorite show there to date. Great crowd.
December 2-6 – Singapore
Orchard Towers is an 18-story office building located on the corner of Claymore Road and Orchard Road. At night, the first four floors of this building become a well-known entertainment complex, described as the ‘Four Floors of Whores.’ Each of the first four floors has several bars and clubs where clients are able to meet and pick up prostitutes. Yet, it is illegal to chew gum in Singapore. Stay classy, Singapore.
December 7-13 – Malaysia
I was given a batik by an Indonesian comic. He told me a batik is a traditional Malaysian shirt. The tag said, “Made in Indonesia.” The weather in Kuala Lumpur was hotter than a camel’s nutsack. I sweat just thinking about going outside.
I ate balut for the first time. Balut is a developed chicken embryo, boiled alive and eaten in its egg. (I think this is how AIDS started.) Balut is really common in Southeast Asia and often served with beer. When you crack the egg open, it looks like the world’s worst sonogram picture.
It tastes like chicken.
December 16-22 – Cambodia
You can buy anything on the streets of Phnom Penh. You could walk up to a random stranger on the street and ask for a watermelon, the horn of a white rhino and a wedding dress. Even though that person is wearing flip flops, a Hello Kitty t-shirt and a towel for shorts, you somehow trust him to get those items for you.
December 23-27 – Thailand
I saw a 6-year-old boy sell a rose to an old, quadriplegic man, who operated his electric wheelchair with a mouth stick, while going down the road with a young prostitute. It was the most romantic thing I have ever seen. Just another Tuesday evening in Thailand.
I ate scorpions and sang Bon Jovi songs with transgenders. I met my girlfriend in Bangkok on Christmas Day. We had a traditional turkey dinner, with all the trimmings, and a night out never to be forgotten. We spent the last few days relaxing in the beach resort town of Hua Hin, just a few hours southwest of Bangkok. My favorite thing about Korea is Thailand.
You can follow Brian on Twitter, @bagsofsoup.
UPCOMING DATES IN KOREA
Friday, March 6th … Rocky Mountain Tavern ( Seoul )
Saturday, March 7th … Tilt ( Pohang )
Friday, March 13th … The Big Chill ( Suwon )
Saturday, March 14th … The Wall ( Pyeongtaek )
*March 16th-18th … Yangon, Myanmar
Friday, March 20th … * Mokpo ( venue TBA )
Saturday, March 21st … Speakeasy ( Gwangju )
Thursday, March 26th … The Bull & Barrel ( Seoul )
Saturday, March 28th … HQ Bar ( Busan )
Friday, April 3rd … R & R Bar and Grill ( USAG Yongsan )
* More dates to be added. If you are interested in bringing a comedy show to your area, contact Brian at email@example.com