“Please let me leave on the plane that I’m supposed to leave on,” pleaded stand-up comedian Ian Bagg at the Amazon Club on a steamy Friday night in July.
The six-foot-plus-plus blond gripped the microphone with sweaty hands as he scanned his audience for signs that his last “adult-themed” joke had caused offence among Dhakaites.
Whether Ian decided it hadn’t or was reckless as to the consequences, the Canadian continued with the banter, singling out victims for rapid question-and-answer attack.
“Are you married?” he asked a young man.
“No,” came the meek reply.
“Are you looking?”
“What kind of lady are you looking for? Sorry, I mean what kind of lady has your mum told you to look for?”
“The person on the inside,” said the young man with more conviction.
“You mean you’re looking for a single mother? How lazy is that!” shrieks Ian, as the crowd erupts into laughter.
Ian turns to another hapless gentleman to keep “riffing” – his comic specialty. Riffing in comedy involves delivering a series of clever, impromptu remarks that are based on audience response.
“What do you do?” he asks another man.
Ian responds swiftly to the provocative lack of detail.
“Alright – you go into a building. What does it say on the front?”
Mass chortling makes it difficult to hear the response.
Ian battled his way through “the language barrier” in a hilariously cavalier fashion.
“Your accent is thick young man,” he said in a sheriff-like drawl.
“Don’t get mad at me – you came here,” he continued. “I didn’t break into your house and start doing this. You’re looking at me like I turned the power off for an hour.”
Ian was perhaps unaware that hours without power are a part of the daily routine, but he had certainly taken note of local traffic conditions during his first 24 hours in Dhaka.
“Maybe [Dhaka] could use a stop light or two? There aren’t even any yield signs!”
When his comments were met with silence, he shrugged and said, “You guys have no idea what I’m talking about. Haven’t you seen a movie where there are traffic lights?”
“This is going to be a long hour,” he sighed, before going back on the offensive with a cheeky glint in his eyes.
“You’re staring at me because I’m mocking your transportation system. Well yeah, somebody should.”
We laugh. It’s true.
The newly arrived visitor from Los Angeles, who in the past has hosted his own comedy TV shows and made regular appearances on The David Letterman Show and Jay Leno Show, grapples with the basics of Bangladesh. He innocently tries to assimilate the facts provided by his audience into a coherent whole. The results of such an objective are comic gold dust.
“Who is your president or prime minister?” he asked. “Who is that guy on the wall?”
When the bewildered audience hesitates to explain there’s been a case of mistaken identity, Ian judges us insolent, prompting another outburst of laughter.
“Do you guys even have a leader? That could be your problem right there. No wonder you don’t have stop lights if you don’t have a leader.”
Eventually, Ian learns that the leader of Bangladesh is a woman, and after three attempts, he pronounces her name correctly. With the cookie crumbled, Ian remembers that he’s seen Sheikh Hasina’s portrait as well as her father’s.
“She looks like she’d knit you a blanket,” he says, before making a back-flip perhaps intended to ensure his safe passage out of Bangladesh.
“What was I thinking? Stop lights are for suckers.”
When Ian is interrupted by a heckler, he is at his best, delivering a passionate, yet funny, defense of his craft.
“I’m quite negative, is that what you said? Well, that’s what’s funny about it. It wouldn’t be funny if I said, ‘This is the greatest place ever, I love it here.’
You guys will be like ‘Yeah, yeah!,’ but you won’t laugh. But if I mock you, then there’s fun. Apparently you don’t understand stand-up comedy – you were looking for stand-up positive.”
Ian shares other bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed observations, such as the wearing of “very, very long shirts,” also known as punjabis.
He also likes the cops.
“The [police] wear the weirdest camoflauge I’ve ever seen, that bright blue and yellow. I asked Naveed about it, and he said it’s to make them stand out. Don’t you guys understand the purpose of camouflage? Or are there a lot of parrots to blend in with? Anyway, it doesn’t make the cops look tough – it looks like they were spray-painted while standing around.”
“Hey white guy,” he says suddenly. “What do you do?”
“You live here? Holy crap, I guess you were kidnapped as a child. All those stories about kids being kidnapped and taken to the United States; I guess it’s gotta be reversed sometimes.”
When Ian is told that the “white guy” works for the World Bank, it takes him five full seconds to stop laughing.
“The World Bank is here in Bangladesh?” he asks incredulously.
“Have you seen the money? You might want to check. I’m pretty sure that bank is empty.”
Fortunately for Ian, the only thing that wasn’t empty was his seat on the return flight home.
Ian Bagg’s visit to Bangladesh was organised by Naveed’s Comedy Club – for more information on upcoming shows, visit www.naveedscomedyclub.com