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Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2007

Loneliness of the long-distance impresario

Special to The Japan Times

Stand-up comedy can be a surprisingly lonely profession at times.

Milton Jones
Milton Jones performs at the Punchline Comedy Club on Feb. 16 and 17

Alone on an unforgiving stage, being paid to provide happiness and escapism to an audience looking to forget about their everyday lives while expecting you to make witty observations about it can certainly be a tough gig.

"When it goes well, it is like heaven on earth, very exciting and thrilling," says John Moorhead, the founder of The Punchline Comedy Club, a comedy collective that brings comedians from the West to Asia.

"You do pay for the good things in life though because when it goes bad, it really is quite scary and depressing all in one," he says.

From Bangkok to Taiwan to Hong Kong, Moorhead's scheduled venues bear more resemblance to a gap-year student's travel itinerary for a trek around Asia than a typical comedy circuit.

Moorhead returns to Tokyo on Feb. 16 and 17, where he'll put on the stand-up show at the usual Tokyo venue, Pizza Express in Harajuku.

Preparation for a comedian can be an equally solitary experience, especially in Moorhead's case.

The former Star TV presenter started the club as an amateur night in Hong Kong in 1992, but now spends most of the year in a stone cottage in Somerset, England, preparing for his next gigs.

This month, Moorhead, who has in the past booked acclaimed acts such as Bill Bailey, Ed Byrne, and the Whose Line Is It Anyway? crew, will bring three comedians -- two Brits, one Canadian -- to Tokyo.

Canadian Tom Stade is known for fusing an innocent and naive charm with a dark comic streak. Playing on his suburban background, he'll likely bring a slice of British Columbia's backwoods to the Tokyo audience.

Milton Jones, a regular on London's comedy circuit, also has his own BBC radio show, the award-winning "The Very World of Milton Jones," which has already enjoyed three series.

And Ben Norris, who has become a regular headliner in the U.K. and developed a fearsome reputation for picking on his audience, has appeared as a guest on top British TV shows like They Think Its All Over and Never Mind the Buzzcocks. His obscure Shakespeare routine has also become infamous in certain circles.

When asked about the favorite part of his job in the stand-up business, Moorhead thinks of his preferred spot during performances.

"The best is when I stand at the back of the room during a show and watch everybody laughing. I think 'I made this happen.' "

Maybe stand-up isn't so lonely after all.

The Punchline Comedy Club will be performing in Harajuku's Pizza Express on the Feb. 16 and 17. Tickets, including dinner, cost 8,000 yen. Call (03) 5775-3894 for reservations.

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