Fri, Sep 08, 2006 - Page 14 News List

Four foreigners walk into a bar...

By Ron Brownlow  /  STAFF REPORTER

Comedy hypnotist Brian David Phillips won't make you take off your clothes, or will he?

PHOTO COURTESY OF BRIAN DAVID PHILLIPS

Kurt Penney got his start in standup comedy at a talent show - in Tobago.

A promoter told Penney he'd be performing for Caribbean cruise ship passengers, but when the Canadian arrived - highly intoxicated and without a single joke - he found himself the only white person among an otherwise black local audience.

He asked to get out but the producer glared at him and whispered he'd better be funny, otherwise the crowd would eat him alive. Speaking into the microphone the producer asked, "What are you going to do?"

"Sir, I'm gonna fuck a chicken!"

The crowd lost it. "The producer was giving me dirty looks but they loved it," recalls Penney, who had flown from Taiwan to attend his brother's wedding and signed up for the show on a whim. "They were going nuts man."

For the last three years, Penney's been channeling this craziness in standup gigs at places like Citizen Cain and the Living Room. Now he and Australian Elvis impersonator and fellow comedy circuit regular Mark Goding are starting their own amateur night, which they host on the last Thursday of every month at Bliss.

The goal is to give others a chance to enjoy the limelight. Winners walk home with NT$1,000 or get 10 beers for their friends at the bar.

"If you teach kids five days a week you can do this. You just don't know it yet," said Goding, who like Penney teaches English.

Joining the two funnymen in last week's inaugural session were comedy hypnotist Brian David Phillips and Greg Goodyer, a New Zealander who told cricket jokes in a French accent under the stage name "Francois Condom."

It was Goodyer's first time doing standup in Taipei. But Phillips teaches hypnosis and theater classes and has gigs scheduled for both Bliss and the Farmhouse at the end of this month.

Contrary to popular belief, Phillips tells audiences, hypnotists can only hypnotize people who are willing. And even these can't be made to do something that's against their values.

Then he asks those who are interested to come forward. "If you don't, I'll make you come anyway," he says.

Phillips (www.briandavidphillips.com) became interested in his subject when he was a child. The same can be said in a way for Penney.

"I got into standup comedy by being born in Newfoundland. [In Canada 'Newfie' jokes serve the same purpose as jokes about Poles, Irish or Belgians do in other countries.] It starts right then. You get a lot of training in it," he says.

Some of his jokes are simple, with sharp turns: "Why didn't the chicken cross the road? Because they ate his feet."

Or, "How many Newfies does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but it ain't gonna be me."

But he's at his best when he has an audience rolling in their seats from a joke they know is based on a painful personal disclosure.

You can see it in his eyes, which look like actor Steve Buscemi's, that he's keeping a lid on plenty of demons.

"Now that all else has failed - marriage, family relationships, kids' birthdays - my last hope is that which breaks me, makes me," Penney explains.

Taipei-based comedian Dan Machanik, who did standup professionally in the US and sometimes works with Penney, noted that the amateur night at Bliss is the only forum of its kind in Taiwan.

"That's how I started my career," he said. "It's a great way to inspire people to give it a try."

Performance notes:

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