From a bet in a bar to 'Big In Asia': Brian Aylward on his international comedy journey

Brian Aylward’s live comedy special, Big In Asia premieres on November 10th, 2020.

Brian Aylward’s live comedy special, Big In Asia premieres on November 10th, 2020.

'Big in Asia' poster (Brian Aylward)

It has been 15 years since Brian Aylward started doing comedy in Asia. The Newfoundland and Labrador native first performed on a standup stage while he was teaching English in South Korea. 

"I've always wanted to do standup and then I jumped up on stage on a bet, basically, in 2005 in Seoul at an open mic," he said. "I just did it, and I've been doing it ever since."

At the time, Aylward didn't know this experience would mark the start of a lifelong journey. He went on to become a leader in developing and growing in English-speaking standup scene in South Korea.

"It started as an open mic at a Canadian bar called Rocky Mountain Tavern. The guys were friendly, you know, the whole Canadian vibe," said Aylward. 

"Slowly but surely, we started bringing over world-class headliners (i.e. Tom Cotter, Ted Alexandros)…it's interesting how it started from an open mic to all these kinds of global connections."

For the past five years, Aylward has been living in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife, who is an English teacher at a local international school. He has performed comedy in 21 countries in Asia.

[Because] I've been living in Asia, I'm just more in tune with the culture… I'm a bit of a history geek, so I just like to learn about different places and different people. It just helps my comedy.- Brian Aylward

Aylward's audience consists mostly of English-speaking expats who work in Asian countries, but locals also show up at the shows. 

"If English is their second language, I'm a little more aware of slowing down when I speak because I'm a pretty fast talker," he said.

But talking speed is not the most important thing to keep in mind when doing standup comedy in foreign cultures. As a storyteller who tells most of jokes based on his own experience, Aylward said there are certain political and cultural topics that can't be discussed in some places.

"Here in Thailand, it's a military dictatorship technically, so you're not allowed to mention the monarch whatsoever," he said. 

"Wherever you go, there are certain rules you learn that you're not allowed to speak about.… but yeah, I'm just trying to make people laugh."

Each year, Aylward does a tour back in Canada as part of the Best Kind Comedy Tour. He and two other Newfoundlanders tour over 30 cities across Canada—and they sell out everywhere.

Big In Asia is Aylward's first comedy special and was filmed live at a local comedy club in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The special was picked up by Comedy Dynamics—one of the biggest comedy production and distribution companies in the world. 

"I went there a year and a half ago and had a great time. They actually modelled their club after the Comedy Store in Los Angeles," said Aylward, who decided to go back to the comedy club to film his live special.

The global pandemic and quarantine situation have made it challenging for comedians to create content—especially for those whose jokes are inspired by personal experience like Aylward . "I used to get comedy from my own experiences, it definitely hurts your writing a bit."

While the number of Covid-19 cases in Thailand hasn't been huge—3,840 confirmed cases as of November 9—lockdown measures were in place from March to June. Aylward said though he has performed only ten times since February, he is optimistic about comedy's future, post-pandemic.

Normally when the world kind of goes to shit, comedy is important. I'm hoping that comedy comes back bigger than ever… people definitely need a laugh, that's for sure.- Brian Aylward

BIG IN ASIA premieres on November 10th and will be available to stream starting November 13th.

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