Laughs from New York
Quazi Zulquarnain Islam
Bobby Collins regaling the crowd.
Bobby Collins cracks jokes for a living. Some would call it a trivial pursuit but the native of New York certainly doesn't think so. And after last week, neither do a few hundred Bangladeshis who had a first-hand chance to witness the famous stand-up comic during a two-day showing at the Amazon Club in Dhaka.
Collins was in Bangladesh courtesy of Naveed Mahbub; Bangladesh's very own stand-up comedian and the founder of Naveed's Comedy Club. Naveed himself opened for Collins, and did a good job of warming the crowd up with some insightful comments and wisecracks. But the night belonged to Collins.
With the heightened perspective of an outsider looking in, he did a remarkable job of dissecting Bangladeshi lifestyle and found a strong undertone of humor in the drudgery of our daily lives. From the general tendency of the citizens of our fabled city, to refer to the white skinned man as 'Boss' to the Danish expatriate who was both a software engineer or a ballet dancer (depending on who you believe), Collins spared no punches in an action-packed hour and a half of gut-busting comedy, where none and nothing (audience included) was spared.
But like all great comics, Collins found a great balance to his act his self-effacing demeanor, which convinced all that the audience was on the receiving end of anything but that we were all in this together, for fun, or God help us all.
More importantly, Collins' wisecracks were not just restricted to Bangladesh. Audiences can be remarkably sensitive to jokes about their nation and culture, especially when it comes from an outsider. It's an almost inevitable death-trap. Collins, though dealt with that stigma admirably as he drew an admirable comparison between Dhaka and New York, his hometown. The lines was drawn under the broad banner that both cities were plain old 'crazy' for every neurotic cabbie that the Big Apple can lay claim to, Dhaka had its very own CNG drivers, a ride which Collins perceptibly called 'better than most roller-coasters I've been on'.
The comedian of an Italian heritage also stretched the boundaries of 'acceptable' with some of his jokes walking a wafer-thin line between decency and risqué (if not plain dirty in some cases!). Lesser able men may have offended many, but for Collins it was so seamlessly a part of his repertoire that the audience took all and sundry into their stride.
Collins's exaggerated gesticulations just add to the humour.
And then again, what is stand up comedy without a few slang words, eh?
With Collins however, his jokes are only half the fun. His animated and aggravated hand motions, emerging when they do from a gawky and lanky frame only adds more colour and vibrancy to the show. Coupled when they usually are, with head banging motions, you find yourself unable to resist laughter.
Collins' resume is impressive. He preceded the likes of Rosie O' Donnell at VH1's 'Stand up Spotlight' and has toured extensively with such luminaries as Dolly Parton, Cher, Julio Iglesias and Tony Bennett. More flashy however, is his Grammy nomination.
Which is why, his bravado and seamless delivery shone through in a top-quality performance. With Bobby Collins, the audience will forget that they are watching a staged show and imagine themselves sharing a Friday afternoon picnic with an old friend, a day full of exaggerated stories or yore and most important, laughter.
But perhaps the best thing about Collins is that with him, nothing can not be made fun of; nothing is beyond reproach. His getting-on-in-years parents came in for their fair share of stick, as did his wife on the condition that whatever is said about the lady in Dhaka, stays in Dhaka. After all, as he so eloquently put it, in a marriage, you can either choose to be happy or right.
Collins engaged the audience beautifully, with some gentle ribbing about Muslim men and their ability of have four wives. It was a bad idea he said, based on his own experiences of sharing a home with a wife and three daughters.
But through all the jokes and the ribbing, the crucial message that Bobby Collins left us with is this, if we live a life where we cannot make fun of our own trivialities, it's not really a life worth living. Laughter, is indeed the best medicine.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010