Ian Badenhorst on Passion, Pain & the Shanghai Comedy Scene

By Ned Kelly, March 11, 2024

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In his two decades in China, Ian Badenhorst has gone from organizing comedy shows to being in them. With a big headliner show at SpicyComedy Lounge this Saturday, we sat down with the South African funnyman to hear about his journey, and find out what people can expect from his set.

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Ian Badenhorst on stage at SpicyComedy Lounge

When did you first realize you wanted to be a comedian?
In the late 90s, I got a little black book from the TV show Seinfeld by Jerry Seinfeld. As I started reading through the comedians' notes, I thought, "I can write like this."

In 2003, while living in Cape Town, I looked into joining a comedy club called the Cape Town Comedy Collective, but there wasn't much space in South African comedy back then.

I moved to China in 2006 and started doing comedy in 2016. So, it took almost 20 years from realizing I wanted to be a comedian to actually getting up on stage.

How did you break into the comedy scene here in Shanghai?
When I moved to China, I worked for the Theme Pub Company and was in charge of organizing entertainment for the company.

The Punchline Comedy Club would come to Shanghai every three months, and it was my job to coordinate with them. John Morehead, who runs Punchline Comedy Club, would give me inside tips and teach me what makes a good comedy room.

Even after leaving the company, I continued helping out with Punchline Comedy Club and later joined the gang over at Shanghai Comedy Club.

Eventually, I was tricked into getting on stage to do comedy, and the rest is history.

Who are your comedy heroes?
I don't like the idea of heroes, but my favorite comedians include those who incorporate performance, logical leaps and silliness in their jokes. Rory Scovel, Mark Forward, John Mulaney, Kyle Kinane, and Kurt Metzger would top my list.

I also enjoyed classic black comics like Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx. If I had to choose between Richard Pryor and George Carlin in the 'GOAT' debate, it's Richard Pryor.

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Richard Pryor, the GOAT

As a comic, from where do you draw inspiration?
Everyday life makes me laugh, and the funniest people are those who notice and care about details.

The craft of comedy involves noticing things with tremendous detail and passion, and that's what inspires me the most. Passion for anything inspires me. 

Also… they say comedy comes from pain, and my life has been full of it, which makes me hilarious.

What can people expect from your show this weekend?
I've adjusted my comedy for the Shanghai scene, making it animated and clear for non-native speakers. It’s still very international; if I did this show abroad it would be the same.

My shows consists of 45 to 55 minutes of jokes, big act-outs, stories about relationships, and predicaments I find myself in.

What's the most exciting gig you've done as a comedian?
In 2018, we started our own comedy group and brought comedians to China. Touring with Theo Von, opening for him, and hosting for Neal Brennan were exciting experiences.

When you get to work with successful people who share your interests, you realize the difference between you and them is mostly just experience and commitment.

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SpicyComedy Lounge, currently the only full-time commercial comedy club in Shanghai

What is the current state of the Shanghai English comedy scene?
After COVID, most comedians left, and the scene is in a rebuilding phase. It's become more local, and SpicyComedy is the only full-time commercial club.

Currently, there's a need for more headliner comedians to revive the English comedy scene in Shanghai. A little competition would be nice.

English comedy would never be as big as the Chinese scene, but we could probably use 30 or more headliners to create a thriving market. 

It’s a good sign that I could follow all the steps to getting a visa as a 'Talk Show Actor,'  but as I say, we need more in order to build something truly sustainable.

Finally, give us three reasons people should head along to your show this weekend...
Firstly, you'll laugh and have a good time.

Secondly, it's a chance to escape digital life and make a human connection in a room without the formality of a lecture or meeting.

Lastly, supporting comedy is supporting art, and you'll feel better after experiencing it.


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Scan the QR to get your tickets now:

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Sat Mar 16, 7.30pm; RMB188.

SpicyComedy Lounge, 3F, Building 6-7, South Block, 123 Xingye Lu, by Madang Lu 兴业路123弄,新天地时尚一期6-7号楼3层南里食集北区, 近马当路.

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