Last July, Alabama-born stand-up comic Matt Davis left his adopted home in Burbank, California to embark on a year-long, worldwide comedy tour. Twelve months and 29 countries later, he found himself in Ulaanbaatar, performing for a full house at Revo Bar.
“I speak no Mongolian. None. And I’m not going to try,” Davis told an audience of mostly Mongolians on Thursday night.
When he launched the “A World in Jest” tour, he planned on learning basic phrases (“hello,” “goodbye,” “thank you,” etc.) in the native language of each country he visited. “I gave up on that dream like 19 places ago,” he confessed during the set.
“India’s the country that messed me up with languages. It totally broke my brain. India has 22 official languages,” he explained. “My country can’t handle Spanish [being introduced]…I know people that get physically upset because they have to know the word ‘burrito’.”
Much of the set drew on the eclectic travel experiences he’s collected over the last year – remixed through a bawdy and satirical mental blender.
“I don’t trust the bird thing…the vulture looked depressed.” Davis said, referencing the local tourist attraction where you can pay a few thousand MNT to take a picture with a vulture, hawk or other large, less-than-enthused bird on your arm.
The material resonated with the crowd of mostly English-speaking Mongolians, expats and tourists, evinced by their near-constant peals of laughter.
Like most of the gigs on his “A World in Jest” tour, chance, networking and the connecting force of laughter – rather than careful planning – blew him Mongolia-ward. To score gigs, he’s been “reaching out to people I know, and people I meet, for
introductions and guidance,” each of them “being the possible link to the next country or city, the next gig or place to rest, the next set of experiences.”
He knew some people who knew some people who connected him with Ulaanbaatar-based stand-up group UB Comedy, which organized Thursday’s show.
The UB Post caught up with Davis to discuss “A World in Jest” and his first-time performance in UB.
What inspired you to embark on your globetrotting comedy project, “A World in Jest”?
I wanted to show that communities of common interest can exist, in a border-less sense. It is something I believe, but I had to attempt to navigate that to feel like I could stand on that point. Stand-up is just the community I know, but I would venture to say it’s applicable to, say, people that enjoy cabinet making or even just human beings in general.
You’re nearing the end of the tour, how would you sum up your experience? Was it what you expected? What did you learn?
The “A World in Jest” project is right at the one-year mark, which was the goal in the beginning. But it was always only step one. So I’m transitioning into the next stage/next project over the next few months.
It’s hard to sum up the experience without reducing it to a cliche or aphorism, of course. It has been amazing, although challenging at times. I feel the initial concept is proven, and now I hope to show more of it with a book and a documentary from all the filming I have done.
What’s your favorite memory from the tour thus far?
I don’t know. I’m not even close to a moment of nostalgia. My mindset is still forward-looking. Though taking a private van service from Belgrade, Serbia to Sarajevo, Bosnia is definitely an interesting memory.
What was the biggest difficulty you encountered?
[The] biggest difficulty is just the logistics [of] trying to schedule travel and shows across multiple geographical regions at once. There is a learning curve there, but you just do what needs to be done.
Did people usually “get” your sets?
My show is fairly universal, especially now. That’s my goal: to be able to perform in all these places, but not to compromise and do “easy” material. It comes down to vocabulary, really. That’s the biggest hurdle. But with a little hard work, I think it’s doable.
How did you end up with a gig in UB?
This is my first time in Mongolia. The UB Comedy guys and I started talking months ago to arrange it. Like most things, I was introduced to them via some other people that had passed along my project to them.
Had you experienced the Mongolian comedy scene at all prior to performing? If so, what did you think of it and how does it compare to other countries’ comedy scenes?
I was able to watch a show [before my performance] with the local comics. It was really great, even though I didn’t understand the language. It’s so cool seeing people coming out and supporting stand up. And the comics here have all been very cool.
To compare it to other scenes, it reminds me of several I’ve seen. It is new, and the comics and audience are kind of learning and growing together, which is very exciting to see. There are some very talented comedians here, and it is only a matter of time before you see the threshold crossed and Mongolian stand-up having a larger place, not just in the country, but in the world at large.
For updates and upcoming shows, check out worldinjest.com.