The arts industry was among the hardest hit by COVID-19 measures. But 21-year-old Ciang Ajeic launched his comedy career in lockdown anyway.
A global pandemic seems an odd time to become a standup comedian.
But that’s the case for 22-year old Ciang Ajeic from Melbourne, who performed his first-ever open mic night in December 2019, just months before “the new normal” would become a trite catchphrase and creative industries would become crippled by COVID-19 measures.
As an extrovert who gets energy from being around people, Ciang says the multiple lockdowns and isolation challenged him.
“Before lockdown, we were just free and we didn't have to face ourselves….Or our certain struggles because you could go outside and just forget about it.”
“Coronavirus really made you face it,” Ciang told The Feed, as part of the documentary ‘Pandemicland’, which follows four young Australians over the course of 10 months as they come of age during a global health crisis.
A LOCKDOWN MINDSET RESET
Ciang says in lockdown, he began to question things about himself and his capability to be funny and started to feel depressed about not being able to achieve his goals.
“A lot of people were blaming themselves. But you can't blame yourself for not being able to create during lockdown.”
“So I started thinking in that mindset and...focusing on the future. “
He says ‘finding the funny’ got him through.
“Humour can fix everything, I reckon. It helps me with a lot of things… Laughing can cure a lot of things, especially sadness,” Ciang says.
The science actually backs him up on that.
ANCHORING TO MOMENTS OF JOY
Research shows those who are able to find humour are psychologically and physically healthier. One study partly conducted at the Edinburgh Fringe even linked laughter to a higher pain threshold.
There’s also benefits from laughter, according to Adjunct Lecturer Ros Ben-Moshe from the School of Public Health and Psychology at La Trobe University, where a world-first course in laughter, resilience and wellbeing is being offered.
Mrs Ben-Moshe says laughter can help to lower blood pressure, stimulate the lymphatic system and of course, release endorphins.
She says that’s helpful when high levels of uncertainty lead to high levels of distress.
“Laughter has been shown to have similar effects on the brain as meditation... It’s like any mindfulness practice; when you’re laughing, you’re anchored into that moment of joy.”
She says that feeds into creativity and peace of mind.
LAUGHTER IS INNATE BUT NEEDS INTENTION
But a sad fact about humans is that “in most people, you will see a drop off of natural laughter throughout the life course,” Mrs Ben-Moshe says.
“Unless you activate it, you practise it, you don’t leave it to chance.”
She says especially in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need “intentional laughter practises”; whether that be watching comedy as opposed to the news sometimes or spending time with people who uplift you.
“You need to find whatever it is that tunes in to your laughter side.”
“That’s more important now.”
A DARKENED ROOM
It might feel paradoxical to laugh as the world crumbles.
But Mrs Ben-Moshe says laughing is not about dismissing or diminishing pain.
“There’s a lot of hardship and... It can even feel inappropriate to look like you're laughing and having fun,” she says.
“But all the more reason, because at the end of the day we need to be able to lighten our own mind and find the joy in ourselves, in order to give to others.”
“Laughter in many ways, it's like the light. If you think of a darkened room, you don't necessarily need a lot.”
HUMOUR IS A WINDOW
Not only can humour be a light, but it can also be a gateway into wider worlds, according to aspiring comedian Ciang Ajeic.
In one of his early go-to stories, Ciang talks about seeing an escalator for the first time in Egypt, when he was three years old.
“I remember my dad, he looked at it and was like, ‘wait here’. And then he stepped up to it,” Ciang smiles.
“He put one foot on it and had the other foot off. So the escalator took his foot - his leg was just going up and he was just holding the escalator!”
As he was clinging, mid-splits on the rising metal, Ciang says his dad pulled his foot back and resigned himself to the fact the escalator wasn’t built for humans.
“He was like, ‘nah, this is for the bags.’ And then he left and we took the stairs,” Ciang laughs.
“I reckon telling stories that are funny is my best way of getting the audience to be able to watch my other stories, which might not be funny, like more deep,” he says.Ciang’s family had left Sudan for Egypt, and then came to Australia when he was four.
“I remember when I came to a realisation that I'm in another country, because my country is so, so broken. I was sad about it, man.”
“I came to Australia as a refugee...And ever since, I realised the opportunities that I have in this country.”
“[That’s] the reason I'm always really positive when it comes to how I deal with certain things or lockdowns or just everything in general.”
And despite more than a year of his city being thrown in and out of lockdown and the comedy scene constantly disrupted, Ciang has booked his first show in Carlton in October, at an event called ‘Black Excellence.’
“You should watch me, keep your eyes on me, don’t blink,” he grins.
You can watch The Feed’s two-part documentary Pandemicland on SBS On Demand.
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