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From Cambodia to America, and back again: Molly Sokhom on her new Comedy Fest storytelling show

Sam Brooks sat down with NZ-based American-Cambodian comedian Molly Sokhom to talk about travelling to Cambodia, her experiences with local audiences, and her new show Sokhom Syndrome.

Sam Brooks: So, straight up: Other than the A+ play on words, why the name Sokhom Syndrome for your show?

Molly Sokhom: Sokhom Syndrome was always funny to me because I’ve had so many MCs introduce me on stage as Molly Stockholm. Sokhom is actually my father’s first name, which actually means happy and safe!

That’s kind of genius. This is the worst and most generic question to ask, and I’m so sorry, but what’s the show about?

The show is about me travelling to Cambodia, for the first time, with my parents to meet the half brother I didn’t know I had. I’ll cover some deep stuff, but the funny comes from being with my VERY Americanised parents. I mean my mom hasn’t even been back to Cambodia since she left, so it was an experience for her.

That must’ve been completely nuts. What was that experience like for them – and I guess also for you, assuming you’re equally as Americanised? Not that there’s like a measuring stick or anything.

Oh definitely, but I was quite embarrassed being with them at times.

Like when?

Being at the markets and my mom was speaking to the vendor and she mixed up both Cambodian and English together. They had no clue. I said mom, did you just speak Camblish?

And what’s the process of translating those experiences into stand-up like? Is it easily done, is it something you’re used to doing at this point?

Well, this will be my first time doing a storytelling show, but I’ll have some punchlines in there because I’m use to that from stand-up. I want to make sure people know that this is a comedy show and they’ll be some different elements that I’m adding that you may see in theatre.

Molly Sokhom

How are you working to meld those styles together? Like, when you’re sitting down at your laptop, how do you figure out how to make it all blend together?

It isn’t easy, but I like to tell stories in my stand-up too, so that helps. It’s crazy but I hate writing. It works better for me to talk out material.

No, writing is pretty much the worst. I have no idea why anybody would do it!

What do you want an audience to get out of your show, like what would you ideal audience member say after seeing Sokhom Syndrome?

This show is about my family and our experiences. We’re immigrants living in America and finally visiting the “motherland.” I’m sure there are people who’s had similar experiences. I was born in a Thai refugee camp and as a baby being raised in California… There are stories there! I want people to hear them. Hopefully, at the end of the show people, will be like “Hey, that wasn’t a kidnapping at all!” and I hope that everybody falls in love with it at the end.

That sounds like the most ideal ending to any show, honestly. What’s it like doing comedy somewhere like Wellington as opposed to in the States? Are there many difference between the scenes?

I find that New Zealand audiences are super nice. Too kind at times. I’ve been living in New Zealand for almost three years now, and I’ve noticed the differences between a Wellington audience as opposed to a Levin audience. It’s very similar to San Francisco and Reno, Nevada. A lot of people will laugh at the same things too. Funny is funny.

How do you mean, “too kind”? I’m so curious – I’ve heard different from other comedians!

Maybe, it’s the American thing! I don’t know. Even when I know I’m dying on stage, I’ve never felt that I was getting heckled too bad. It was always fun. I get a lot more friendly faces in the audience. Trust me, I’ve been doing this for nine years now. I’ve had people yell at me, I’ve had them get up, I’ve had them leave.

That’s horrible. People are horrible.

Who are you looking forward to seeing in the festival?

Louise Beuvink, Jerome Chandrahasen, Sarah Harpur, Rich Wilson, and so much more!

Molly Sokhom’s show Sokhom Syndrome is part of the NZ International Comedy Festival and you can book tickets here.

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