Last Comedy Bar in Cebu City, an inside look: Karren Songbird’s journey

By: , June 14, 2024
Last Comedy Bar in Cebu City (an inside look): Karren Songbird’s journey

Karren Songbird, together with her colleagues, at a comedy bar in Cebu City provide the audience with laughter and relief from the stress of their daily routines. | CDN Photo/ Christian Dave Cuizon

CEBU CITY, Philippines — While the vibrant drag industry has captured the attention of Cebuanos in recent times, there is another world inside a comedy bar that many of the younger generation may not know of.

The comedy bar business in Cebu, which offers entertainment, food, and more, has taken a hit over the years. 

As a result, only one comedy bar remains in business in the city as of today — the 8th Avenue Comedy Bar.


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Karren Songbird

The bar is frequented by locals, who are enthusiastic about watching live shows and comedy acts by a variety of performers, many of whom have been in the industry for a very long time.

One of the most popular Cebuano performers in the comedy bar industry today is Karren Songbird.

Last Comedy Bar in Cebu City (an inside look): Karren Songbird’s journey

Karren Songbird is one of the most popular local performers in the comedy bar industry in Cebu. | CDN Photo/ Immae Lachica

Karren, whose real name is Kevin Lechadores, is 45-years-old and have been working as a host, performer, and stand up comedian for 23 years. 

Born and raised in Malangas, Zamboanga, Karren is now based in Cebu City and is one of the hosts at the 8th Avenue Comedy Bar.

As a veteran in her field, Karren is experienced and has travelled to many places as part of her work as a performer.

In an interview with CDN Digital, Karren shared how her journey as a singer-comedian began as a way to gather funds for her transition into a transgender woman.

As a young kid, Karren was unable to freely express her colorful personality and identity because of her policeman father’s strict rules. 

Until high school, her dad made her sport a crewcut haircut similar to military men.

Although she listened well to her parents, Karren knew that she was different from her peers since the young age of 5.

Karren shared that her influences growing up were her many female cousins. Moreover, her grandmother used to dress her in girl clothes as they initially wanted a daughter.

When she lived at a relative’s house for her studies, Karren was slowly able to uncover more about her gender identity.

Last Comedy Bar in Cebu City (an inside look): Karren Songbird’s journey

Karren started her transition process with her own money she earned from joining beauty pageants. | Contributed photo

Transitioning into a transgender

Certain about what she wanted, she started the process of transitioning into a transgender woman while she was still a nursing student at a university in Cebu City.

In order to gather funds for this process, she entered various beauty pageants at different towns across Cebu. 

Although she has already made her decision on the changes she wanted, Karren’s parents were still unaware about what she was going through.

She recalled how her moment of “coming out of the closet” was unpleasant and triggered by her school’s call to her parents.

Last Comedy Bar in Cebu City (an inside look): Karren Songbird’s journey

Her parents were not happy with their only son’s coming out. | Contributed photo

Her physical changes caught the attention of professors at her school who, out of concern, called up her parents in Zamboanga without her knowledge.

Just as she expected, her parents were not happy with the truth and Karren had a screaming match with her mother.

It took a long time for her parents to come to terms with the changes of their only son, said Karren.

Nonetheless, she waited patiently for them to accept her decision. In 2011, her father finally opened his heart to the new Karren while on his deathbed.

Karren shared that she knew that her parents would be more accepting after some time has passed. 

“Parents will always be parents. Naa man jud nay mga rules and regulations sa house, Pero siguro, wa juy ginikinan nga gahi og heart,” she said on how parents will always love their children.

Now, her mother has witnessed Karren in her element as an audience member at the comedy bar she works at many times.

Patrons know Karren as a skilled singer who loves performing songs by Regine Velasquez-Alcasid. | Contributed photo

Patrons know Karren as a skilled singer who loves performing songs by Regine Velasquez-Alcasid. | Contributed photo


Among Karren’s many talents since she was young were singing and dancing. In fact, her dream was to be a singer at a lounge bar.

In an unexpected turn of events, however, she discovered her passion for singing and doing stand up comedy.

At 22-years-old, Karren began working as a comedian, host, singer at the newly opened first comedy bar in Cebu, Spotlight. 

Many years later, she has built a name for herself and continues to be one of the biggest names in the industry today.

To Karren, being a comedian-singer was her destiny.

While she was hesitant at first out of fear of being made fun of, she eventually found that she enjoyed the work despite having no prior experience doing comedy.

Even after she passed the nurses licensure examination, her heart chose a career in the entertainment industry. 

Karren became known as the “Songbird of the South,” a term that was termed for her by a mentor from Manila.

She captivated the audience with her incredible belting of songs by Asia’s songbird Regine Velasquez-Alcasid.

In 2019, she became a grand finalist representing Cebu for BakClash, which was part of GMA’s noon time show, “Eat Bulaga!”

At the time, she was given the opportunity to perform with popular divas and singers like Kuh Ledesma, Lani Misalucha, and Ariel Pineda.

Karren poses for a picture with Filipina actress and singer Jessa Zaragosa. | Contributed photo

Karren poses for a picture with Filipina actress and singer Jessa Zaragosa. | Contributed photo


Karren takes a photo with popular singer Jaya. | Contributed photo

Karren takes a photo with popular singer Jaya. | Contributed photo

The Smile

In 2023, she travelled to Germany for a 5-day show together with one of the hottest bands in the country, The Smile.

“Actually, nindot kaayo ni akong work kay you get the chance to go to a place for free. Nga Libre ang accommodation, ang plane ticket, or in ana nga wala nimo gi-imagine nga maka-abot ka ana nga place. Pero tungod sa imong work as a performer, makaadto ka ana nga lugar,” shared Karren on her many travels for her work.

(Actually, my work is great because you get the chance to go to a place for free. The accommodation is free, the plane ticket or I never imagined that I can reach this place. But because of my work as a performer, I have reached this place.)

One of the perks of Karren’s job is getting to travel to different destinations in the country and abroad. | Contributed photo

One of the perks of Karren’s job is getting to travel to different destinations in the country and abroad. | Contributed photo

In a blink of an eye, 23 years have already passed and Karen is still earnestly working in stand up comedy. 

“This is my passion. This is what I love to do — to perform, to make (the) audience happy,” she said.

Advise to new comedians

For comedians who are still starting out in the industry, Karen advised them to stay humble and to focus on getting better at their craft.

“Sa mga beginners pa nga nagwork sa comedy bar, stay humble…Ang comedy industry, nagtuyok ra sad na siya. So naay time nga sikat ka, naay time nga wala na. Mura sad na siyag mag-artista ka nga daghan kaayog mopuli nimo nga mas bata, mas gwapa, mas nindot og tingog, mas maayo pa nimo sa stage. So stay humble. Unya kung trabaho, trabaho lang jud ka. Unya iwas sa bisyo,” she stated.

(For the beginners who work in the comedy bar, stay humble…the comedy industry is just really a circle. So there will be a time when you will get popular, there will be a time when you will not be popular. That is like being an actor that there will be a lot who can replace you, younger ones, better looking, who have excellent voices, and better at you in performing on the stage. So stay humble. If it is work, just work. Stay way from vices.)

In the vibrant city of Cebu, where the nightlife is as colorful as its culture, comedy bars offer more than just performances—they provide an avenue for expression and stress relief for Karen, her fellow performers, and their patrons.

Karen started her career as a singer and slowly learned the ropes of stand-up comedy as a performer at Cebu’s first comedy bar, Spotlight.

“Nagstart akong work diri as a comedienne, host, singer sa comedy bar 23 years ago. Nag open ang first ever nga comedy bar diri sa Cebu. It was Spotlight. Actually, amazing kaayo nga experience kay diri sad, kani siya, same venue, 23 years ago, mao ni siya ang Spotlight, the first-ever [comedy bar.],” she said.

(I started my work here as a comedienne, host, singer of a comedy bar 23 years ago. That was the the time when the first comedy bar opened here in Cebu. It was Spotlight. Actually, that was an amazing experience because it was here, this one place, same venue, 23 years ago, this is the Spotlight, the first ever [comedy bar].)

8th Avenue

Looking back 23 years, Karen recalled how performers then had to walk on eggshells to entertain and navigate their audiences safely. Although the Cebuano audience was easy to please, the performers strived to offer a variety of shows every night and organized events to keep this vibrant community engaged.

As years passed, numerous comedy bars emerged, capturing the hearts of Cebuanos. However, with time, some could no longer handle the pressure, and interest in comedy bars waned. Despite this adversity, Karren and her fellow performers persevered, working hard to make Cebu’s only comedy bar, the 8th Avenue, a go-to place for people seeking a good time.

“Kinahanglang mo evolve sad mi. As a host, comedienne or singer. Kinahanglan sad ka mo update sa imong mga songs, kay kung mo stick lang ka sa imong mga old songs nga ginakanta 23 years ago, wala na, kay naa ma’y time mo request ang mga tawo,” she said.

(It was necessary that we also evolve. As a host, comedienne or singer. I also needed to update in my songs, because if you stick to our old songs that we sang 23 years ago, no more, because there will be a time when the audience will make a request.)

Defining Comedy Bar Shows and Drag

For Karen, a great comedy bar show is more than just a series of jokes; it’s an overall experience that combines humor, music, and interaction with the crowd.

“Para nako when you do hosting or standup comedy dapat spontaneous ka on the spot gyud, kay kung unsa man gud imong makit-an sa audience mao man gud na imong ma storya…so diha na mo run among mga joke,” said Karen.


(For me, when you do hosting or standup comedy, you should be spontaneous, you should be on the spot, because whatever you see on the audience that is what you will make a story from…so that is where we base our jokes.)

She believes the essence of a successful comedy performance lies in its ability to connect with the audience, making them laugh while being mindful of sensitivity and handling jokes appropriately to avoid offending or hurting anyone.

Comedy bar shows, for Karren, involve a spontaneous flow of topics, banter of jokes, and occasionally adding a dance or song number. She thinks drag shows are also a valuable addition to the comedy and performing industry, defining them as more prepared and precise, with drag queens embodying different personas.

“Sa ako lang ning observation, ang drag show is more on lip synching. So, kinahanglan maayo kaayo ka’g baba kay imo man i-lip sync ang the whole song or sa performance. Kinahanglan imong act sad is flawless,” she said.

(This is just my observation, the drag show is more on lip synching. So, it would be needed that you have a good mouth because you have to lip-sync the whole song or the performance. You need the act to be flawless.

Kat Phiscuer, the founder of Haus of Reneissance, a drag community in Cebu, shared her perspective on drag and comedy bar shows with CDN Digital.

Phiscuer believes there is a widespread misconception that comedy bar shows and drag shows are extremely different, but they are not fundamentally different.

“Drag shows have comedy queens that do comedy shows, and comedy bar shows often highlight drag performers unless they only have stand-up comedians. In the end, it is just a matter of what is being highlighted and how the show is branded that makes the difference, because at its core, they are both drag shows,” she explained.

The Comedy Bar Scene in Cebu

Performers at the 8th Avenue Comedy Bar pose for a picture together on stage. | Contributed photo

Performers at the 8th Avenue Comedy Bar pose for a picture together on stage. | Contributed photo

The history of comedy bars in Cebu is rich and varied. Once bustling with numerous comedy bars, the scene has now dwindled, leaving Karren and other performers in the only comedy bar left in Cebu, 8th Avenue Comedy Bar.

Despite the decline, Karen believes the comedy bar industry continues to thrive.

“I should say nga relevant gihapon kaayo ang comedy industry ang comedy bar diri sa Sugbo. Kay nganu ang mga taw mangita man gyud og diversion. Mangita gyud sila og outlet kung asa sila makakatawa, kung asa sila makalimot sa ilang mga problema. Thankfully… daghan naman og mga nangagi gyud nga comedy bar, kami ra gyud ang nagpabilin,” she added.


(I should say that this is still relevant, the comedy industry, the comedy bar here in Cebu. Because, people will look for a diversion. They would need to look for an outlet where they can laugh, where they can forget their problems. Thankfully…among the many comedy bars that was established, we are the only one that is left.)

This story reminds us that with passion, hard work, and innovation, nothing can completely dim the light of an industry that has been spreading cheer and color for decades.

The success of comedy bars can be attributed to innovative approaches to entertainment and the strong sense of community among audiences. Karren’s journey from a passionate performer to a pioneering figure has left an indelible mark on the industry.

As an integral part of the last comedy bar standing in Cebu, Karen, with the help of her fellow performers and their management, continues to keep this special piece of colorful entertainment culture alive in the city.

In a city where laughter never fades, Karren Songbird’s melody in music and comedy serves as a beacon of joy, reminding us all of the enduring power of humor and the arts.