Of Giggles, Guffaws and Groans

Last March, we were introduced to the very first Malaysian Comedy Festival 2001, courtesy of Hans Issac and his company, Tall Order Production. That first outing saw performances by comedy stalwarts Harith lskander, Jit Murad, Afdlin Shauki, lndi Nadarajah and Allan Pererra. “I love to watch their acts so I gathered them under one roof. Incidentally, they are also my friends,” he said during a press conference preceding last year’s fest.

Less than a year later, Hans was back with a second comic caper. Held at the Actors Studio Bangsar from January 17 to 27, Malaysian Comedy Pest 2002 featured a strange new moniker, the name change acting as a sardonic response to the many critics of the first festival. This year also saw a bigger collection of comedians in which the old line-up was boosted by veterans, the Instant Cafe Theatre Company and Patrick Teoh, as well as newcomers Douglas Lim and Scot Hensarling.

With so many old hands and fresh faces performing under one roof, the Comedy Pest provided the perfect opportunity to take stock of the local comedy scene. One could see a little bit of everything there – the tried and true formulas jostling for space alongside new, untested approaches.

The fest’s first matinee was performed to a less than half-full house, probably owing to the fact that tickets were quite pricey – as is the case for most comedic performances these days.

Kicking off the proceedings were Harith and lndi posing as members of the audience, commenting on each performer and what they were expecting to see at this year’s Comedy Pest. Ironically, Harith – who has 15 years of comedic experience under his belt – was not far off the mark when he spoke about himself and how his jokes hadn’t changed in years. Indeed, those who attended last year’s fest would have recognized his repertoire of dating/relationship anecdotes. However, the audience lapped it all up, appreciative, no doubt, of the fact that they could relate to what was being said.

Which explains the popularity and durability of ‘exaggerism’ in Malaysian comedy. We seem to have a thing for laughing at ourselves. Jibes directed at the idiosyncrasies of Malaysians and their less than savoury habits are usually the ones that elicit the most guffaws. According to lndi, who has been in the comedy business for 10 years, “Comedy hasn’t changed. Same system, same comedy.”

True enough, Comedy Court’s segment was but a cleverly disguised collage of their skits from the lawyers of Quid Pro Quo to the businessmen of the Executive Spa to the ladies of MenAPause. Each of the characters that appeared on stage focused on a different local stereotype, from lecherous men to talkative aunties to dodgy politicians and more, all acted out in lndi and Allan’s larger-than-life manner. Their often risque brand of humour was an instant hit with the audience who reacted instantly to the many sexual innuendoes.

In keeping with the close-to-home brand of humour, host and novice Douglas Lim tried very hard to warm the audience up with his own collection of caricatures of Malaysian life. Unfortunately, a Chinese guy trying really hard to mock his own race’s traits got a bit stale after the first minute or so of his monologue. Speaking in sometimes broken English, in an attempt to sound like a typical Chinaman, he failed to deliver the punch lines and lacked the sort of comic timing that was needed to pull off his Bintang Walk versus Orchard Road jokes.

Thankfully, the multi-talented Afdlin Shauki decided to do something different from the rest and went with song parodies – the tried and true method favoured by the Instant Cafe Theatre Company – accompanied by a generous helping of self-deprecating remarks about his weight on the side. When asked how long he’s been doing the comedy rounds, he quipped, “I don’t know, but when I came out of my mother’s womb, she laughed. So for 30 years-lah.”

His observation on how Malaysians have a thing for finding fault in others rang true as the audience laughed their way through every one of his fat jokes. He spoofed R. Kelly’s I Believe I Can Fly with his own version called How I Wish I Could Fly, a lamentation on the plight of turban-wearing Sikhs who were mistaken for Muslim terrorists after the September 11 incident.

Jit Murad’s segment was a bold departure from the norm. Those expecting the flamboyant Renee Choy were sorely disappointed when, in the sharp-tongued hairstylist’s place, came a rather hostile sounding Jit, sans colourful personas et al. “I’m here to piss you off,” he told the audience at the very beginning and was greeted with stunned silence.

His dry wit and penchant for irony- ‘thinking man’s comedy’, as one audience member put it-were met with a somewhat delayed reaction as the audience, used to in-your-face punch lines, tried to catch the humour lurking behind his double entendres. With most comedians resorting to off-colour jokes and flaw-magnifying humour, it was no surprise that the audience took a while to warm up to Jit’s new approach. He later remarked that he felt a little daunted by the fact that the audience was not in tune with most of his jokes.

Perhaps that is the reason why most stand-up comedians in the country prefer to stick with the safe approaches rather than try out something new. Nevertheless, as long as there are those who are willing to break free from these self-imposed boundaries, and as long as comedic performances remain accessible and affordable to the masses, there might still be hope yet for the growth of stand-up comedy in this country.


First Published: 19.02.2002 on Kakiseni

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