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Marvelous Marathon of Mirth

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Harith Iskandar & Afdlin Shauki: fat funny fellows

Antares splits his sides (and meets old friends) at ACTORLYMPICS 

Oh, it’s good to spend a Sunday afternoon guffawing non-stop (though 150 minutes did seem a bit excessive towards the end). With a suave Patrick Teoh playing emcee or umpire, Afdlin Shauki, Harith Iskandar, Jit Murad, Jo Kukathas, Nell Ng, and Zahim Albakri treated KL audiences to another rousing round of theater sports (where everything is improvised).

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Nell Ng & Afdlin Shauki in action

They were absolutely brilliant, and you’d have to be a dullard to disagree. Bringing a whole new meaning to “thinking on your feet,” they winged it at high altitude, skydiving over Bangsar and taking the mickey out of the mouse. They performed on raw instinct, propelled by pure talent, driven by sheer wit. They had the audience completely enthralled and eating out of their hands. It’s tempting to try and recapture some of the highlights in a review, but you really had to be there to appreciate the inspired inanity of the performances.

(Okay, just to give you a taste of the hysterical goings-on: one event had the cast divided into two teams. Random props chosen by the backstage crew were handed to each team and they had to improvise short scenes using these props. A red plastic stool is offered to one team. Within 3 seconds, they’re improvising a scene at a clinic with the doctor saying: “Good! I see you’ve brought a stool sample!” That sort of thing. Virtually impossible to translate into mere words…)

Ladies and gentlemen, here are a few mutant Malaysians equipped with high-speed data-processing circuits, oodles of charisma and, most importantly, a healthy sense of humor and the ability to laugh at themselves. I’d entrust the entire country to their moisturized and slippery hands. Indeed, I’m proud to have witnessed their ascension to world-class comedy status.

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Afdlin Shauki

Afdlin Shauki first caught the public eye around 1990 when he starred in a self-penned production directed by Joe Hasham. It was evident even then that he was some sort of prodigy in the mode of John Belushi. He had enough promise as a singer to get signed up by Roslan Aziz along with Zainal Abidin and Amir Yussof. He honed his comedic skills in a series of Instant Café Theatre revues and was a great success in Huzir Sulaiman’s hit musical, Hip-Hopera. Recently he was seen as one of Mongkut’s courtiers in the movie, Anna and The King. For a while he toured with his R&B group, Acidiz, and recorded on his own label, Acid Rain, in between acting and directing engagements. Afdlin is a bona fide Malaysian showbiz success story and has never been known to make a foolish move [at least not until the year 2012, when he decided, much to my distress, to join a racist rightwing political party].

I remember Harith Iskandar’s early ventures into stand-up comedy at All That Jazz when he’d go on stage and try out his routine between sets by Rafique Rashid. It was obvious the man had the wherewithal to make it big in comedy. Later he tried his hand at filmmaking and directed Ella and Hans Isaac in a Malay feature called Hanya Kawan. As to be expected, Harith was cast as a neanderthal warrior in Anna and The King. He’s physically big but mentally agile and his comedic body language and timing are spot on.

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The one & only Jit Murad

There was a lady in the audience who told me it was her second time at the show, and she’d brought her family along. “I came to see Jit Murad,” she sighed, “I just love Jit!” I bet she wasn’t the only one who’s enamored of Jit’s inimitable charm and wit. I met Jit Murad back in the mid-1980s when he made his KL stage debut in Thor Kah Hoong’s seminal stage sitcom, Caught In The Middle. A couple of years later he played my son in Maureen Ten’s whimsical For The Time Being. Zahim Albakri was making his KL stage debut, too, as an angel assisting my transition from the physical world. Soon, Jit and Zahim were regularly seen on TV in a whole slew of Malay dramas.

Not surprising, as there was always a gaggle of giggly schoolgirls waiting outside the dressing room for Jit and Zahim at the end of each performance. No one had the heart to tell these girls they didn’t stand a chance in heaven of dating these pretty lads. When the Instant Café Theatre was inaugurated in 1989, Jit and Zahim were among the founder members, along with Jo Kukathas and Andrew Leci. Jit has since made a name for himself as a playwright, while Zahim branched out into directing with great success.

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Jo Kukathas

Ms Kukathas’s illustrious theater career warrants a 5,000-word article. She was an English teacher when I first met her through one of her colleagues. The next thing I knew, she was appearing in Caught In The Middle which is how she connected with Jit and Zahim. The enduring success of the Instant Café Theatre is largely due to Ms Kukathas’s superhuman drive and tenacity.

A few days before Actorlympics opened, she was hospitalized with bronchitis. I suppose that was when Zahim was roped in, just in case, but Jo Kukathas is such a trooper, she simply had to see it through. No one would have guessed she wasn’t in top physical form throughout the strenuous proceedings. That’s what I call dedication, though some might deem it a form of divine madness.

Nell Ng was playing bit parts only a few years ago, but her intensity and focus were clearly evident. And so were her consummate skills as a comedienne. She soon became a regular member of the Instant Café Theatre and confidently held her own among the veterans. For a while she worked the graveyard shift at a radio station as a deejay until she was offered a juicy rôle in a Singapore TV sitcom series. Baby star Nell Ng will be making her directorial debut in a series of skits produced by Faridah Merican and performed by a group of acting students.

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Patrick Teoh

Patrick Teoh I’ve known for over a quarter century when he was a producer with Rediffusion. Back then I kept urging him to get involved in theater and he’d shrug and say, “Don’t have the nerve, lah!” These days you can’t keep the man off the boards and a good thing too – he’s an absolute gem on stage, as well as on the screen!

These amazing talents deserve their own TV station, film company,  recording studio, theater, and unlimited funding… or, at least, no more reactionary bureaucratic impediments. We’d soon be exporting the best that Malaysia has to offer in the way of cultural artifacts. This is no laughing matter. The Beatles were awarded Orders of the British Empire (OBEs) for boosting the British economy during the 1960s. The fact that the Fab Four said, “Thanks, but no thanks!” and promptly returned their medals to the Queen is quite beside the point.

30 April 2002

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About Antares

Author, illustrator, actor, musician, composer, arts reviewer, blogger, Abominable Jungleman. Also a stargate activator, ceremonial guardian, interdimensional gatekeeper, pendragon-in-exile, and retired deity.

2 responses »

  1. you re-edited this to include your dismissive statement about afdlin’s “politics” without indicating that you made an edit, a decade later?

    that’s playing around with impressions a bit, don’t you think?

    Perhaps more people should ask Afdlin outright his reasons, rather than making their own assumptions, particularly if they don’t mind playing with public perceptions themselves – and look to their own consciences before judging others?

    looking forward to your response r.e. your intentions in re-jigging this piece. an afterthought, perhaps, not wanting to be seen as gushing over someone who didn’t live up to your expectations (tho why someone must live up to your expectations, is something a “free-thinker” as yourself should ask)

    I would like to know if your actions really do signify your concern for your readership’s perception of you. (this post is a decade old, why the need, and why so hush-hush a change? surely people of maturity are aware that beliefs and situations change?).

    Reply
    • Hi, dear Cristina! I’m glad you’re giving me an opportunity to discuss this issue – at least with you, if not Afdlin himself. You may not have noticed that I placed my “dismissive statement” within [square parentheses] which indicate editorial insertion; and in any case I’m free to tweak whatever was written a decade ago when republishing online to bring it up-to-date – that’s the beauty of the digital era.

      When I first heard rumors that Afdlin had joined Umno, I thought it was just one of his deadpan jokes. When it was confirmed by somebody I decided to leave a comment on his facebook wall, as a sort of personal plea for clarification. Well, he ignored my question. So I left it at that. But it has troubled my heart ever since because I have always admired the guy and hold him in extremely high esteem.

      To my mind anybody who continues to defend and even support the political status quo – particularly in the last 4 years when Umno/BN has openly shown its ugly side in its death denial desperation – deserves to be written off as a human being. I am absolutely serious about this and would like it publicly known herein: if you acquiesce with the grotesque distortion of every single human value worth maintaining for the sake of cari makan, it indicates to me that you acquiesce to and endorse the ascension to the highest office in the land of a confirmed liar, congenital thief, professional hypocrite and cold-blooded murderer. Yes, I refer to our pink-lipped crime minister, Najib Razak and his cartoon spouse, the Red Queen of Putrajaya.

      What Najib and his 1Malaysia symbol represent are a hollow, shallow mirage that all is well when it isn’t. Of course, it isn’t – not when billions (even trillions) have been ferreted out of the country, right under the nose of Bank Negara, by individuals who did not earn the money but extorted it like brigand chiefs; billions that really were intended to support and enhance the lives of all citizens, not just a few crooks. In the interest of maintaining this utterly corrupt status quo, unjust arrests, abductions, brutal torture, even willful murder have been committed.

      Once a person can rationalize a travesty of this magnitude, that person is far advanced on the slippery slope. You could also call it the Saruman Effect – when individuals with great talent and vision consciously opt to serve the Sauronic Agenda, which (simply put) is synonymous with the Totalitarian State or Illuminati New World Order, that person is no longer a friend but an enemy to life Itself.

      I can understand and even sympathize when a village simpleton falls in with fascist feudal ideologies – but when a person of obvious intelligence and authentic capability succumbs, sympathy transmutes to horror. I am utterly horrified, Cristina, and cannot keep quiet about something that impinges so urgently on my conscious attention.

      Even as I was inserting my “dismissive statement” about Afdlin, I found myself musing about him with deep affection and regret that something as base as politics should be allowed to come between us. Nevertheless, a clear line has been drawn in the sand. If you choose to support an insupportable state of affairs, I have no choice but to withdraw my friendship, even though the love that connects us all as souls remains – and shall ever remain.

      In the past few years I have suffered the loss of several greatly beloved friends – not to death, but to something far worse. I’m aware that this has turned into a self-righteous rant, but there are times when I say, “Fuck art! Time to live!” – and there is absolutely no way I would want to live in a land where everybody is forced to wear a mask – whether of feigned innocence or anxious anonymity.

      Reply

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