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“MUM… DAD… I WANNA JOIN THE MACC!”

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MACC-stub

This ticket stub carries some pleasurable memories for me. That’s why I have immortalized it here. I first stumbled on the intriguing poster below on Patrick Teoh’s Niamah blog…

MACC-poster

What phenomenal inspiration, I thought, to present three stand-up comedians – all Chinese, of course – as the Malaysian Association of Chinese Comedians. I was determined to catch the show, even visited TicketCharge to try and book online… but was put off by the fact that TicketCharge charges an additional RM12 as a “service fee.” That’s way too much, I thought. I mean, if I were booking a RM375 ticket to see Beyonce, I wouldn’t blink an eye at a RM12 service fee. Nobody minds paying up to RM5 extra for the convenience of booking a theater ticket online – but RM12? That’s 33% of the ticket price! What if I were buying TWO tickets? RM24 could easily buy a very fine dinner for two…

Jaya-OneFast-forward to 24 October 2007. I get to Jaya One around 8:20PM and, after asking a couple of people, manage to locate PJ Live Arts. As I stand in line at the ticket office, I notice a poster for MACC 1st EGM that has “Sold Out” scrawled over it in black marker. True enough, it was a full house – not even one seat left! But a girl named Lulu was really helpful. She told me to hang around till just before 9PM – in case somebody canceled out. Just then I bumped into Patrick Teoh and his lovely wife Min Chan with heartthrob actor/director/playwright Gavin Yap in tow. They were downing some beers and awaiting the arrival of more friends. We had a quick chat and then I headed back to the ticket office where more friends were assembled – including a few prominent bloggers I had never met in person. They were waiting around for cancellations too. But as it turned out there was only ONE cancellation… and since I was alone I got it! I wasn’t going to miss MACC 1st EGM after all 🙂

DouglasLim

Douglas Lim (pic courtesy of Grant Corban)

The President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Secretary and Supreme Advisor of the Malaysian Association of Chinese Comedians is a mutant Malaysian Chinese multi-tasker named Douglas Lim. I first heard of him when my daughter was assistant director on a successful sitcom called Kopitiam. She told me supporting actor Douglas Lim was incredibly talented but I must admit I was more keen to be introduced to Joanna Bessey, the star of the series. Back then at only 18, Douglas Lim looked rather nerdy – but it was undeniable that he was a natural-born actor, singer and comedian with tremendous promise.

Well, that promise has been totally fulfilled. Douglas Lim at 32 is a world-class act. I never would have believed a Chinaman could do stand-up comedy the way Douglas does it. Back in the mid-1980s my friend Thor Kah Hoong gave it a shot and he did pretty okay – but I still preferred Chris Rush, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, even Robin Williams. Thor was simply too cerebral, too cynical, too dry (and too skinny) and for my taste.

douglas-limAlong came the irresistible Jit Murad and the inimitable Harith Iskandar, followed by the untoppable Alan Pereira and Indi Nadarajah (of Comedy Court fame). Amazing talents – but not Chinese mah, that’s why so funny. Before long, Patrick Teoh and Nell Ng joined the luminous cast of The Instant Cafe Theatre and both proved to be extreme hoots on stage and always entertaining – but while Patrick and Nell are fantastic comedians, they don’t actually do stand-up stuff. Riveting pub entertainer Rafique Rashid acquired a loyal following as a singing stand-up comedian whose specialty was “Weird Al” Yankovic-style spoof songs – but his only claim to Chineseness was his predilection for Chinese girls with nice legs. And then, of course, there’s the supercool Afdlin Shauki – but also not Chinese, so not counted.

Well, I tell you, this fella Douglas Lim can hold his own on the same stage with all the great names in stand-up comedy – including, possibly, the late great George Carlin. You know why? Because if you can do stand-up comedy with a typical Chinaman accent and not make everybody cringe… you’ve got to be absolutely fantastic!

Stand-up comedy is perhaps the most challenging form of performance. Apart from your voice, your brain, and your own body – all you’ve got is a microphone. No fake mustache, no funny hat. The ones who make it in this incredibly challenging medium must also be equipped with brains that can process data at a million times average speed. In short, unless you qualify as a Grade A mutant genius, don’t even bother auditioning as a stand-up comedian. I wish I could upload a few more clips of Douglas doing his thang. But they don’t exist on YouTube yet [Now they do! ~ Ed.] The kind of rapid-fire multi-layered humor he trades in can’t really be transcribed as text because one has to see his face and watch his moves. Suffice to say, Douglas Lim found a new fan in me that night.

jenhan

Kuah Jenhan

The MACC 1st EGM poster featured two other board members of the Malaysian Association of Chinese Comedians: Phoon Chi Ho (listed as an “intern”) and Kuah Jenhan (“sacked – pending appeal”). Phoon had to cancel out at the last minute because he was down with chicken pox. That put the onus on 22-year-old Jenhan (left) to work doubly hard since it was now a two-man rather than a three-man show. I’m happy to report that Jenhan’s performance was truly outstanding, no doubt because he picked the best sifu (guru) in the business – Douglas Lim, whose masterful tutelage Jenhan acknowledged more than once during his routine.

What impressed me most was the sheer sophistication of the material presented at MACC 1st EGM. Douglas and Jenhan effortlessly negotiated the squiggly boundary between heavyweight cutting-edge political satire and lighthearted pop trivia and kept the audience rolling in the aisles without a moment’s letup. The audience, about 75% Chinese I’d venture, left the theater feeling it’s actually quite okay to be born yellow instead of black or white. That’s really no mean feat – to make being Chinese look funky, funny, sexy and lovable all at once. Douglas and Jenham fully earned the standing ovation they received that memorable Saturday night.

Watch Douglas Lim in action, expressing the frustration some of us must feel because we happen to be born yellow instead of black…

 

5 November 2009

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Would You Like To Be Jit Murad?

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Jit Murad: it must be the Welsh in him!

Antares speculates on how it might feel to be a fan hit by Jit’s wit and wisdom 

Would I like to be Jit Murad? Sure, for a few weeks at least, why not? I saw a movie called Being John Malkovich, in which a puppeteer finds a way to take over actor Malkovich from within, a novel twist on spirit possession and body-snatching. Now imagine there’s a vortex that leads directly into Jit Murad’s interior.

The moment you find yourself inside Jit’s skin you’ll feel a buzz in your head. After a while you’ll realize it’s only the crackle and hum of synapses firing away at near lightspeed. Whereas your “average” flat-footed human is content to plod up and down linear mental pavements with a 5,000-word (or, at best, 15,000-word) vocabulary, Jit flies loop-the-loops around the multidimensional, ideational cosmos in his 150,000-word Lexicon Mk VII – and has the option of coining his own words, as and when the need arises, in at least three languages (or a wacky combination thereof).

Indeed, Jit’s verbal agility is a gift he employs to great advantage in his chosen career as actor, raconteur, playwright, philosopher and social commentator. A champion debater of the venerable Victoria Institution in his early youth – with Jit, one can only describe the different stages of his life as early, middle, or late youth – this puckish Peter Pan of Malaysian theater is a true tribal griot who has outgrown tribalistic concerns.

What’s a griot? The antithesis of a grinch, of course. The world is a wayang kulit punch-and-judy show in which the hearts and souls of the hoi polloi are perpetually fought over between griots and grinches. Whilst griots seek to educate, liberate and heal by captivating us (with song-and-dance and storytelling), grinches are forever trying to cast a hypnotic spell of anxiety over us and make us slavishly hand over our money and power, holding us captive, generation after generation.

Academia, bureaucracy, politics, public relations, international espionage, and law enforcement are the sort of domains where grinches lurk (that’s right, there’s always a City Hall grinch or two in the theater, waiting to pounce on every “offensive” word and use it as an excuse to ban the production).

You’ll find a lot of griots in the arts, especially the performing arts, from obscure street buskers to celebrity entertainers at glitzy functions. Jit Murad has earned himself a well-deserved place among the local celebrities – but he’s pretty much the same lovable Jit I first met in the mid-1980s when he appeared (with Liza Othman and Jo Kukathas) in Thor Kah Hoong’s Caught In The Middle. He subsequently played my son in Maureen Ten’s For The Time Being in 1988 – and from then on there was no stopping him.

Image

Jit Murad: mild-mannered
but Wilde at heart

Jit Hits The Fan, his current comic monologue at the Actors Studio, Bangsar, was a last-minute production, a rabbit out of a magician’s hat. Comedy Court canceled their scheduled slot and Jit was roped in to do a stand-up comedy routine. A lot of it is ad-libbed, but there’s a beautiful internal structure to his spiel which indicates that he has sketched out the entire show in his head and committed it to memory. It’s simply breathtaking the way a man with only a microphone and a well-tuned voice can hold everyone spellbound for close to an hour (okay, a man and a hairstylist named René Choy) – and make us laugh so heartily and effortlessly just by talking about himself. Even when he’s being narcissistic and self-indulgent, he is amusingly so, and instantly forgiven.

There was really no need to get a fellow named Scott to introduce Jit Murad and “warm up” the audience with a best-forgotten bit of lame-brained humor, but by the end of the show, nobody cared anyway – everyone went home smiling. Maybe Jit just liked his all-American good looks; at any rate, Scott did a great job of “lowering the bar” and helping Jit pass with flying colors.

Over the years, Jit Murad has honed his performance skills to a degree that will gain him ready admittance to the Universal Comedy Hall of Fame, taking his place amongst established names like Woody Allen, Peter Ustinov, Lenny Bruce, Severn Darden, Chris Rush, Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, and Eddie Murphy.

Unfortunately, in Malaysia we’re so preoccupied with promoting the mediocre and the banal that we seem to have overlooked everything with genuine export potential. The problem, perhaps, is that everything with export potential is vastly more intelligent than the powers-that-be and therefore invariably comes across as being a threat to the political status quo.

Take, for instance, the case of the Instant Café Theatre: what a crying shame that this astonishingly talented crew has yet to have local television exposure. Instead, City Hall recently made an idiotic attempt to ban them!  In a mature, egoically secure cultural context, ICT would be as big a hit as Monty Python in Britain or Saturday Night Live in the U.S. – and just as exportable around the world.

ImageAnd Jit Murad wouldn’t be voicing his anxiety that only 12 tickets had been reserved for the second performance. Well, his routine is so cool, so breezy, and so brilliant –anyone careless enough (or broke enough) to miss it ought to be given a second chance to view it on DVD or VCD. So where have all our local entrepreneurs gone? Jit lamented the fact that he can’t even take his show on the road – except, perhaps, to Ipoh and Penang. Aren’t there people in Malacca, Seremban, Dungun, Alor Setar, Teluk Intan, Johore Baru, Kota Bharu, Kuala Kubu Bharu, and Kuantan with brains – and a few bucks to spare towards the comic stimulation thereof?

As a stand-up comedian, Jit’s inherent compassion and lightness of touch gives him licence to play court jester throughout the known universe – I can see him charming the socks off, and doubling up in helpless mirth, audiences in heaven as well as in hell. And we all know Malaysia is strategically located between those extremes.

11 September 2003

 

 

Sharpshooting from the Hip

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Bojana Novakovic & Sue Ingleton in The Female of the Species (2006)

Antares catches a hilarious earful at Sue Ingleton’s WYGIWYS

“What You Get Is What You See” is what Sue Ingleton calls her latest one-woman show, which features 80 minutes of her irreverent brand of power-packed, stand-up, bend-over, turn-inside-out-and-upside-down comedy. She might also have called it “What You Get Is What You Can Catch” – at least 10% of her high-velocity rap was lost on me, partly because of her fairly strong “Strine” accent (Ms Ingleton is from Melbourne), and partly because I was sitting too far back to read her lips.

But what I did catch provoked a great deal more than mirth. Ms Ingleton possesses a mind as sharp as her tongue is quick, and an indomitable female warrior’s spirit to boot. She covered a lot of ground at one go – sex, politics, and religion – oh, the standard curriculum of life; made merciless fun of men and their hangups (and hangdowns); beat the patriarchy into a bloody pulp, sliced it up and barbecued it over a low fire, and then served it up with a thick gravy of sublime ridicule. And she did it with such magnificent panache the men didn’t seem to mind at all (except for one elderly chap who staged an indignant walkout halfway through the show).

She started out as a creepy old crone in purdah (well, you could tell from her voice she was at least 98 years old), greeting the audience with a rubber honker in hand and cries of “Paper lama!” – all the while babbling away inanely. I suspect she would have done more with the purdah if it weren’t for the censorious presence of DBKL (Dewan Bandaraya, KL, aka City Hall, which recently cancelled an extended run of The Vagina Monologues just because some busybody in Kedah, who hadn’t even seen the show, wrote a formal complaint).

Karen Loftus, beyond blonde

Then she whipped off the mock purdah and launched into a goodhumored spoof of Karen Loftus, the blonde sexbomb standup from L.A. who recently played KL. She displayed an impressive arsenal of vernacular accents telling us about Klang Valley taxi drivers she’s known. Her voice dropped a whole octave as she took the mickey out of the entire male gender.

I particularly enjoyed Ms Ingleton’s version of the Immaculate Conception in which the Virgin Mary sends her ‘gynie’ off to heaven to collect a cup of God’s sperm so she can conceive the holy infant. We don’t often get such provocative freedom of expression in local theatre. A real breath of fresh air! Ms Ingleton comes from that venerable lineage of storytellers, bards, court jesters, and oracles who claim the right to say pretty damn much what they please and get away with it.

It takes more than mental acuity and verbal agility to pull off something like that.

Ms Ingleton is plugged right into the pulse of events. Her insights spring from the core of being human. Even as she cracks you up, she’s shedding more light on everything she rants about. It’s a bit like a ten-laughs-per-minute freeform philosophy lecture; you actually feel smarter at the end of her performance.

She summoned George Bush and Colin Powell on stage to make complete fools of themselves, and they gleefully complied. With a few basic props like spectacles, hats, and a coat (which she actually forgot to use), Ms Ingleton shapeshifted into a couple dozen characters and back with no apparent effort. She broached subjects long held taboo, like incest and polygamy; made fun of Mormons and Mammonists; waxed biological and mythological; demolished scientific materialism and several monarchies. All without a break or even a pause in between attacks.

She spoke of water and the moon and the magical properties of menstrual blood. Ancient goddess wisdom disguised as comedy. A wide-awake intelligence at work, sparking off fresh perceptions, jolting the audience out of its complacency, pushing it to the far boundaries of its comfort zone.

I’ve only come across one other purveyor of offbeat comedy from Down Under who’s anywhere near Sue Ingleton in terms of originality and impact: an amazing fellow named Tim Scally (also from Melbourne) whose “man with a flaming suitcase on his head” and “bucket of death” routines I shall never forget. Scally’s approach, however, is extremely physical and visceral, while Ingleton’s humor is mostly cerebral and verbal. Both, I believe, have at different times worked with Circus Oz.

A Porsche in your living room…

She ended her show with a little sermon on the laws of manifestation: “Be careful when you make a wish. You have to get the details just right. This friend of mine badly wanted a red Porsche, and she very nearly got herself killed when one came crashing right through her bedroom wall. She forgot to visualize the pleasure of owning a red Porsche, and driving it around. Now imagine some chap wishing he had a big fat prick… and suddenly finding Samy Vellu in his lap!”

Sue Ingleton’s sizzling solo performance – presented by the Instant Café Theatre and packed out the night I caught it – was her way of saying “cheerio for now” after several productive weeks in KL conducting workshops and directing Deborah Michael in Woman on the Couch. We’re indeed fortunate that this masterful dramaturge and totally magic mama seems to really enjoy her stints here. Her wealth of experience, boundless vitality, and enormous talent have inspired a great many local theater practitioners.

1 March 2002

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