Joanne Kam and four other Malaysian comedians on the works of stand-up comedy
Jacqueline Wong talks to five local comics – Joanne Kam, Andrew Netto, Kavin Jay, Jason Leong and Kuah Jenhan – who have braved the stage and are now blazing a trail of funny here and abroad.
Veteran Joanne Kam put it best when she told me “getting five busy comics together is harder than winning the lottery”.
It was a somewhat chaotic, whirlwind-came-by moment attempting to gather these five stand-up comics together in a confined space.
You can’t help but be swept up by the spur of their energy. It was like a gathering of five close friends. I soon found out that this was how the comedy scene here operates; a close-knit group of individuals sharing the same passion and helping one another to reach greater heights.
Sometimes, achieving success and making a name for yourself depends not just on innate talent and hard work but also on an opportune time. Some 20 years ago, Joanne Kam took up an invitation to headline Boom Boom Room, a provocative cabaret show, in Kuala Lumpur.
“I felt Malaysians were much more affluent and open-minded during the ’90s. Even though my show had inciting and risqué elements, the people were less quick to judge and treated it as something out-of-the-box and exciting,” Kam regresses.
Having been in the entertainment industry since the age of 19, Kam has taken her experience on stage and in front of public while moulding a persona that is unique to her.
Well-known for her image as a femme fatale, Kam is unabashed to use her curves and female traits to stir up conversations.
You could say Andrew Netto led a charmed life. Among the five comedians I met, Andrew was the only one who jumped straight into comedy after graduating from school and found quick success in the industry.
He was picked up by Harith Iskander as one of the emerging comedians back then and Andrew did the opening act for the comic superstar’s shows before he was signed on.
“The first stand-up I ever watched was Russell Peters when my father brought home a DVD back in 2004. Here was this Indian fellow telling funny tatler_tatler_stories on stage and making a living out of it. I told myself I could also do that.” Andrew landed a gig to be the opening act of Russell Peters’ show in Malaysia a few years later.
Contrary to his cousin’s lucky foray into the land of comedy, engineer by profession Kavin Jay knew he wanted to be involved with the arts. After the untimely passing of his brother at a young age, Kavin and Andrew gathered a group of friends and performed a stand-up show.
It was nothing to shout about but Kavin kept at it as he wanted to receive real compliments rather than niceties from the audience.
“I am good at learning things. Comedy is something I learned because I really enjoy it. I did not have a mentor. I would get together with my peers to share ideas and exchange feedback. This was how we learned the ropes,” Kavin confesses.
It is still a learning journey after nine years in the scene but Kavin now confidently calls himself a professional stand-up comedian and considers comedy as his main job.
One fine night in June 2010, a Chinese man with a medical degree jumped on stage and had his first taste of stand-up comedy. Stowing away his doctor’s coat, Jason Leong is now on a sabbatical to pursue his passion for comedy.
Always taking the role of class clown, emcee and joker, Leong enjoys making people laugh. “It is my dream to do this for the rest of my life. I fell in love with it and fell into it,” says Leong.
As a relatively newcomer to the scene, Leong is grateful for the help and support extended by his seniors who have established the groundwork and infrastructure.
“I feel very lucky to be able to do this in Malaysia. I just sort of tagged along the big names in the comedy scene. It is easier in terms of getting stage time but to be good at comedy, each journey is very personal and different. So it doesn’t matter at which point I jump in. It’s about how much I want to grow,” Leong explains of his situation.
Kuah Jenhan is one of the country’s most prominent young comedians and dare I say it, the face most Malaysians would associate with the newer comedy scene.
Unlike the other interviewees, Kuah’s motivation for getting into comedy stemmed from a much more personal and naive reason. “I wanted to fulfil a promise I made to the girl-of-my-dreams then. I wanted to show her that I am capable and prove my worth.”
Like a moth attracted to light, Kuah’s passion for the stage is indisputable but he admits to not knowing anything about stand-up comedy when he first started.
“As a young boy, it was a noble thought; I just want to make people laugh. I want to make people happy. But when I failed, it became a very painful and sad memory.”
(Watches worn throughout the shoot: Richard Mille)
To read the full feature on Joanne Kam and the rest of the comedians, get a copy of Malaysia Tatler July 2015 issue, available on newsstands now or click here to purchase the digital version.