Last night I was sitting in the front row of the cheapest seats at Istana Budaya, attending the Kings & Queen of Comedy Asia for the first time. This is the fourth year the event has been held, and I’ve lived in Malaysia all those years, but I’d never attended before due to not being particularly familiar with or interested in the comedians performing. Not this time, though. This time, Danny Bhoy was headlining. Considering Danny Bhoy was one of the comedians I had recommended to one of the organisers, Rizal Kamal, years ago, I knew I couldn’t miss it.
Before the show, I’d asked Rizal if there’d be an opportunity to meet Danny Bhoy afterwards, because I had one of his DVDs and I thought this would be a good opportunity to get it signed, because why not? Since he said I could, I brought the DVD with me.
My conversation with Danny went something like this:
Me: Can I get you to sign my DVD?
Danny: Oh, I like this one. This one’s a good one.
Me: (didn’t know what to say, because I’d only unwrapped the plastic that night so I could get him to sign it). Oh!
Danny: Where are you from?
Me: Australia, but I live here now.
Danny: Yeah I know you’re from Australia…
Me: Oh… uh, Perth. (Seriously, I am so awkward). You know, I saw you in Edinburgh in 2004.
Danny: Oh yeah? Long time fan then. You must know my material better than I do.
Me: … I doubt it.
I felt the same way it sounded like he felt when he described meeting Matt Damon in his dressing room at the Letterman Show in the US, and accidentally made a comment that suggested he thought Damon was in Titanic. I didn’t know how to tell him I wasn’t as big a fan as he seemed to think I was.
But the conversation, to me, really highlighted how my relationship with comedy has changed over the years. Whilst I think Danny Bhoy is really good at what he does – and his performance last night had me in fits of laughter, wondering how he could come up with new things to talk about so quickly, when part of the reason that I don’t perform stand-up comedy all that regularly is that I can’t. Or maybe it’s that I’ve never wanted to make a career out of it; it’s always been just a hobby.
Once upon a time, I was obsessed with comedy. You can see evidence over on my ancient comedy website, ComedyDownUnder.com. I don’t really tell people about it any more because I tend not to update it – it’s more of an archive of research and interviews I did in the past, mostly between 1999-2002. I was still a teenager during those years, so it was the prime time for me to be knowledgeable about the subject.
I had obsessively gotten my hands on (or taped off the TV) as much comedy as I could between 1999-2001, starting with the back catalogue of all things Doug Anthony Allstars, thanks to discovering Paul McDermott on Good News Week. When my classmates at school were talking about the latest pop music, I was getting excited about stand-up comedy and comedians. Where other teens were going out to parties and getting trashed, I was going out to watch live comedy. Only one of my friends in school joined me when I went to see Flacco and the Sandman live. No one else seemed interested in doing these things with me, but I didn’t care. Although I can claim that for my 18th birthday (a little over a year after graduating high school), I did catch up with a couple of school friends at a comedy show. I don’t know how interested they were in the comedy – they seemed more excited about buying me my first alcoholic drink.
At one point in one of my TEE science classes, when we had a free period, I’d managed to convince our teacher to let us watch one of the Doug Anthony Allstars videos I owned, which may or may not have been the R18+ rated one. No one in the class was 18, but our teacher wasn’t in the room for the entire period and had no idea how inappropriate the video was for his students. A couple of my teachers even supported my venture into comedy by either buying one of the CDs I recorded, or coming out to see me perform live.
Other people my age were probably going to music festivals. Me? I travelled to the Melbourne Comedy Festival for three years straight. I saw shows by my favourite acts from TV, and discovered new ones that were recommended by friends, or sounded interesting. Running a comedy website gave me an excuse to introduce myself to comedians, and ask them for interviews. They probably obliged because I was so young and enthusiastic about it.
But after I turned 18, nearly everything changed. Danny Bhoy probably only entered my radar in 2003 or 2004 (after all, I know I had seen him on TV before deciding to see him live at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival), but by then, I had faded to a more passing interest in comedy. My experiences at the Melbourne Comedy Festival in 2002 had kind of been the final straw for me, after I had already decided to give up performing after the Raw Comedy earlier that year. Yes, I became jaded at 18.
Apart from cramming several shows into about 5 days at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2004, until I moved to Malaysia, comedy barely made brief flutters in my life. I only went to live shows when one of my favourites was in Perth (Ross Noble, Corinne Grant, Cal Wilson, Little Britain, and The Chaser come to mind), or during one of the brief instances when I or my husband got on stage. Relating to other comedians tended to be limited to the few I spent time with in Canada (okay, so it is pretty cool that I got to see one of them performing at Second City Toronto), and when I cast a different Canadian comedian in my student short film, Journey.
Over those 7 years, between the Melbourne comedy festival in 2002-2009, I didn’t bother looking for new comedy. The main reason I even went to the festival in 2009, just a few months after moving to Malaysia, was because I felt completely isolated as an expatriate in a new country, and seemed to only be able to identify myself by my relationships to those I lived with – my husband and first son. I didn’t know how to meet people; I didn’t know how to connect; and I wasn’t sure I even knew who I was any more. I knew I needed to find that again.
The festival made me realise how much I had missed having comedy in my life, but at that point I thought it would be near impossible to find comedy in Kuala Lumpur. I whined about it to one of my Canadian comedian friends, and he encouraged me to look for it. That’s how I discovered Timeout Comedy Thursday – then Malaysia’s only regular comedy night, which was a monthly event. The first night I went, I had a great time. I introduced myself to one of my favourite acts of the night, Kavin Jay, and talked to him about how I wanted to get into performing again. A few months later, I was back on stage and nailed my performance. I’d never done so well in Australia… I’d never even performed such a long set. To be honest I’m not entirely sure how I managed to do so well, especially as I bombed a few months later at a different venue due to lack of confidence and rehearsing. And then I quit performing for another 3.5 years, excusing myself due to pregnancy and a subsequent focus on writing.
Lack of performing didn’t stop me from going out to comedy events, though I tended to stick to nights that were closer to home rather than those that required me to drive to central KL, since I don’t like driving there. In the years I’ve avoided performing, many more locals have popped up to try their voices on stage. I love how much One Mic Stand – the weekly open mic night at PJLA on Tuesday nights, which was co-founded by the aforementioned Kavin Jay – has nurtured the comedy community here. I’ve enjoyed going when I can, especially when they have introduced me to other awesome comedians from outside Malaysia, like Paul Ogata from Hawaii and Tim Tayag from the Philippines.
By the way, I am back to performing again, but it’s hard to say for how long. My confidence comes in waves, and after the Kings & Queen show, I can feel it waning, which isn’t good when I believe I’m meant to be performing at One Mic Stand again soon.
But I love being a part of the Malaysian comedy community. Watching it grow has been amazing. It’s funny, though – the only reason I have the Danny Bhoy DVD I do is because I wanted to show it to Rizal when I was recommending acts for him to bring. It’s nice to know that though I never got around to it, he eventually granted my wish anyway. And maybe it’s time I start watching recordings again, to discover more of the new comedians I’ve missed over the years. After all, that’s why I don’t go to more of the higher priced shows with international acts – I have no idea who they are, because my mind is still stuck on what was popular in Australia over a decade ago!