Leaving Malaysia at a Time When Live Comedy is Getting Exciting

I moved to Malaysia in November 2008. Shortly after arriving, the displacement and only being a couple of years into motherhood meant I was struggling with my identity and what to do with myself. I didn’t know how long I would be here for, but I knew it would be at least two years thanks to my husband’s contract. I took a break from Malaysia in April 2009 to revisit Melbourne during their International Comedy Festival, and rediscovered a love I’d somewhat moved away from in 2002 after I gave up performing at the age of 18. I thought, “Great, I want to perform stand-up again, but where the hell am I going to do that in Malaysia? They probably don’t even have a stand-up comedy scene.”

Shortly after, however, I discovered TimeOut Comedy Thursdays, a monthly comedy show organised and promoted by the TimeOut KL magazine. I popped along for the June show and introduced myself to one of the performers, and found out how to get involved. Back then, that was the only regular show. There were occasionally other shows that cropped up, which I also got to perform at, but they didn’t end up sticking for long.

Timeout KL Comedy Thursday November 2009 L to R: Papi Zak, Kuah Jenhan, Kavin Jay, Faisal, Mark (from California), Dominica Malcolm, Matt Sally, Ollie
Timeout KL Comedy Thursday November 2009
L to R: Papi Zak, Kuah Jenhan, Kavin Jay, Faisal, Mark Zhang (guest from California), Dominica Malcolm, Matt Sally, Ollie Johanan

Back then, a photo like this included more than half of the regular performers (I can only think of 4 other regulars from the time who aren’t in the photo; Alfred Loh, Phoon Chi Ho, Sri Siva, and Steve Northcott). This photo is from the last time TimeOut Comedy was at Havana in Bukit Bintang. After that, they moved to Zouk nightclub.

For a while, I also became TimeOut’s video person at the comedy shows, and edited together promos. You can find the promos I made on my stand-up comedy playlist on YouTube.

I actually only performed for a short period between October 2009 and February 2010, because by February I was already a few months pregnant and starting to show. As a result, I didn’t think I could continue to get away with the anime schoolgirl look I had going on, which was my favourite part of my stand-up routine. I didn’t perform again until September 2013, and my trips to comedy shows were very irregular, despite the growing scene. I’d become distracted by writing, focusing on an activity that didn’t require me to have a babysitter and an ability to leave the house.

But I did eventually return to the stand-up scene, and I’ve been going quite regularly again for some months now. Since before I found out I would be moving to San Francisco, because I thought I’d be staying in Malaysia a while longer, and wanted to push myself to make the most of it rather than waste it all at home. I’d felt like I’d found my place again, and once I knew I would be moving, that just pushed me further to make sure I didn’t miss out on opportunities to perform before the move.

The stand-up scene in Kuala Lumpur is so big now that it can be a struggle to get an open mic spot, since there are so many performers to compete with. For example, photos like the two below include perhaps half of the people who perform stand-up at the regular comedy nights (though not everyone in the photos perform stand-up, the majority of them do).

One Mic Stand, February 2014
One Mic Stand, February 2014
Comedians at One Mic Stand 2nd anniversary show, May 27, 2014
Comedians at One Mic Stand 2nd anniversary show, May 27, 2014

This past Tuesday was the 2nd anniversary show of One Mic Stand, the first weekly open mic comedy night in Malaysia. It was an incredible night, headlined by two of Malaysia’s most well known comedians, Douglas Lim and Harith Iskandar.

One Mic Stand, now entering it’s 3rd year, is on every Tuesday night (except public holidays) at the PJLA Cabaret room, Jaya One. It’s hosted by Kavin Jayaram and Rizal van Geyzel and has been my favourite place to go for comedy for some time now. You can also check out TimeOut Comedy Thursday (still the first Thursday of every month at Zouk), Comedy Kao Kao (usually the second Thursday of the month at The Bee Publika), and We Let the Dawgs Out (usually the last Thursday of the month at The Pound Bar in TTDI). A lot more regular shows happening now than there was when I started in the scene here!

Yet, Malaysia has reached a new era for its stand-up comedy scene. On April 30, Rizal van Geyzel, alongside Australian comedian Jonathan Atherton, opened the very first dedicated comedy club in Southeast Asia, the Crackhouse Comedy Club. So far they have organised open mic nights for Sundays, improv nights for Wednesdays, and Thurs/Fri/Sat nights have tended to draw in comedians from other countries in the region, and world. The website I linked, or their Facebook page are the best places to go to find out what’s happening on any given night, since it’s still early days.

Whilst I am sad that I am leaving Malaysia right when the Crackhouse is starting up, I am glad that I was around long enough to see the opening, and also participate in one of the open mic nights already. I look forward to hearing from friends about how it builds from hereon, since I won’t have the opportunity to be there myself for much longer.

For anyone living in or visiting Kuala Lumpur, I highly recommend checking out one of the comedy shows. I’ve taken many a visitor through to one whenever possible, and I think it’s a much better way to learn about Malaysia and the multicultural society that lives here than any tourist activity has to offer. And one of the things that is regularly said about Malaysian comedy audiences that sets them apart from others in the region is that they tend to be majority locals, rather than expats. I love seeing so many different people come together for comedy.

The comedy community in KL has been my sanctuary these last few months, and though it may have taken me a long time to get involved and get to know the people I have, thanks to my social anxiety, it is without a doubt the best thing I’ve enjoyed about living in Malaysia. I’m going to miss these guys terribly. I want to thank Kavin, Rizal, Dr Jason Leong (for Comedy Kao Kao) and Matt from TimeOut for the stagetime they’ve given me in the past, and Cemkar Singh for the spot I’m doing tonight (more on that below). It’s been an absolute pleasure and a privilege to be a part of this community.

Comedy Kao Kao's all-(but for one open micer and the host)-women lineup, April 2014 L to R (back): Brian Tan, Kristal Zweers (Netherlands), Fiona Reutens, Joanna Sio (Hong Kong), Joanne Kam (Malaysia), Dr Jason Leong L to R (front): Sharul Channa (Singapore), Dominica Malcolm (me)
Comedy Kao Kao’s all-(but for one open micer and the host)-women lineup, April 2014
L to R (back): Brian Tan, Kristal Zweers (Netherlands), Fiona Reutens, Joanna Sio (Hong Kong), Joanne Kam (Malaysia), Dr Jason Leong
L to R (front): Sharul Channa (Singapore), Dominica Malcolm (me)

What’s next for me and comedy is yet to be seen. I’m technically moving to Oakland, rather than San Francisco, and I have found a couple of rooms that do have comedy nights there, though from the look of them so far they don’t have open mic spots or nights. Regardless, when about half of my material at the moment is tailored for an Asian audience in Malaysia, it’s going to be a while before I can come up with a new set that I can use in the US. I also hear the improv scene in San Francisco is quite established, which will be a big change from KL, where it’s only really starting to be built up at the Crackhouse, thanks to Harith Iskandar’s improv shows at the PJLA Laugh Fest (speaking of which, there are still a couple of nights left of the Laugh Fest, so you should check out the PJLA website for more info to see if there’s anything you’d like to see — personally I’m looking forward to seeing my friends Keren Bala Devan, Brian Tan, Sim Tong, and Prakash Daniel do the Comedy Nerds show this weekend). I’ve been wanting to get into improv for years, so I hope that’s something I’ll be able to do in San Francisco.

If you’re in KL and want to see me perform stand-up comedy for what will probably be the last time here (at least for quite some time, since I don’t know when I’ll be able to afford to return for a holiday), then there are a couple of shows I’m already definitely doing. You may also see me at an open mic night, but nothing’s set in stone.

Firstly, tonight at the Pound Bar in Taman Tun Dr Ismail (Facebook event page):

Promo for We Let the Dawgs Out show at The Pound, May 2014

And secondly, next Thursday night, June 5, I’m returning to the show I started with back in 2009, performing for TimeOut Comedy Thursday at Zouk:

Promo for Timeout Comedy Thursday June 2014

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