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Malaysia's funny men making their mark
Malaysia's emerging comedians are taking their unique brand of humour to global audiences.

When you think of stand-up comedy you probably don't think of Malaysia.

But gradually the country is carving out a niche on the global stand-up circuit; not just as a place for comedians to visit, but with its own brand of humour.

Malaysia's funny men are also taking their acts on the road.

Peter Gotting met some of them in Melbourne.
Transcript
(Excerpt from Kuah Jenhan's show)

KUAH JENHAN, COMEDIAN: This is like our first time in Melbourne. Melbourne people make some noise! Yeah!

(Cheers and applause)

(End Excerpt)

PETER GOTTING, REPORTER: This may be the Melbourne Town Hall but tonight it feels just like Kuala Lumpur.

(Excerpt from Kuah Jenhan's show)

KUAH JENHAN: Ok, Malaysian's make some noise come on!

(Cheers and applause)

Yeah!!!

(End Excerpt)

PETER GOTTING: At the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, international often refers to British and American comedians, but now it's the turn of an emerging comedy scene from South East Asia.

(Excerpt from Douglas Lim show)

DOUGLAS LIM, COMEDIAN: I heard that there are some gai los, some mat saleis, some Australians, you know, some white Australians here. You may have trouble understanding my accent. So if you have trouble understanding my accent here's what you can do: pretend.

(Laughter)

You see next door laugh, you laugh - ha ha - like this.

(Laughter)

(End Excerpt)

PETER GOTTING: Not that this audience has any difficulty understanding the jokes, most of the crowd is Malaysian. Many are students at Melbourne's universities.

(Excerpt from Ronnie Cheng's show)

RONNIE CHENG, COMEDIAN: I've never seen so many Malaysians in a room. It's like an Amway convention, honestly, what's this.

(Laughter)

(End Excerpt)

FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: Yeah it was good, really funny. It was so Malaysia.

MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: It's quite typical Malaysian jokes, yeah.

PETER GOTTING: Many of these young Malaysians have come to see the headline act.

(Excerpt from Harith Iskander's show)

HARITH ISKANDER, COMEDIAN: Ladies and gentleman my name is Harith Iskander.

PETER GOTTING: He's known as the godfather of Malaysian comedy as he's one of the country's first stand-up comedians.

(Excerpt from Harith Iskander's show)

(Makes telephone ringing noise and looks at his watch)

HARITH ISKANDER: (Putting on voice) 'Hello (inaudible)'

'Yes, hello 999 I'd like to report a dead body. I found a dead body.'

(End excerpt)

PETER GOTTING: Harith Iskander began telling jokes on stage in 1991.

HARITH ISKANDER: First five to eight years was - every show was literally an education for the audience because I'd get up on stage, one man, one mic, they'd never seen this, telling jokes.

(Footage from Malaysian Kopitiam)

PETER GOTTING: Harith Iskander has since been joined on the circuit by the likes of Douglas Lim. A former star of television sitcom Kopitiam.

This the first time he's performed in Australia.

(Excerpt from Douglas Lim show)

DOUGLAS LIM: The thing that was slightly disappointing for me was I really, really did not expect to travel eight hours across the Coral Sea to another subcontinent just so that I can blend in.

(Laughter)

(End excerpt)

TOBY SULLIVAN, PRODUCER: Genuinely South East Asia at the moment is one of the most dynamic scenes for emerging comedians.

PETER GOTTING: Producer Toby Sullivan says that clubs in Malaysia have been importing comedians from Australia, Britain and the US for many years, but now westerners are laughing at the jokes from Asian cities, particularly Kuala Lumpur.

TOBY SULLIVAN: There are clubs in Indonesia, Cambodia, in Vietnam and Korea, but certainly KL and Singapore, I tend to think of them in lockstep, are certainly more engaged with the world scene.

PETER GOTTING: While they tell the occasional joke about Malaysian politics these funny men get their jokes from the same place as other comedians: the absurdities of everyday life.

For Malaysians much of that involves race.

(Excerpt from Douglas Lim' show)

DOUGLAS LIM: I say, who say Chinese not involved? Who do you think sell the t-shirt?

(End excerpt)

What Harith and myself we found really strange in Australia, I can clearly see a lot of Asian people but it's not mentioned. It's mmmhmmm Australian. And so race is something in Malaysia that we talk about and no-one really calls you out as being racist, you're just acknowledging the fact that there are a lot of races here.

PETER GOTTING: It's something that unites all these comedians, including newcomer Kuah Jenhan.

(Excerpt from Kuah Jenhan's show)

KUAH JENHAN, COMEDIAN: True story, I met this alien oriental bimbo with the most interesting name ever. Her name was Apserdi (phonetic), Apserdi and I said 'how do you spell Asperdi?'

Honestly, this is what she answered 'my name, hah, is Apserdi - A-B-C-D-E, Apserdi!

(Laughter)

(End excerpt)

PETER GOTTING: Like much of his audience Ronnie Cheng came to Australia to study at university. After graduating from law he decided that he'd rather perform on stage than in a court. And like his colleagues in Malaysia he uses his race, Malaysian-Chinese, in his routine.

(Excerpt from Ronnie Cheng's show)

RONNIE CHENG: Every country I go to the Chinese people in that country are just not cool. Right, they're just not cool, even in China everyone's just lame.

(Laughter)

So I'm trying to change that, I'm trying to change that. I'm trying to make it cool to be Chinese again.

I'd love to be able to see a group of Chinese guys and just be like ' hey yo my Chinks! Where are my Chinks at! Holler at me Chinks. My Chinks yeah! Hey, stay yellow my fellows! Whooo!'

(Laughter)

(End excerpt)

PETER GOTTING: Malaysian stand-up comedy is still emerging.

HARITH ISKANDER: There's only about nine or 12 good working stand-up comedians, whereas, you know, there's 3-400 stand-up comedians in Australia alone. So it's still a little tadpole but it's swimming with its tail flipping and its starting to grow and its growing very fast.

PETER GOTTING: But even if it's embryonic the Malaysian comedy scene is making a mark.

TOBY SULLIVAN: I went to a gig in KL that had sold out 3,500 seats. Now the Melbourne Comedy Festival, the second biggest comedy festival in the world, doesn't sell out 3,500 seat venues that often.

So, you know, yes it's a young scene and it's a small scene but they're selling just as many tickets as anybody else. So it's a lot more developed than they think.
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