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The funny side of life

Growing interest in comedy shows and an increasing number of comedy festivals in Singapore are helping to bring laughs to the scene here. The Straits Times talks to three acts from the Singapore Comedy Fringe Festival

Singaporean stand-up comedian Rishi Budhrani's first solo gig is called Cannot Means Cannot, but apparently, it can sell - tickets, that is.

Some 350 tickets to the show happening next Friday evening at the Esplanade's Annexe Studio are sold out. To cope with the demand, he has added a sneak preview of the show on Wednesday at the Blu Jaz Cafe.

Known for skewering Uniquely Singaporean behaviour and mentality, he says his show is about asking questions.

"Unfortunately, we don't question enough in Singapore when told 'cannot'. But we should not always be content with that explanation and instead ask 'why cannot?'" says the 2012 winner of the Hong Kong International Comedy Competition .

The 32-year-old is part of the new wave of local stand-up comics who are contributing to a Renaissance of the comedy scene in Singapore, with more home-grown funny people going professional and international stars staging shows here.

A roster of steadily growing comedy festivals is powering the comedy boom. These include the Singapore Comedy Fringe Festival, which runs from April 28 to 30, and the Magners International Comedy Festival that took place last month.

Both are in their fourth editions and attract bigger audiences each time.

Other regular events are the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow and the biennial Happy Ever Laughter local stand- up comedy showcase by Dream Academy.

The laughter bug is spreading among local audiences, says Mr Matt Bennett, managing director of Magic Rock which organises Magners International Comedy Festival.

More than 10,000 people attended the last festival, over three times more than the first edition in 2014.

The upcoming Singapore Comedy Fringe is also in its biggest edition yet. Held at The Esplanade's Annexe Studio this year, it features 14 shows with a mixture of local and international acts.

So far, two of the shows - by Budhrani and veteran comedian Kumar - are sold out.

Mr Heazry Salim, 42, director of The Comedy Club Asia, says the proliferation of comedy content online has helped to grow audiences for live comedy.

Budhrani says regular comedy nights by home-grown units Comedy Masala and The Comedy Club Asia have given a platform to local comedians.

As more local comics went on stage, the issues explored in their routines were "more relevant" to Singaporeans, so the crowds subsequently grew, he adds.

Before that, he remembers that the scene was populated by international comics in front of a mainly expatriate crowd.

In Singapore, there are at least seven full-time stand-up comedians now: Budhrani, Fakkah Fuzz, Joanna Sio, Sharul Channa, Jinx Yeo, Sam See and not forgetting pioneer Kumar.

You can catch them at regular comedy nights held at clubs and pubs here each week.

The Comedy Club Asia holds its open mic night Talk Cock Comedy twice a week on Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Blu Jaz Cafe, while Comedy Masala holds a weekly stand-up comedy night on Tuesdays at Hero's bar in Circular Road.

One regular performer is Mr Jacky Ng, 23, a university student who is on stage at these comedy nights two to three times a week.

A fan of stand-up comedy since he was young, he was encouraged to try it out after seeing local faces such as Budhrani and Fakkah Fuzz on stage.

"Seeing them made me realise that stand-up comedy is something I could do too," he says.

Although he hopes to eventually pursue comedy as a career, he says: "The only issue is whether I can support myself financially with it."

This is no laughing matter for many of the comics as most of them still hold day jobs. Take Budhrani and Channa, his wife, who continue to host events such as weddings.

Overseas stars are also making regular stops in Singapore. These include American funnyman Kevin Hart, acerbic British comedian Jimmy Carr and India's biggest comedy export Vir Das.

Next month, comedy show organiser LA Comedy Live is flying down Briton Russell Howard for the first time to perform a one-night show at the Kallang Theatre. The popular comedian has 3.2 million followers on Facebook.

The company's director, Ms Lauretta Alabons, 48, says: "Audiences want to listen to various points of view on various subjects in a way that is not offensive. With comedy, we can tackle all kinds of subjects."

Given the slate of offerings, audiences are spoilt for choice. Training executive Aasha Khaira, 29, catches a stand-up comedy routine at least once a month.

"It beats watching comedies on television as the comics interact with the audience," she says. "This makes for great entertainment."


  • BOOK IT / JOANNA SIO: NO BOYFRIEND, NO FRIES

    WHERE: Esplanade Annexe Studio, The Esplanade, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: April 30, 4.30pm

    ADMISSION: $20

    INFO: www.sgcomedyfringe.com 

Joanna Sio

Kids say the darndest things. Just ask stand-up comedian Joanna Sio, whose two young children have provided her with tonnes of material for her comedy gigs.

The 40-year-old Hong Konger, who is now based in Singapore, says: "I talk about my kids a lot on stage which not many other comics do. Children are honest and that leads them to saying the funniest things."

She has a six-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl, and keeps a record of what they say .

She will share some of this material and other personal experiences in her debut solo show No Boyfriend, No Fries on April 30 at the Singapore Comedy Fringe Festival.

She was introduced to the world of stand-up comedy through improv, or improvised theatre, when she was studying in Amsterdam in the early noughties.

When she returned to Hong Kong, she started performing stand-up comedy at TakeOut Comedy, the city's only comedy club.

Although the scene was small and the shows were attended by mainly expatriates, she enjoyed the experience so much that she juggled stand-up comedy with a day job as a linguist.

In 2010, she moved to Singapore because her husband found a job here, also as a linguist. Here, she found the stand-up scene "much healthier and growing fast".

Now she juggles her time between taking care of her children, performing at comedy open mic nights and festivals and doing improv.

She also founded The Latecomers, an improv troupe that will be the first improv act to perform at the upcoming Singapore Comedy Fringe.

Her next move after the solo show is to teach the skills linked to stand-up comedy and improv in workshops.

"While you cannot teach someone to be funnier, he can learn how to deliver a speech or react to different situations. These are useful life skills."


  • BOOK IT / JIMEOIN LIVE! 

    WHERE: Esplanade Annexe Studio, The Esplanade, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: April 30, 10.30pm

    ADMISSION: $50

    INFO: www.sgcomedyfringe.com

Jimeoin

Jimeoin (pronounced Jim-Owen) is one of Australia's biggest stand-up comedians, but you would not know it listening to him speak.

The funnyman is Irish and has retained a lilting Irish accent after spending more than 20 years Down Under.

"God forbid I have an Aussie accent," the 51-year-old from Northern Ireland says.

Known for his quiet observational style, the comedy veteran will be doing his first solo show in Singapore on the evening of April 30 as part of the Singapore Comedy Fringe Festival.

Stumbling into a comedy night in Sydney back when he was 22 and "seeing the world", Jimeoin, whose real name is James Eoin Stephen McKeown, realised that he wanted to do this for a living.

Moving to Australia in 1998, he started out performing comedy nights there and making a name for himself.

In the mid-1990s, he scored a spot on TV for Jimeoin, a stand-up sketch show, which ran for two years.

Following that, he "made a decision to do films" and wrote, produced and starred in comedy- dramas The Craic (1999) and The Extra (2005).

He then travelled to countries in Europe, North America and Asia, performing at major festivals such as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Just For Laughs in Montreal, Canada.

Now based in Melbourne, the married father of four flies to Ireland at least thrice a year to perform and visit family.

His good-natured style combines a generally PG mixture of everyday observation with physical comedy. The subject matter for his jokes includes nondescript items such as a microphone stand and a dishwasher.

Like most of his shows, the performance in Singapore does not have a theme or overarching storyline.

"Jokes are just what I do. That's just how I communicate with people," he says. "I don't really have a story but the art of telling a joke is the art of telling a story really."


  • BOOK IT / KATERINA VRANA: ABOUT SEX

    WHERE: Esplanade Annexe Studio, The Esplanade, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: April 29, 6pm

    ADMISSION: $30

    INFO: www.sgcomedyfringe.com 

Katerina Vrana

Research for Katerina Vrana's latest show involved watching a lot of pornography - well, unsurprisingly, since her gig is titled About Sex.

The show, which has toured to Greece and Australia, will be making a stop in Singapore on April 29 as part of the upcoming Singapore Comedy Fringe Festival at the Esplanade's Annexe Studio.

Given an advisory of 16 years and above, this show contains references to certain body parts but she stresses the show "is not vulgar and anyone can come see it".

As for the pornography, it came in relevant because Vrana will zero in on how the younger generation are looking to pornography for sex education as the Internet makes it easier to access such material.

The 40-year-old, who is single, was inspired by a surreal conversation with her 19-year-old brother on his views on sex a couple of years ago when he was a teenager.

"It was scary what his thoughts were and I was like noooooo, that's all wrong!" she says.

Born in Athens, Vrana, who is easily recognisable by her big head of curls, is Greece's biggest comedy export.

She moved to London in 1999 to study theatre but eventually joined the funny business 10 years later after struggling to score acting gigs.

"I have always wanted to be on stage and stand-up comedy allows me to do that," she says.

In her motor-mouthed repertoire, jokes on her Greek roots and how different Greek people are from the British often feature.

She says Greece barely had a stand-up comedy scene till the debt crisis or "Greek Depression" hit in 2009. The Greeks turned to stand-up comedy as an inexpensive way "to laugh and feel better", she says.

She now splits her time between her hometown and London.

So far, the stand-up comedienne has performed in Britain, Australia, the United States and Malaysia and plans to take her show to as many countries as possible.

"My big dream is global domination."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2017, with the headline 'The funny side of life '. Print Edition | Subscribe