Singapore comedy is often marked by exaggerated slapstick gags, but director Alaric Tay says his upcoming television series Sent will be more toned down. And that may possibly be the key to help it travel further, he adds.
"I didn't want the show to be funny in the caricature kind of way. It's a little bit more naturalistic comedy. You see these characters caught up in ridiculous situations, but it's not so much the falling-on-a-banana-peel type of comedy.
"I think HBO got me involved because I had a certain sensibility that is neutral enough to travel. So I did this the best way I could, but let's see how the region and the world respond to it," says the 38-year-old, who is also the show's co-producer.
Sent, which premieres on Sunday, is HBO Asia's first foray into producing an original comedy series.
It revolves around a meek office worker named Jay (played by Haresh Tilani), who contains his anger at people by drafting aggressive fake e-mails to them. Jay's life is turned upside-down when the e-mail drafts are all accidentally sent out.
He was hands-down the best choice for the role because he can balance the physical humour and get the punchlines in.
ALARIC TAY on Sent's lead actor Haresh Tilani
Being an HBO Asia production means that the eight-part show - shot entirely in Singapore - will be simultaneously broadcast in 23 territories across Asia, including Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia.
Previously, the company had made original drama series such as Serangoon Road (2013), a period drama set in 1960s Singapore; and The Teenage Psychic (2017), a coming-of-age tale about a schoolgirl with psychic powers in Taiwan.
While no one can predict how well Sent will do, what Tay can guarantee is that the show will stay true to Singapore culture. "Singapore is a potpourri of cultures, different races, and this show will have all of that. So you have Chinese, Indian and Malay characters. The way they speak in the show is also how many Singaporeans speak."
This is the first time Tay, who is known for his comedic roles on Channel 5's news parody series The Noose and indie films such as Rubbers (2014), is helming a TV series. He has experience directing short films before, such as When We Were Bengs (2006) and Final Defect (2013).
1 How did you get involved in this project?
I acted in HBO Asia's Serangoon Road (as gambling addict Kang), so I had been in touch with the company and there were always talks about doing something together again.
Nothing quite fit the bill until this came about, and when HBO came knocking on my door to direct it, I immediately signed up for it. The premise of the show hit home.
2 Which part of the show could you relate to the most?
Everything's changing now because of technology - the way we shop, eat and commute - so the fact that the show is about getting into these techy things spoke to me.
I am also constantly having to deal with new things in technology all the time.
3 Do you often get in trouble with technology?
I don't get in trouble with technology not because I'm a techy guy, but because I always refuse to adapt. I'm very slow in trying out new things.
For the longest time, I was still calling for cabs the old-fashioned way, on the phone.
Everyone was telling me to use the riding apps, but it took me a long time to get on them. And now I use them all the time.
4 How was Haresh Tilani cast as leading man Jay?
I knew him from his YouTube channel Ministry Of Funny and I always found him to be a funny guy.
HBO was the one who suggested him and I agreed right away. He was hands-down the best choice for the role because he can balance the physical humour and get the punchlines in.
5 Cast chemistry is important in any programme. Did Tilani and his fellow cast members such as Carla Dunareanu, Alan Wong and Adrian Pang display good chemistry from the start?
We actually cast everyone around Haresh, so we already knew in the casting room that they would hit it off pretty well.
Whenever we called someone new in, Haresh was there to read off with them.
6 Why did you not cast yourself in the show?
I directed and acted before in When We Were Bengs and that was incredibly taxing. So I think it's better if I choose to be either in front of or behind the camera at one time. It helps me focus better that way too.
7 How do you think being an actor has helped you go about working as a director?
I think they're both complementary to each other.
Being an actor helps me become a better director. Being a director helps me become a better actor.
As a director, I know what actors want and how they work. And it's the same the other way around.
8 How would you like to be remembered?
I'm a storyteller, so I hope people remember me for the stories I tell.
•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee
•Sent premieres on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601) on Sunday at 9pm.