Singaporeans love a good laugh - at themselves

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 2, 2014

IT'S A Wednesday night, yet the club is packed. Drinkers fix their eyes on the animated, clean-shaven man talking a mile a minute on the raised platform in the corner.

It is open-mic, stand-up comedy night at the Blu Jaz Cafe, where comedians - or just anyone with the chutzpah - are invited to take the stage for five to 10 minutes to try and raise laughs.

On stage is local comedian Muhammad Fadzri Abdul Rashid, 27 - better known by his stage name Fakkah Fuzz. He pulls no punches and gets the crowd roaring with a gag about the Little India riot.

The weekly Talk Cock Comedy night has come a long way since it was set up three years ago by Comedy Club Asia.

Though still in its infancy, the local stand-up scene has hit a growth spurt.

Singapore may have just two main comedy venues, but each is seeing more aspiring comedians stepping forward and weekly show nights are often packed.

Comedy Club Asia charges $10 a ticket for Talk Cock Comedy and $50 for bigger shows that include international acts. It reported a $100,000 profit in 2013, almost five times what it took just three years ago, said co-founder Heazry Salim.

Two years ago, Mr Heazry, 39, spotted the ''really profitable'' niche in local comedy and quit his consulting job to run the club here full-time, plus its branches in Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia.

The club began without any seasoned local comedians but it now has 20 regulars, led by Mr Fadzri and up-and-comer Sharul Channa, one of the few women on the local circuit. Rival Comedy Masala has a similar open-mic night on Tuesdays at the Home Club in Boat Quay, which charges $10 per entry, including a drink. Its profits are up ''about 200 per cent'' from when it started in 2010, said founder and comic Umar Rana, 37.

Back then, the names on the playbill would outnumber those who turned up to watch but now the 200-seat club often sells out.

''The new comics coming up are starting to get really good,'' said Mr Rana. ''More people are discovering the affordability and accessibility of comedy here. It makes a very economical night out.'' Some attend to think as well as laugh. Comics say the rising popularity of stand-up here is partly due to a more liberal audience which appreciates a genre that pushes the envelope about what is considered acceptable discourse.

Drag queen Kumar, 45, widely regarded as the founder of local stand-up, told The Straits Times that when he started two decades ago ''people were very conservative and the police were very concerned, but today it's different''.

There is plenty of fodder to chew on and spit out, with perennial issues such as woes about education, migrant workers, maids and transport.

Student and Comedy Club regular Sean Francis Han, 18, said of Mr Fadzri's sensitive routine: ''I liked that he could bring it up and joke about it in a style that didn't offend people and instead, made us think about the issues.''

Ms Channa said it is a myth that Singaporeans have a poor sense of humour. ''We do love to laugh,'' she said. ''It's just that we self-censor so as not to offend other people.''

Mr Fadzri, who by day works as a stunt performer at Universal Studios, got 50 per cent more gigs last year than in 2012. Next month, he will launch a new show focusing on local current affairs.

''The beautiful thing about stand-up comedy is that it gives an insight into everyday perceptions, things people may not say,'' he said. ''It encourages critical thinking among the audience.''

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 2, 2014

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