Live comedy scene in S'pore is buzzing

Live comedy scene in S'pore is buzzing
Local comedians such as Fakkah Fuzz (left) and Jinx Yeo will have a new place to perform at when a permanent comedy venue, The Comedy Club Asia @ House of Timbre, opens this month.

Look in veteran comedian Kumar's diary, and you will see that he is a very busy man. His schedule is chock-a-block with rotating engagements at various clubs and pubs. The places where Singapore's favourite drag queen performs, about every other week, are: Canvas at Upper Circular Road; Cloud, a new nightlife spot in Pacific Plaza; AltaEgo in Ann Siang Road; and Hard Rock Cafe in Cuscaden Road.

On top of this, he is preparing for his solo show, Kumar Stands Up for Singapore. It is presented by Dream Academy and will be held at the Esplanade next month.

His packed calendar is an indication that, in Singapore, the business of funny is getting pretty serious. The comedy scene is hopping, not just thanks to old-timers like Kumar, but also emerging local talents as well as international comedians making Singapore one of their regular stops on their regional tours.

Life!Weekend estimates that there are at least six regular weekly comedy nights being held at clubs and pubs here, such as those organised by local groups Comedy Masala every Tuesday and Comedy Hub every Monday and Thursday.

In addition, at least six comedy shows are being mounted in the next three months and two festivals are returning for their second year - Magners International Comedy Festival, which runs from March 19 to 21, and Singapore Comedy Fringe Festival, which runs from June 9 to 13.

Local comedian Fakkah Fuzz, 28, whose real name is Muhammad Fadzri Abdul Rashid, says that the scene has grown a lot compared to in 2011 when he became a full-time comedian.

"Four years ago, there weren't any comedians working this craft full-time... I think Singaporeans are warming up to the culture," he says. "I can finally afford to eat at food courts now."

The numbers paint a lively picture too. Mr Umar Rana, comedian and organiser of Comedy Masala, one of Singapore's longest running stand-up comedy open mic nights, says he used to see as few as 20 people in its early days in 2009.

Fast forward six years and crowds of close to 200 regularly fill the seats in Hero's Bar in Circular Road, roaring with laughter with drinks in hand.

Festivals, which bring in both international and regional comedians, as well as local acts, are proving to be a hit with audiences as well.

Singapore Comedy Fringe Festival, which returns for the second year in June, attracted 2,800 people over four nights last year.

"We had a great response last year - way beyond what we expected. We sold out six out of the eight shows," says Mr Heazry Salim, 40, co-founder of The Comedy Club Asia which organises the festival.

Not only have comedy fans increased in number, but they have also matured in taste. Just ask Kumar, who is somewhat a senior statesman of local comedy, starting out in 1991 at now-defunct venues such as Laughs Comedy Club in Tanglin Shopping Centre and Boom Boom Room.

"I used to cry every night because nobody laughed. You know what kind of jokes I was making? Those kind of 'knock knock' or 'why did the chicken cross the road' type of jokes - because the venue owners were scared of other kinds of jokes," says the 47-year-old.

Now, more Singaporeans are open to risque humour that touches on topics such as sex, politics, race and religion. "The audience has definitely changed. They are more mature, they know what stand-up comedy is all about."

The audience is also getting more diverse. Local comedian Rishi Budhrani, 30, observes that the scene used to be dominated by international acts performing for expatriate audiences at expatriate hang-outs. "Now, the lines are blurred," he says. "More locals are going out to comedy shows, perhaps to see more local acts."

Kumar notes that a lot more families have been coming for his shows in the past few years. "I have grandmothers who are 80 coming with their grandchildren."

What has been fuelling this demand for funny? Mr Scott Mitchell, founder of Comedy Hub Singapore, which co-organises Magners International Comedy Festival together with events company Magic Rock, pins it down to hard work by local comedians and organisers, and an increased appreciation of stand-up comedy thanks to the Internet and TV channels such as Comedy Central.

Kumar, however, attributes it to something simpler. He says: "People here are very stressed and face a lot of pressure. That's why there are so many comedy shows, a lot of people just want to laugh."

That sounds about right for senior financial consultant Shalini Arul, 29. She caught the Rishi & Sharul Show two weeks ago by Budhrani and his wife, Sharul Channa, 28.

"It is generally an outlet for stress relief. When you go with friends, everyone comes out in high spirits," she says.

But with so many comedy shows being organised on this small island, will supply outstrip demand?As Fuzz points out: "Let's be honest, you'd only go for one comedy show a month, two, if you're a real fan."

But Comedy Hub Singapore's Mr Mitchell thinks that a wider variety of comic performances may get around the problem of over- saturation. Currently, he notes that stand-up appears to be the most prevalent form performed here. As such, there is room for other kinds of shows, such as improvisational, sketch and musical comedy shows.

He says: "As the scene grows, more fans will find their favourite form of live comedy. This also provides more outlets for performers too and is indicative of a thriving growing overall arts scene."

It is not just local comedians who are enjoying the boom. Increasing numbers of foreign funnymen are stopping by Singapore. For example, show organiser LA Comedy Live is bringing in Canadian comedian Russell Peters again after two successful runs in 2012 and 2013.

Tickets for the new show, titled Almost Famous, were snapped up so fast that organisers have added an additional show on April 8. Peters' 2012 shows here played to 18,000 fans.

Local comedians say they are open to sharing the stage with their foreign counterparts.

"It's a blessing to have visiting comedians come to town. We get to learn about their comedy scenes, exchange ideas, chat about comedy and make good friends. I think there's no competition," says Budhrani.

Meanwhile, local comedians have been making their mark overseas as well. In 2013, Budhrani, Fuzz and another Singaporean comedian, Jinx Yeo, 34, performed in Sons of Singapore, a two-night show at the Sydney Comedy Festival. And coming soon may be the most concrete symbol of how far the local comedy scene has come: a permanent venue.

The venue, christened The Comedy Club Asia @ House of Timbre, will be a base of sorts for seven-year-old gig organiser, The Comedy Club Asia.

This follows after the success of Crackhouse Comedy Club, which the company set up in Kuala Lumpur in May last year. The comedy room will be located on the second floor of the Timbre Music Academy hall located on Old Parliament Lane.

From March 27, it will host thrice-weekly shows featuring international and regional performers such as Hawaiian-born American comic Paul Ogata as well as local comedians.

Says co-founder Mr Heazry: "We've been working with various venues from the start, but I think it's important that people who are looking to catch high quality stand-up comedy shows know where to find us.

"It's about time Singapore had a permanent comedy room. Every city should have one."

nabilahs@sph.com.sg

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