S'pore’s only married stand-up comedy couple set to perform first show together

S'pore’s only married stand-up comedy couple set to perform first show together
Actor Rishi Budhrani and his wife, comedienne-actress Sharul Channa and their pet dog Meethi

She would sit at the side while her father Kamal Channa rehearsed with local actress Daisy Irani for her Hindi plays. Watching Daisy direct her father had a huge impact on Sharul Channa, and she decided to go into acting.

Rishi Budhrani learnt Hindi and Urdu from Pakistani comedian Umer Shareef, writing down phrases in an exercise book, which he would then recite to members of his family - though he claims that they would laugh only "when I put on a girl's costume and danced".

Today, Sharul and Rishi, the only married stand-up comedy couple in Singapore, are making waves in the stand-up comedy scene, not just in the little red dot, but across Asia and, slowly, around the world.

Between the two of them, Rishi and Sharul (both right) have performed in places ranging from Singapore and Malaysia to India, Hong Kong, Australia, UK and even the US.

When tabla! met the two, they had just returned from performing at the Weirdass Pajama Festival in Mumbai.

What was the experience like?

"It was awesome," said Rishi. He added that while it was his first time performing in Mumbai, Sharul is a bit of a veteran, having done a couple of shows in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Coimbatore, among others, over the past year.

One of Sharul's friends was a programmer for the festival and, having seen her and Rishi perform, suggested their names to the festival's organiser, actor-comedian Vir Das.

"It's the first time that two people from Singapore were handpicked for a festival organised by such a big name," Sharul explained. "At the end of the festival, we were happy to know that they were happy, and I think we represented Singapore well and did Singapore proud."

Rishi and Sharul first met in 2005, when both joined Tez Dhaar, a Bollywood dance troupe that performed at corporate events and competitions, and even travelled overseas together.

It was in this troupe that they "became such great friends that we had to be best friends forever", Sharul said.

Elaborating on their love story, Sharul said: "I didn't think I would fall in love with him immediately, so it definitely wasn't love at first sight. I think what connected us was our common goal of making the world a better place by using the arts."

After eight years of dating, six years of running a communications training company together and 11/2 years of being married, today the two are putting on The Rishi And Sharul Show.

Their first foray into professional theatre was with Daisy's theatre company, HuM Theatre, where they both acted in Rafta Rafta in 2010.

"We played husband and wife for the first time on stage," said Rishi. "She was a spunky, vivacious, unhappy wife; I was a lecherous, villainous cinema-owner. It was awesome."

They got into stand-up comedy in 2011, with Rishi first performing at Comedy Masala, a weekly open-mic show founded by Pakistani comic Umar Rana, and Sharul taking up the microphone six months later.

Local comedian Kumar was one of those who saw them at Comedy Masala. "They're very witty and very real, in that their stand-up comes from the heart," he said, adding with a laugh, "They are proof that there's still hope for local comedy!"

They produced the sketch show Rub My Antenna in 2012, and though there were six actors, "people who knew me and Sharul told us that they wanted to see more of us together", Rishi explained.

Three years later, their careers have progressed in different directions. Yet more frequently now, they are being hired for shows together. "People want Rishi and Sharul together, they want that banter on stage," said Sharul.

Deciding that it was finally time to perform a show together, the duo have spent the past two months preparing for the show.

The two will tackle "issues of love, sex, marriage, family and what all of these mean in Singapore" in a show that consists of stand-up comedy individually and as a couple, a few short sketches and also improvisation and audience interaction.

And what do those issues mean to them?

Sharul shared that she does not believe in what society has built marriage up to be. "If they want to show real marriage, wedding photo shoots should have couples slapping each other in the face, or sleeping at either ends of the bed, or spending time just talking to each other. Marriage is companionship and in companionship, you don't tie each other down," she explained.

As for Rishi's thoughts? "Come to the show and find out."

The Rishi And Sharul Show runs from Feb 5 to 7, and Feb 12 to 14 at Goodman Arts Centre. For more details and to purchase tickets, log on to rishiandsharul.peatix.com

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