Show me only the funny

Show me only the funny
Stage and screen actor Chua Enlai.

SINGAPORE - Chua Enlai emerges from the men's room and skitters across the lobby of the Grand Hyatt hotel, wiping his palms vigorously on his jeans.

"I'm so sorry, my hands are wet," he exclaims as he shakes hands with his two minders (one is an understudy) and the photographer, his face creased into an apologetic grin.

There is a disarming earnestness to the 35-year-old actor, whose exuberant man-child persona often rises to the surface over the course of this interview at the hotel's Mezza9 bar.

"I may not even read this interview because I get so uncomfortable reading anything about me," he presses his palms to his cheeks, "I just find it weird. Not so much being afraid of what I've said, but... it's just strange.

"Maybe I should get a couple of martinis, loosen myself up a bit," the bachelor says with a thunderous guffaw, which turns heads around the room.

One of his publicists, from artist management agency Fly Entertainment, looks nervous. "Are you sure?" she asks, glancing at the waitress, "it doesn't have to be too strong..."

He orders one anyway - a vodka martini with a twist. When it arrives, he whips out his iPhone for a photograph. For his Instagram page? He nods sheepishly. He has more than 19,000 followers on the photo-sharing social network and nearly 16,000 on Twitter.

Chua has made a name for himself with deeply likeable comic performances, and is perhaps most recognisable as an eccentric array of characters on the hit news parody TV show The Noose, whose seventh season premieres on April 1 on Channel 5. "April Fools' Day! If you believe us," he says, giggling.

Some of his most popular roles include B.B. See, a deadpan newscaster with a thick British accent, and Thai correspondent Pornsak Sukhumvit, who has a penchant for pole dancing. The role of Pornsak won Chua his second Best Comedy Performance award at the 18th Asian Television Awards in December last year.

Chua has brought his larger-than-life brand of comedy to the stage as well. He is a mainstay in theatre company Wild Rice's annual pantomimes, including Aladdin (2004) and Cinderel-lah! (2003, 2010), and was a key part of the group's all-male and critically acclaimed The Importance Of Being Ernest (2009) by Oscar Wilde, which travels to Macau in May.

He also pops up in the ever-popular musicals about national service: restagings of Michael Chiang's Army Daze and an upcoming musical adaptation of Jack Neo's Ah Boys To Men, also next month.

But for all his on-stage pizzazz, Chua is also unabashedly forward about his insecurities.

He pulls out his iPhone to show this reporter a video of his "absolute rubbish" dance rehearsal for Singapore Day, which he will host in London on March 29.

As the familiar cha-cha rhythms of the musical Beauty World begin to play, he declares: "The funniest part is the part when I got really lost."

As far as I can tell, he is executing every move perfectly, lingering only for a moment to take note of a step. He jabs at the screen: "It's just copying! There! See! Lost, lost lost!"

He leans back, satisfied. What he doesn't tell you is that he has been watching this video to do better.

Beneath the easy wisecracks and off-the-cuff jokes is an incredibly hardworking actor who cut his teeth on gritty, serious and disturbingly dark roles when he first broke out on the theatre scene in the early 2000s.

In Toy Factory Productions' provocative Shopping & F***ing (2001), he played a 14-year-old rent boy slaked in the grease of a corrupt, consumerist world. In Bent (2003), he played one of an ensemble of homosexual characters persecuted by the Nazis during World War II.

Both plays won big at the Life! Theatre Awards, and he earned a Best Actor win for Shopping & F***ing at the age of 23.

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