When Hollywood entertainment website The Wrap labelled Harith Iskander's Netflix special the "worst" of 2018 earlier this year, fellow local comedian Kavin Jay felt a little left out even though he was ranked eighth in the list
In an interview with SAYS, the 'grumpiest comedian in Malaysia' said, "Look, I like Harith and I like what he did on Netflix, but the subsequent 20 articles that came out were about Harith being last, and I was like, 'Hey, there's another guy at number eight, you know? He did well. Can you write about this guy?'"
At present, Kavin is one of only two Malaysian comedians with Netflix originals. His comedy special, Everybody Calm Down! was released shortly after Harith Iskander's made its debut on the popular streaming service.
In that regard, Kavin laments that the media's reluctance to give local talents the exposure they deserve has been "the biggest setback" in driving the Malaysian entertainment scene forward
"The media has always been about what they think people want to hear. It's very hard for us to break that market if we're not getting the exposure that we deserve... and I think that's the biggest setback," he explained.
"Take, for instance, local English artistes. They have nowhere to put their music, because local English stations will not play their music; they prefer to play American or British music. So it's hard for local English music to make their mark on the scene."
With that said, Kavin thinks that may be why many local talents end up going overseas for a better shot at realising their dreams
"I won't lie, I've thought to myself that maybe Malaysia is not where I can grow, maybe it's outside. But I always come back to Malaysia, because it's my favourite place to perform," he said.
"It's one of those things that's very sad; that the exposure you get outside is so much better than what you get in Malaysia. We need to really break that mentality, and really focus on local talent that deserve to be focused on."
Kavin, who is currently prepping for his nationwide comedy tour next month, also chatted with us about his Netflix show and other milestones in his career:
Note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
SAYS: Hi Kavin, thanks so much for stopping by! First things first - tell us how your Netflix special came to be and how you reacted when you got the call.
Kavin Jay (KJ): The Netflix special was a bit of a shock to be honest. I didn't think that I would get a Netflix special, because we all knew that Harith (Iskander) was getting one, and I was part of his writing team.
After the shoot, they came up to me and said, 'Hey, if you're free, come to Singapore next week and we can have a meeting.' So I went down to Singapore, and they said they wanna give me my own Netflix special. Inside I'm like, "Aaaaahhhh!" but outside I'm like, "Lemme check my schedule." Turns out, I was free, but even if I were getting married, I'd be like * flaps hand dismissively *.
So it's been four months now (since the special was released in February), and it hasn't sunk in yet, to be honest. The acceptance from outside of Asia has been great, I've been getting a lot of comments from US, UK, Europe, and Africa. It's very exciting that I can now have the confidence to travel to these countries and hopefully, do a tour.
SAYS: I found one thing particularly strange, coz most comedians film their specials in their home town... but yours was filmed in Singapore! Why ah?
KJ: * laughs * I would've done it in KL, but it was because of budgeting. I did it in Singapore because they were shooting (a special for Singaporean comic) Fakkah Fuzz, and they wanted to use the same venue and the same crew.
KJ: To be fair, I would've shot it in a toilet. It's a Netflix special, they could've shot it anywhere and I wouldn't even mind!
Of course, it would be better if I shot it in Malaysia, but then I thought to myself, "Hey, it's a challenge right? If I can make Singaporeans laugh, that means I know that this show will be good." So it worked out for me as well.
SAYS: You've been in the scene for more than a decade, having started out in 2006. In your personal experience, what is the one misconception that people always have about comedians?
KJ: That we're always funny. We are not! We're normal human beings, you know. It's like asking a doctor for free medical advice, like, "Eh, I have a rash right here." * pulls up shirt *
SAYS: What's the worst you've ever bombed?
KJ: Wow, I have so many... okay there's one gig that I had which, as soon as I arrived, they passed me the mic. So I walked on stage, started telling jokes... but nobody laughed. Nobody was listening, nobody cared, I was losing the audience... and it was very difficult for me. After 20 minutes, I was like, "Thank you guys", and I left.
Then the emcee goes onstage and started talking in Tamil. That's when I was like, "Wait, hold on..." then the agent runs up to me and says, "I thought you were gonna do your jokes in Tamil!" So that was pretty bad.
KJ: Then there was another one... they hired me to do a show at a bungalow. But what they didn't tell me was that the bungalow had a pool, and they built the stage ON the pool, and the audience was all inside the bungalow!
So I'm performing at the pool and everybody is inside, so nobody can see me. It's just the speakers blasting out my voice, and I'm in the pool alone with three people from IT just sitting there laughing. I did the show anyway, but five minutes in I was like, "Thank you guys, but I can't do this anymore." So yeah, that was weird.
SAYS: Have you ever gotten in trouble with the authorities for a joke you performed in public?
KJ: Yeah, we (comedians in Malaysia) all have. Let me tell you, we all have files in Bukit Aman. Why? So basically, we were doing a show way back when, and a comedian went up and did a joke about politicians. Then, the people who sponsored the show got upset and called MCMC or whoever, and every subsequent show after that... they sent the police to listen to our shows!
But nothing happened lah, we didn't get in trouble.. only because they realised that we were already preaching to the converted. We were not changing anybody's minds, and we were not doing anything that was considered rallying anybody.
I did get rejected from going on TV for interviews a few times, because the "powers above" seem to think that whenever you bring a comedian on TV, they're gonna talk about the government. I think it relaxed a bit over the years, though there were people who got kicked out of Maharaja Lawak because they were deemed to be insensitive to the ruling government. I thought it was wrong lah... but it happens.
SAYS: One last question - who are some underrated local comedian that Malaysians should watch out for?
KJ: I think, the newbies. Really look out for them, people like Brian Tan, Prakash Daniel, and Keran Balan Devan. These three guys, I think you will be seeing a lot more of them. They'll be the ones to step up and become the staple of comedy in Malaysia.
Catch Kavin Jay live as he embarks on a nationwide tour in nine locations across Malaysia! Watch the trailer for his upcoming tour HERE: