Dr. Jason Leong Reveals 11 Super Secret Things About Malaysia's Stand-Up Comedy Scene
The doctor turned stand-up comedian tells all.
1. The jokes you hear on stage might seem spontaneous and "off the cuff", but they can take months - even years - to craft and perfect
"The audience thinks that the jokes we tell are very spontaneous or impromptu or off the cuff, which is what we comedians are trying to achieve when we tell jokes on stage," Jason explained.
"What they don't know is that there is a lot of practice, a lot of crafting, a lot of work, a lot of trial and error before the jokes become what they are. For example, the jokes I told at the FB Live session, I've been telling them, perfecting them, and polishing them for the past three years! Three years just to get a nice three minutes."
2. But rest assured that the "true stories" are - indeed - true stories
"Every joke, to be effective, must have truth as its basis lah. What comedians do is that they polish the delivery so that it becomes very effective and very funny," he said.
"Like the joke I told about my Proton Wira - the truth is I love my Proton Wira but it's damn bloody noisy. A normal person might say, 'Eh, my Proton Wira ah, very noisy'. But a comedian turns it around and misleads you. They say, 'My car has noise-cancellation technology. The noise outside is cancelled by the noise inside.' So that's the craft I'm talking about."
3. Being a stand-up comedian involves a lot of patience and continuous trial and error. In fact, even the world's top comedians are still polishing their craft!
Jason recalled the day Jerry Seinfeld made a surprise appearance at a comedy club in New York.
"When I was in America, I performed at this club called the Gotham Comedy Club. I finished my set and so ngam I turned to my left, Jerry Seinfeld was standing right there at the door. Jerry Seinfeld's net worth is USD800 million but he was there at this club!
"So he went to perform, and then he asked the crowd, 'Any questions?' Someone from the crowd asked 'Why are you here?' Meaning, why are you, Jerry Seinfeld, at this club? He answered, 'Well, at my level of stand-up comedy, I still have to refine my stuff. I still have to work on my jokes. I still have to polish my craft.'"
4. Stand-up comedians don't usually get stage fright, but it's pretty scary and nerve-wracking when you bomb - HARD - in a room full of expectant strangers
Jason's most embarrassing gig not only involved him flying all the way to Kota Kinabalu, it happened on his birthday!
"I was performing at a corporate gig. There were three comedians in the line-up, and I was the middle guy. First comedian goes up and kills it, very funny. Then I go up... and I died completely. Nobody laughed, nothing. Zero. Then the third comedian goes up and he kills it also.
"I was so sad I think I almost cried, and this was on my birthday! I went outstation to perform, died on my a**, and I nearly cried on my birthday. Horrible."
5. Every comedian is bound to bomb once in a while, so there is an unspoken rule in stand-up comedy circles:
"If you had a bad gig tonight, you can go and b****, you can complain... but only until 11.00am the next day. 11.00am then finish, now you have to concentrate on your next gig," he explained.
6. Malaysians really, really love political jokes and race-based humour
"Political jokes because, you know, Malaysian politics is a bit of a joke right now, and race-based stuff is 'coz that's how we identify ourselves," he explained.
Race-based humour is not only appealing, Jason thinks that it's also an effective way for Malaysians to laugh about together.
"Malaysia is a multi-racial country and therefore, is rife with a lot of stories interracially and intraracially, so there's a wealth of material there," he said.
7. Anything and everything can be a joke, but there are certain lines comedians - especially those working in Malaysia - know not to cross
"The weird thing is you don't know where the line is until you perform it on stage, but instinctively, comedians know where to draw the line lah," he said.
"In Malaysia, obviously, don't make jokes about religion, insult royalty or the leaders by name or directly. Stand-up comedians who are working regularly in Malaysia, I think we have all been quite safe and sensible."
8. Like any other event, stand-up comedy shows involve a lot of planning and marketing. But did you know that it's the comedians themselves running the show, both off and on stage? :D
"When it comes to putting shows together, there's a lot of planning ahead like marketing, posters, curating the line-up, inviting people to come and perform... there's a huge business aspect to all this lah," Jason revealed.
"It's possible for one person to do everything, but usually it's a bunch of comedians working together and collaborating to bring up the event."
9. Unlike the "super mega star" comedians from the US and UK, Malaysia's comedians are their own hairstylists, make-up artists, PR and image consultants etc.
10. "I think stand-up comedy is one of the areas where looks don't play a very, very important part."
We asked Jason if having good looks gives one an advantage in the stand-up comedy scene.
"Well, you see me, so you know it's not important to be good-looking!" he exclaimed.
"I think it doesn't hurt to be good-looking in any aspect of life, including comedy, but it definitely doesn't hurt if you're ugly. In fact, sometimes, if you're ugly it's even funnier. But I think if I'm handsomer I'd get more attention," he wistfully added.
11. Can you automatically be a stand-up comedian if you're THE "funny guy" in your group of friends? Well, not really.
"Being funny in front of your friends is VERY different from being funny in a room full of strangers who are expecting you to be funny enough," Jason explained.
"Your friends, because they know you, they know where you're from, they know your background, they know your motivations... they already know what your joke is all about.
"But you do a joke in a room full of strangers, they don't know you, they have no reason to like you unlike your friends, so it's a whole different ball game," he added.
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