Ahead of Living Together, which will be taking place at Zouk this Wednesday, November 16, at 8pm, we speak to local stand-up comic Sharul Channa about race jokes, political correctness, and whether Singaporeans have a sense of humour.
Go Away (GA): What made you decide to do comedy for a living?
Sharul Channa (SC): After getting my Bachelor’s degree, I’d already decided that the corporate world wasn’t for me, but I didn’t know yet what I wanted to do with my life. My husband [fellow comedian Rishi Budhrani] was at the time performing stand-up regularly at Home Club and he was the one who encouraged to get up on stage and do something. The moment I elicited my first laugh, I found myself immediately hooked to stand-up comedy.
GA: Do you think comedy – specifically comedy about race – is something we need more than ever now that Trump has been elected President?
SC: The biggest problem we face is now we have all become very sensitive, and we tend to take offence on behalf of other people. If I make fun of fat people, for instance, a fat person might laugh, but it’s the people who are not fat that tend to be offended, which I think unwittingly shows that they are the ones judging fat people in the first place. I once did a show in London where I made fun of Asians, which did not sit well with that crowd, and I believe it’s because of an implicit understanding that Asians do not have quite the same privilege as the whites.
Living in multi-cultural Singapore, I think we’ll always enjoy race jokes because, let’s be real, I think there’s always a little bit of underlying racism that exists in our society, and race jokes are a way to help defuse some of that tension that exists between the different ethnic groups. But we do need to acknowledge the fact that there’ll always be a “silent hierarchy” going on. For instance, I won’t make fun of Malays because they belong to the minority, and if I make a joke about them, that would be punching down.
GA: Are there any jokes you won’t do?
SC: I believe every comedian has a touchy topic or two; their personal no-go zones. For instance, I’ll never do rape jokes. By and large, however, it’s about gauging the vibe of your crowd. But as a comedian in a rather conservative society, I see it as my job to keep on pushing boundaries until people become less conservative.
GA: Singaporeans are generally a humourless bunch. True or false?
SC: I think Singaporeans have a great sense of humour, if a little afraid to express their opinions on issues. Sometimes it’s because they’re afraid of being judged for laughing at the “wrong” things. As a society, we’re scared to offend other people. Compared to doing shows in Malaysia, for instance, I feel that the crowds in Singapore generally require a bit more of a warm-up. They are not familiar with the idea of someone communicating directly to them from the stage, which I think stems from the fact that the education system does not encourage us to be good public speakers. On the bright side, I think that’s slowly changing now.
GA: What are some life lessons you’ve learnt from being in comedy?
SC: Being sincere and truthful is the most important thing, because the audience will always know when you’re not. Also, everyone has problems or personal tragedies that they’re dealing with, so we should always go easy on everyone we meet. Lastly, that channelling my talent for a good cause – to help those in need – is probably the best use of it.
GA: So why should people go get their tickets to Living Together: No Holds Barred?
SC: Because for just $80, you get to see five great stand-up comics in action. That’s $16 per comic, inclusive of two free drinks! And if you’re rich, you owe it to the less fortunate to give them a helping hand.
Living Together will feature a cast comprising Kumar, Koh Chieng Mun, Shane Mardjuki, Sharul Channa, and Zaliha Hamid, from 8pm – 10pm on November 16, Wednesday at Zouk. A minimum donation of $80 (inclusive of two drinks) is required, and all proceeds will go to Beyond Social Services.
11 Nov 2016