The Colombo Comedy Show brought to you by Colombo Taprobane Round Table 3 in association with Comedy Masala, Singapore, and TAD Lanka, featured Umar Rana, Deepak Chandran, Keren Bala Devan and Kavin Jay, 4 world class stand-up comedians, at the Hilton Colombo on the 2nd on July. The show was in aid of the "KIDS OFF THE STREET" charity project. Hilariously entertaining, the night was full of food, drinks and laughter. We caught up with three of the four comedians (unfortunately Deepak could not stay on) for a brief interview.
1. A lot of people discover their love for stand up by accident and sometimes change careers to pursue it. How did you get into stand-up comedy?
Umar- I love making people laugh. I love comedy. I’ve done a lot of short-form improv in Pakistan and I started doing stand up in Singapore in 2009, never looked back since. I started Comedy Masala- a weekly platform, and it grew into being Singapore’s number one weekly show and I am the host and founder and so the dream lives on.
Keren- I was exposed to it early on because I used to watch the late show with David Letterman on TV back in Malaysia. They used to always have stand-up comedians come on. I was too young to understand what it was but I always loved what they were doing. And once they started having open mic rooms in Malaysia, I was like “oh, I didn’t know Malaysia had this” so I went I tried it out and I just never stopped.
Kavin- It was an accident. I always wanted to do stand- up while I was in the UK but I never wanted to do it there because there was so much competition. But when I came back to Malaysia I realised it was an easy market as there were not many stand-up comedians in 2006. You had to wait 3 months for the next comedy show in Malaysia and so I got 150 of my friends and put them in a pub and told jokes which went really badly. You know when your friends come up to you and they say “good job” and they don’t really mean it? Yeah, that’s what I got. And then I decided that I wanted to have the compliment for real so I decided to learn. I’m still learning. So 12 years down the line and here I am.
2. How do you put together material? Is it situational after thought or do you draw from personal experiences?
Umar- Situational, observational, personal experiences about being a Pakistani in Singapore and there’s so much material to draw on. Sometimes things you just find funny, you write a good joke and it works. The objective is to make people laugh and to spread laughter.
Keren- A bit of both. I prefer writing jokes in a more ‘ranty’ style. I like complaining about stuff. So I usually try to think of things that annoy me and that I like complaining about and I usually try to put my own personal experiences in there to make it funny as well so I would say it’s a combination of both. I think that’s what a lot of good comedians do as well, they take something that everyone knows about and put their own spin on it.
Kavin- I do talk a lot about experiences because the stories I tell are mostly true. These are actual things that happened to me and my family. So that’s kind of what I do in the meat of it. But I do other things as well like observational humour, what happens here and there but it’s mostly about my experiences. I’m a storyteller. I tell stories about my family and stuff.
3. What do you feel are your biggest challenges when putting together a routine?
Umar- You gotta be careful not to offend anyone in this day of political correctness. You’ve gotta be careful about the choice of words and not trying to attack anyone but just trying to make people laugh. Laughter is universal, transcends boundaries and laughter will win eventually I think but yeah, no one has a good night at a comedy show if they feel offended. So don’t offend anyone, don’t make them feel like sh*t basically. You must learn to laugh at yourself. That’s what we do to show you that it’s okay to laugh at yourself.
Keren- I guess relatability. That’s the main thing. No matter what type of stand-up comedian you are, you need to be able to relate to the audience. So, whatever I come up with, even though I may find it funny, I need to make sure the audience will find it funnier than me. So I guess this would be the biggest challenge and the most fun part about it as well.
Kavin- I think my biggest challenge in Malaysia and the whole of Asia is the media. The media kind of force feeds you the entertainment that they think you want. So if you listen to the radio, it’s very difficult for a locally produced musician to be on radio. Locally produced stuff find it hard to get through because (for example) radio stations never play their songs. In Malaysia, we have popular bands who all have day jobs. That’s the biggest obstacle that you face- the media. They don’t think that you’re sellable enough. You can’t grow because people don’t know about you unless they find out about you accidentally.
4. Do you have any rituals before performing or for getting into performance mode?
Umar- I have two bottles of water. I drink one bottle of water and then I fill up the empty bottle of water with the second bottle of water. I always just drink lots and lots of water. I don’t drink any alcohol before performing. After performing I drink lots, but not before! I like sizing up the audience and just figuring out how the show is going to go.
Keren- On the day of the performance I’m quite calm until about 15 to 10 minutes before going on stage and then I’ll start being nervous, I’ll start regretting why I’m there, and then when I get nervous I listen to movie soundtracks and that pumps me up and calms we down. But once I get on stage, I’m fine.
Kavin- I pace around, I try to figure out what I want to say but by the time I get on stage, I forget everything. I have a lucky watch and I always wear it.
5. How do you handle hecklers?
Umar- Well I’m lucky that in Singapore we don’t have too many hecklers, in Pakistan we don’t have too many hecklers, in Sri Lanka, there are zero hecklers. We’ve had hecklers in the past. You put them down, I mean this is what we do for a living so if you’re trying to be funnier than us, you might have one or two jokes but we’ll have fifteen so the odds are against you. So the idea is to not heckle, sit back and just enjoy the show.
Keren- No one has ever heckled me before. I don’t know why but I’m at that point where I want someone to heckle me because I don’t know what it feeling like. I’ve seen other comedians being heckled and it’s so fun to try to make fun of the person who’s heckling you. No one has ever tried to heckle me, I think because they are too afraid of me being on stage!
Kavin- the best thing about performing in Asia is that there aren’t many hecklers. There are hecklers but most of the time, when it happens, Asians are more well-meaning. They want to help out. They’re not being mean. I don’t want to put them down. If they really get out of hand, I’ll put them down. But it rarely happens in Asia.
6. Do you feel people are more guarded when they talk to you about personal matters because you might incorporate that material into a routine?
Umar- Sometimes. When I wasn’t married my ex-girlfriends would be like “you might talk about us”, and I’m like “uhh no, I don’t think I will ever want to talk about you at all”. But no, people know my style and they know I don’t talk about personal stuff.
Keren- Strangely no. As soon as people who don’t know me personally find out I’m a stand-up comedian they tell me their own personal stories and then say “hey, now go make a joke out of it” and I’m like (sarcastically) “yeah, okay”. You can’t make a joke out of everything. People think all their experiences are funny and it’s usually not.
Kavin- Yes! I get people saying “oh, you’re going to use that on stage”. No, I’m not going to use that on stage. Stand-up comedy doesn’t work like that. When we have a conversation it’s a contextual thing. I can’t go up on stage and repeat it. It has to be a personal story of mine. I have to have the emotions to go with it. I can’t fake those emotions. I could like the concept of something someone is saying and then maybe mold that into something bigger but it will be totally unrecognisable from what that person said.
7. What advice would you give a budding stand-up comedian interested in sharing his/her material?
Umar- Stage time. Keep doing as many open mikes and shows as you can. Keep getting better, practice makes perfect. In comedy, you’re only as old as how long you’ve been doing it, so if you’ve been doing it for two years you’re like a two-year-old, [if] you’ve been doing it for 18 years, then you’re like an 18-year-old. Then it’s like an 18-year-old adult versus a 2-year-old toddler. Simple.
Keren- be true to what you want to do. This is the same thing I say to the younger comedians who have started back home in Malaysia. You need to make sure why you’re getting into this. If you’re only doing this to get rich and famous, fine, do that. If you’re doing it because you’re passionate about it, then do that. Just make sure you know what you want to do, stick to that and be true. Don’t be funny for the sake of being funny, don’t tell a joke for the sake of telling a joke. Be true. Because on some level, no matter how good you are, the audience will figure out if you’re not being honest. That’s what I would say.
Kavin- Don’t quit your day job! There’s no money in stand-up!
It takes years of hard work to get anywhere in stand-up like in any other industries as well. It took me 12 years to get a Netflix special. They look at Russell Peters and they think he’s an overnight susses. But no, no one talks about the 15 years before that. He worked hard to get where he is. Same with Kevin Hart. It’s hard work and perseverance. Being talented is a great thing but talent can be learned but hard work can’t be faked.
8. What would you say your brand of comedy is? Is I a bit of everything or what subject matter do you frame you content in?
Umar- It’s a bit of everything. I like doing a little bit of improv. I like doing a lot of audience engagement, I like making jokes up on the spot. I like talking about my past, I like talking about who I am- being from Pakistan. So it’s a little bit of a mix and match.
Keren- I say I complain very loudly about things that I don’t like and people like. That would be the easiest way to say it!
Kavin- I like to talk about me. Not in a narcissistic way but I like to talk about me because I feel personal stories and your own experiences reach out to more people. I grew up in Malaysia, but today 500 people connected with me having grown up far away from where I did. Everyone, essentially, goes through the same thing.
9.Thoughts on performing in Sri Lanka and your experience so far?
Umar- Some of the best I’ve ever performed for. I just wish there were more shows in Sri Lanka. Lovely audience, very hospitable, very friendly. Love to laugh. They take a joke, they laugh at themselves, and they laugh at others. Very warm, loving audiences. Great crowds, honestly.
Keren- It’s such a beautiful crowd and it’s so great to finally be here and finally do stand-up here, and I’m actually hoping there will be more stand-up comedy here and not just this show once a year but I’d be very proud and interested to see locals starting to do stand-up comedy.
Kavin- This is my first time in Sri Lanka and it’s been great. The people are so friendly. I connected with the audience immediately.
10. If you could describe yourself in a one liner what would it be?
Umar- The Pakistani, chocolate magician.
Keren- I’m someone trying my best and if you would laugh while I’m doing it, I would appreciate it.
Kavin- The grumpiest guy from Malaysia.
We caught up with audience members to get their thoughts on the show:
Yusuf- It’s good that they organise stuff like this and bring these types of comedians to Sri Lanka. I enjoyed it.
Jay- Show was really good. I enjoyed it.
Sunitha- I do enjoy comedy and I’m enjoying this show very much.
Amritaa, Miss World Sri Lanka- I absolutely love comedy shows and I think Sri Lank should have more shows like this. I’m rolling on the floor laughing throughout the whole show. I absolutely love it and I hope they continue to do shows like this.
Mandhy- I am enjoying myself. It’s my first time being at a comedy show in Sri Lanka. I wish it was on for more than one night. They do need more women in there but the humour is great and it has been well organized.
Nimesh- Thoroughly enjoying it. They’ve been doing this for 5 years and they should continue to do it as it’s going towards a good cause. I’ve come all 5 years and I’ve enjoyed this year’s performance the most. Great show!
Photographs by: Anuradha Udayanga