Category Archives: Singapore

Gay comic Sam See from Singapore is Coming Out Loud at Edinburgh Fringe

Comedian Sam See will be in Edinburgh this August but here he plays the Merry Lion in Singapore.

Scots comic Scott Agnew suggested Sam See from Singapore talk to me.

So we chatted via Skype…


Sam See at home in Singapore yesterday.

JOHN: Your show is called Coming Out Loud. Good title, because the audience knows what it’s going to get.

SAM: (LAUGHS) Dick jokes for an hour!

JOHN: Is there an elevator pitch for the show?

SAM: An openly gay comedian coming from a country where free speech and homosexuality is illegal… Expect dick jokes.

JOHN: Can you say free speech is illegal in Singapore?

SAM: No. In Singapore, I can’t say that free speech is illegal in Singapore. If you criticise the lack of free speech while you are here, you will be… erm… It’s a lovely irony.

JOHN: Is being gay totally illegal in Singapore?

SAM: Yes. It’s 100% illegal. The law itself is as vague as possible. It is basically the old-school English sodomy laws. It is illegal but…

JOHN: So how can you talk on stage about being gay if it’s illegal?

SAM: Because I am not yet popular or famous enough. On stage I always say I am gay. But, if they try to arrest me, I can say it is a character and then they would have to prove I’m gay which… well, good luck to them.

JOHN: So doing this chat with me could get you imprisoned…

SAM: It depends… They would need to prove I have done something untowards with another gentleman…

JOHN: You can say you are gay provided you’ve done nothing about it…?

SAM: Kinda. But, if you are on-stage saying it, they can still fine you or arrest you for homosexual propaganda or propagating that homosexuality is positive.

JOHN: Anyway, Coming Out Loud at the Edinburgh Fringe in August. Why?

SAM: A lot of Edinburgh regulars recommended I should give it a bash – Martin Mor told me: “Come over, Sam, do the full run, go crazy and lose money.”

I guess I have to. It’s the Hajj. It’s the Mecca for comics: we all have to do it once in our life. But I don’t understand how people can do it for 10 or 20 years: a whole month!

JOHN: It’s addictive.

Sam is gearing up for Edinburgh with a tour of South East Asia

SAM: I am doing a whole run shows around Asia before it. I am gearing up to play outside my comfort zone.

JOHN: You started performing comedy in 2012…

SAM: Yes. The comedy scene is Asia is less than ten years old.

JOHN: I presume, if you are gay, you can’t play China?

SAM: I can, actually. I have played Brunei, if you can believe that!

JOHN: Did they reverse the law about stoning people to death if they are gay?

SAM: It’s on hold. The law is technically not in effect but it has not been repealed. In very heavy Moslem areas like Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, I have to be really careful. If I play there, I try to play in embassies like the British or American so I have that clemency of being on international soil.

JOHN: Remembering this is going online, is it just a problem with Islam?

SAM: No. Myanmar is heavily Buddhist and they set people on fire. In China, they put people in re-education camps. There are heavy beliefs in this part of the world: whether religious or atheistic.

There was a chief from the UN who came down to Myanmar to investigate the Rohingya crisis and the chief Buddhist monk of Myanmer called her a slut and threatened to have her raped… Remember this is a man of peace.

JOHN: How do your audiences react to a gay comic?

SAM: They have changed over time. They don’t mind hearing about it; but not too much. When I first started, it was a combination of me not knowing how to tailor the material for the audiences and the audiences not being ready to receive such information. But I have become a more competent performer with time and they have grown with time.

Sam See or Woody Harrelson? You decide.

JOHN: People get pigeonholed. Who do people compare you with?

SAM: I see myself as a much longer-form Joan Rivers, more into storytelling and less insults. 

JOHN: Joan Rivers? So acid-tongued. 

SAM: Yes, acid-tongued, hopefully fast on my feet. But I’ve had comparisons to John Oliver; I’ve had Trevor Noah. For some reason, Woody Harrelson once.

JOHN: What???

SAM: I have no idea why. He is not known for his stand-up comedy!

JOHN: Are there many gay comics in Singapore and surrounds?

SAM: No. I am the one openly gay comedian. There are two who are closeted and one bisexual, but she is more into poetry than stand-up.

JOHN: I presume no-one is admitting to being lesbian?

SAM: None of the locals. There are some expats who come to Asia, do stand-up and say: “I’m proud to be a lesbian.” But then they move on.

JOHN: Things must be getting better. You have been on TV in a weekly Singapore panel show OK Chope!

SAM: No-one had really done the panel show format in the region before. There are variety show formats but not the traditional UK-style panel show. Host, regular panellists and rotating guest panellists.

JOHN: Did it work?

SAM: It was a mess, because it was a topical news show where we were not allowed to talk about news because… well… it’s Singapore.

It was a one-hour show transmitted live, with a zero second delay.

JOHN: Jesus! A zero second delay?

SAM: Yes. I am not kidding.

JOHN: This was actually transmitted? It wasn’t just a pilot?

SAM: Yes, a full season… 7.30pm prime time, before the watershed.

JOHN: Double Jesus!

SAM: We all managed to drink in the afternoon before we shot it.

JOHN: Did the TV company get nervous after Episode One?

SAM: Oh yes. Every week, we would have one of the government censors watching us from a booth. He would give us a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down.

JOHN: But, if it’s live, it’s too late…

SAM: Well, too late for the show but not too late to put us in jail.

JOHN: And it ended because…

SAM: We made fun of the then Prime Minister of Malaysia who had been accused of being a thief and we made jokes about it and somehow he watched that episode.

JOHN: And the result was…?

SAM: He called our Prime Minister who took us off the air.

JOHN: So the series ended before it was due to end.

SAM: It happened on the last episode at the end of the season.

JOHN: So was someone being intentionally provocative?

Sam See addresses his audience

SAM: No, that whole segment had actually cleared the censors. It was just that, at the time, Malaysia was having an election, so they needed a scapegoat and a way to look strong. If they can get the neighbouring country to formally apologise to them, it makes them look powerful and in control.

JOHN: Do you have a 5-year career plan that starts in Edinburgh and ends in Las Vegas?

SAM: Well, it starts in Edinburgh and then I am in talks with some folks over in the United States for representation. 

JOHN: Presumably, like performers everywhere, you want to move to the US.

SAM: I don’t know. I think I would like to move to one of the other countries, but I would still make Singapore my home base because (a) it is my home and (b) the tax rates are better. (LAUGHS)

JOHN: I suspect Donald Trump thinks Singapore is somewhere in South America.

SAM: No. He knows where we are, because he started the North Korean treaties here.

JOHN: (LAUGHS) You should play North Korea!

SAM: You joke, but some of us have been thinking about it for a while. You just have to find an embassy that’s crazy enough to go along with the idea and just play it on embassy soil and don’t make jokes about the North Korean government or mention South Korea.

JOHN: Getting in might be a problem. And let’s not even fantasise about getting out. Singapore doesn’t have an embassy there, does it?

SAM: We can enter North Korea visa-free.

JOHN: Really???

SAM: Yes, we can just walk in on a holiday.

JOHN: Bloody hell!

 

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Gay, Singapore

Lynn Ruth Miller – performing comedy in Singapore and burlesque in London

Lynn Ruth Miller on the menu at Comedy Masala, Singapore

In her last blog here, posted yesterday, 85-year-old London-based US comic Lynn Ruth Miller was in Beijing. Now she is back in the UK after the first half of, pretty much, a world tour. She writes:


On the train from Gatwick Airport to Victoria, I looked so dead that the woman opposite gave me a bottle of red wine to pep me up.  It didn’t.

I am about to collapse. I just lost 13 hours. Let me know if you find them.

I am so jet lagged I cannot think; but this just might be an improvement

After Beijing, I flew to Singapore. It was my third time in that magic, clean and well-organized city and it amazes and saddens me that it is such a beautiful place to live… because it is run by a dictatorial government.  

I have not talked to one person there who does not love the life, the safety on the streets, the lack of homelessness, the superior health care. But it is a city that will execute you if you deal in drugs and will cane you publicly if you are naughty.  

If you litter the streets, you are publicly shamed and, if you chew gum or cross in the middle of a road, you will be arrested. No-one seems to mind that his or her vote is meaningless. They approve of these laws and believe it makes for a better quality of life for them all.   

When I look at the poverty, homelessness, squalor and anger under our so-called democratic regimes, I wonder if the Singapore people do not have it right.

In Singapore, I was hosted by a great friend, Umar Rana, the producer of Comedy Masala, and his Czechoslovakian wife Silvie. I knew his phone number and someone at Singapore Airport Immigration called him for me to get the address. Then they had the problem of trying to locate my fingerprints. Over the years, my thumb has worn smooth and it took two powerful machines to figure out that my thumb was me.

When I got through Customs and out, the hot, damp Singapore air hit me like a damp sponge after the relatively cool, invigorating air in Beijing.

(L-R) Umar Rana, comic Ben Quinlan and wife Tiffany, Lynn Ruth and Silvie Kneblova-Rana out on the town in Singapore

Umar and Silvie live in a large condo and I had a quiet room of my own so it was like a hotel but much nicer because both Ranas were anxious to keep me comfortable and well fed.

They have a cat named Tangie who had a room of her own as well.

Umar kept reminding me that his was a fully equipped home. The two of them do not drive because keeping a car in Singapore is grossly expensive and the public transportation is excellent.

I am struck by what Renaissance Men become comedy producers. Dilip in Manila deals in property development and affordable housing; Eamonn in Jakarta is into energy conservation, magazine publishing, public service and so  many more projects I cannot believe he finds time to produce the entertaining and very popular show that he does at the American Club;  Umar in Singapore is a Pakistani and has been a banker and lived and worked in many different cultures.  

He went to school in Amherst, one of America’s finest Universities, then went from America to the Far East to work. After several other locales, he moved to Singapore about twelve years ago.    

People who live and work internationally seem to have a wider, less restrictive view of what it is to be human. Differences of philosophy or behaviour interest them rather than putting them off. It has been an education to know and talk to these men.

I was in Singapore to perform for two nights at Comedy Masala.

I did not have to do an entire hour although I was headlining. I only needed to do 30 minutes. Audiences in Singapore are very diverse and very open-minded and, with performers there, I never feel the competitiveness that I do with comedians in other cultures. In Singapore, they all seem to support one another and encourage each other.

With many of the shows I do in Southeast Asia, I always feel the line-ups are mediocre or inexperienced comedians but, in Singapore, Umar runs a tight show: three comedians and a headliner and his comedians are always very good.  

The audience was very mixed: French, Italian, Australian, American and Singaporean but more local than international.

The opener was a boy named Matthew Chalmers from Glasgow and he was superb. His jokes were sharp and fast and clever. His jokes were about being Glaswegian and I felt they were not getting the laughs they deserved. It could be because what he said resonated with me but not to people who cannot imagine a place like Glasgow where Jack Daniels is the local nectar and deep-fried Mars Bars are considered health food.

The second comedian was Ben Quinlan. Truly professional. He won a very prestigious competition not long ago in Hong Kong. He looks Caucasian but is half Chinese, born and raised in Hong Kong. His forte is accents and he is wonderful imitating Thai speech and Indian speech.  

The last comedian before me was Adrian Saw, a magician who works in finance during the day. I thought he was really good, though doing magic in a dimly-lit room where people cannot see you clearly is a huge challenge.

I did straight stand-up instead of my hour-long show which is a combination of stories and jokes and it seemed to go over OK but, as it often is with Asian audiences, they were not very loud in their approval or their laughter. So, although I got many compliments and much praise, I am not certain of the impact.   

However, one couple was getting every joke. They were originally from Melbourne but had spent the last several years in New Guinea and this was their last night in Singapore before moving to France.

Lynn Ruth also performed on Ladies Night at the 360 Bar…

You often find that expats in Asia are people with excellent high-paying jobs whose companies move them from one country to another so they become very international in their perspective and in their outlook on what life is about. There is a realism to them that I find very refreshing and often they are able to separate themselves from the culture they are in and see it clearly.  

The people I have met are uniformly liberal even though they work for companies that are certainly more to the right on the political spectrum. These people observe cultures rather than participate in them because, no matter how long they live in one place, they are still outsiders.

Singapore is really lovely at night, with tall modern buildings and a sense of constant activity. Something is always happening.

Silvie says it is a very expensive city but it takes good care of its residents with housing, medical and education benefits. It does not have a homeless problem and its residents are very proud of its cleanliness and its safety. You can walk down any street in Singapore at any hour of the day or night and feel safe.

I arrived back at Gatwick Airport at 3:45pm, having lost 13 hours of daylight and was hit with a 42F degree chill.  

Sultry Lynn Ruth in her “sexy silk pyjamas”

The minute I got to the train station, someone helped me on with my case before I even asked. Another person helped organize my case so it didn’t obstruct the other passengers. Someone carried my case down Victoria Station’s steps to the tube. Someone else helped me get that case on the train. To make me feel even more wanted and loved, the bus driver waited for me to round the corner to get on the bus. I was so thrilled I forgot to shiver.

British people help one another because it is the right thing to do.  

It felt very good to be home, back in London. Tomorrow, I am off to perform in a burlesque show.

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Filed under Singapore, Travel