Lynn Ruth Miller concludes her 4-blog jaunt around SouthEast Asia…
I was in Singapore to open for Jinx Yeo, a young man who has become a hit in Asia. Wherever I go in this part of the world, the bookers know and respect him. He lived in London for a short time hoping to make a profitable career but his mother died and he returned to Singapore. Here he is a name and does corporate gigs as well as conventional stand-up performances.
The show was held at The Merry Lion. The place had been refurbished since I was there last. It used to be a very plain, no-frills place that looked more like an upstairs meeting room with a bar, but now it is painted with caricatures of comedians on the wall and a cute little lion to decorate the stage. The lighting has improved, as well.
All this is thanks to Aidan Killian who took over direct management of the place several months ago. The Merry Lion now looks like a proper comedy club and since it does performances every night it will soon become the major club in Singapore. It is the place for both local and traveling comedians to get a good audience, proper payment and have a good, well-supported show.
I opened for Jinx and did a 30-minute set. The audience was large but anxious to laugh and the response was wonderful. I stayed to hear Jinx because I love his comedy.
The thing I have to remember is that comedy is artistry with words and Jinx is performing in his second language, while I am using my native tongue. That anyone can get laughs in a foreign tongue is amazing to me, yet I know many comedians do this: Eddie Izzard, Des Bishop to name two
I returned the next evening to do my solo show I Never Said I Was Nice and there were about 30 people there, most of them ex-pats. I did the show to ecstatic response, which was not easy because the first act was filled with novice comedians who, nice as they are as people, had not mastered the art of stand-up enough to connect with this audience.
The exciting thing for me was that I was able to pick up a totally dead and very tired audience and make them laugh.
I got up at 6:30am the next day because Gary Tan, my wonderful friend, fellow comedian and taxi driver, wanted to be sure I caught the plane to Kuala Lumpur.
My plane was late (of course it was) and when I arrived at Kuala Lumpur airport I was met by Neal Kang, a 19-year-old Communication student whose brother Nat is a comedian and who had conned him into waiting several hours at the airport until I finally arrived.
Neal goes to an international school. He and his family only speak English at home although he can also speak Malay. His parents are both Chinese but each one speaks a different dialect. Actually, his father is Indian but he was abandoned as a child and a Chinese couple adopted him.
Neal filled me in on the inadequate educational system in Kuala Lumpur “They have no sex education,” he said. “No-one knows how to use a condom.”
At 15? They are doing it? And using condoms? And this is a Muslim country ruled by Sharia Law?
One of the required subjects is Morals (?) and, unless you pass it, you cannot get out of high school
In ‘Morals’, they teach you the basic rules of politeness that our parents taught us in Western countries.
The laws appear very restrictive but they do not seem to limit people’s lives. For example, you can only divorce if the man approves.
Many couples separate and do not divorce unless the woman finds someone else and wants to marry him. In that case, they have to pay the first husband money to get him to approve the divorce.
If the man wants to remarry, he can initiate a divorce with no problem.
Abortion is illegal but still people do it.
Being gay is illegal but there is a very large gay population in Kuala Lumpur.
If you are a Muslim, you must abide by Sharia law but, if you are not, you need not worry.
The Chinese in Malaysia are considered the wealthy faction of the population and the Indians are suspect.
I do a joke where I say, “I say something no black person ever says: The policeman is my friend.” When I did my set at the Crack House in Kuala Lumpur, I changed ‘black’ to ‘brown’. It got a huge laugh.
The traffic in Kuala Lumpur is horrid but not as bad as Jakarta.
Still, it took two hours to get from the airport to my hotel and I had just enough time to unpack, grab some food and get dressed for the gig that night.
Neal’s brother Nat picked me up along with Prakash, the MC for the evening and an amazing performer.
That night, a huge contingent from Starbucks Coffee came to the show and drank a lot of liquid that was not coffee. The entire audience was one of the best I have ever seen and the four comedians (all men) who made up the first act were unbelievably funny. Every comedian was spot on. I thought: Thank God there is an interval because I could never follow that much laughter.
I did 45 minutes in the second half and it went down to thunderous applause. Afterwards, all the comedians stayed to drink, dance and chat. It was lovely to see how they all form a very close supportive community.
The next day I met a magnificent, seasoned cabaret performer, Joanne Kam. It was her birthday but SHE took ME to lunch. She has been performing for over thirty years so she initiated the comedy cabaret scene in Kuala Lumpur.
She is a single mother but has managed to create a very respected and well-paid niche for herself in her part of the world. She must have had huge and daunting blocks to overcome: a woman performing in a male-dominated culture. But she has obviously won her game. She puts on her own shows and packs houses with hundreds of patrons. She is amazing and more important a very kind, giving human being. I never felt any sense of competition with either Joanne or any of the comedians I worked with in Kuala Lumpur and the standard there is exceptionally high.
After Joanne dropped me off at my hotel, I met Jai and Mark, (with their one-year-old Elezer), a couple I met in London two years ago. We have kept in touch and they also were with me when I did the Merry Lion in Singapore.
I am beginning to have friends I look forward to seeing again in every country I visit and that makes these trips even more exciting and rewarding.
And then it was time for the grand finale of my trip to Southeast Asia.
I did I Never Said I Was Nice – my one hour show – as the second half of the show at the Crack House and it was a hit. Thank goodness for that.
After the show, all the comedians went out with me for a late dinner and wonderful talk about the meaning of being human, what love is about and why we do comedy. I have to say this comes pretty close to being THE most exciting evening of my life (so far, of course.)
Wherever we live, whatever we believe, we all share similar goals and aspirations.
I had a friend from St Petersburg who once told me: “Everybody needs a place to live, to stay warm and eat delicious.”
I guess that says it all.