Tag Archives: Malaysia

Performer Lynn Ruth Miller tastes life in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur

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.  

“Audience was large but anxious to laugh”

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.

“They have no sex education… No-one knows how to use a condom” (Photograph by Tim J)

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. 

Kuala Lumpur traffic (Photo by Timothy Tan via UnSplash)

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.

I Never Said I Was Nice…

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.  

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Filed under Comedy, Malaysia, Singapore, Travel

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