Kuah Jenhan is our man of the hour!
The comedian is charting a meteoric rise – only two years stand between the absolute beginning and making his debut solo performance! – to fame; one that will definitely stand the test of time, as his natural comedic timing and ability to make one laugh indicate. Emmagem managed to catch him in the midst of preparing for his first ever solo show, ‘Tall, Dark and Comedian’ (which is completely sold out!), and asked him a few questions.
When asked “Why comedy?’, Jenhan, who describes himself as a “Comedi-bum, you know, a bum who finds work in comedy,” said that he “didn’t know full well that I wanted to do comedy, it kind of fell into my lap, thankfully.”
Emmagem: Why comedy? After all, it’s not exactly the typical doctor/engineer career path.
Kuah Jenhan: “The first indication that I could be funny was when the series ‘Fei Mau’ (Fat Cat) came out. I was shorter and pudgy then, and believe it or not, a lot uglier *laughs* Anyway, Fei Mau was so popular that my Malay friends, my Indian friends would all watch it and be like “Hey! You ni macam Fei Mau lah!” And they would all laugh at my impersonation of Fei Mau, and that was my first indication that ‘hey, I could be funny!’
And then I went to secondary school and started doing sketches for Teachers Day and Children’s Day in school and that’s when I started to realise that I like to perform. But I never knew what stand-up comedy was. It wasn’t something known to me until after high school; when I was in college there was an event in The Actor’s Studio, Bangsar, and it was called Free Flow. It was an open mic, basically you pay RM10, you get 10 minutes on stage. At the time, klpac didn’t exist, so it was like my small, little dream to someday perform at The Actor’s Studio. So I thought, ‘Wow! I Pay RM10, I get 10 minutes onstage, it’s like I can buy my dream!’. So I paid, and then they told me “You have to do comedy,” and I was like “What, you mean like a sketch?” and they said “Nonono, just one person, on the stage, just make people laugh.” I said, “How do you do such things?” I didn’t really understand, so I went and watched the first night. Then I realised it IS what they told me, it’s one person on stage, trying to make people laugh. I was on the second night, so I went home, wrote some stuff, and I went on stage and I performed.
On that night, I met a few other guys who also tried comedy and after a few months, there was a comedy competition and my friend whom I met there called me and said “Hey, there’s this comedy competition, let’s join la,” and I said “Er no, I don’t really know what’s all this about, don’t know what I’m doing,” and he said “The cash prize is RM500,” and I was like “Ok, I’ll join.” I joined, and I won, so I was like “Wow! I’m not too bad at this stand alone and make people laugh thing!” At this event, the event emcee was also the even organizer, and he said “Boy, I’ll pay you this amount of money if you come and do this for my show.” THEN I realised that this was an actual job. I did not consciously want to do stand-up comedy.
I would say, fortunately, I did not find out about stand-up comedy from Russell Peters because that is how a lot of people today know what stand-up comedy is. It was only later that I started to wonder ‘Hey what is this I’m doing?’ and I went around and searched for it and found Russell Peters’ clip on the internet. I’m very thankful I found out this way, because I don’t think anybody wakes up one day and says “I think I want to be a comedian!”
Emmagem: You didn’t get your inspiration from Russell Peters, so where do you get your inspiration from?
KJ: I started impersonating Fei Mau, remember? And throughout school, I was in a boys’ school for 11 years, so obviously my good looks had no value, and I was the class clown. What made me the class clown was, well, we always like to make fun of teachers. Admit it or not, YOU make fun of teachers, we all make fun of teachers. So I would impersonate teachers. You’d observe how people are and then then people would be like “Hey! That’s like our teacher,” you know? Offstage I am a very quiet person, I’m actually one of those – it’s a true story – I am one of those boys who, growing up, had imaginary friends. And I, uh, talked to the wall. And obviously when you talk to imaginary friends, or the wall, you can’t say “hello” and wait for a response, so what you’d do is talk to yourself. And I think by doing that, it helped me play up the situation whereby I now can write a conversation. It’s by being quiet and having no friends that helped me today *laughs*You see, stand-up comedy is something like that – you are actually talking to a sea of faces, and you don’t really expect a reply; it’s not common to get one unless you suck. And then somebody will maybe say “Get off the stage!”. But you’re really just giving a speech, almost, so I guess talking to the wall is not that bad.
Emmagem: Ok, on your blog you mentioned writing drafts for your show, how many drafts do you typically write before you’re done?
KJ: Uhh.. there’s not set amount of drafts, and drafts are drafts, but I think that the act of writing is very important. I have to stress how important it is for people who might want to try comedy. A lot of my friends, they do not have the habit of writing, they are very good at spontaneous acts; but when you write things down you can see how you formulate your ideas and then you can shorten it, and link things together better, and it also helps the memorising as well. So I always write things down, and when I think of a joke, or there’s something I notice, I will always put down on my phone or on my laptop. I’ll keep writing and writing, so I don’t really know how many drafts there are.
Emmagem: So it’s basically like an on-going thing?
KJ: For me, it is, yes.
Emmagem: Even with a prepared script, do you do any improvisation up onstage?
KJ: Yes, but not a lot. I’m one of those who, while writing, already think of what is going to be said, so not so much improvisation. But sometimes it happens.
Emmagem: So it depends on the crowd?
KJ: Yeah, sometimes we can go on a riff. You can’t plan audience interaction, right? But sometimes, there are ways for you to write audience interaction, like for example, I can write “Hey how are you?” and I actually don’t want your answer, or if you say “Yes, I’m good/No good”, I already have my answers. You can plan those things as well. But sometimes, you still have to improvise. So, for me, I think these things are 90% pre-written, and 10% see how lah!
Emmagem: So, tell us about Tall, Dark and Comedian, it’s your first solo show right?
KJ: Yes, it’s my first time having a show, where people turn up to watch me. It’s a bit strange for me; it’s still hard for me to see why. I always wanted to have my own show, eventually, but I’ve only been doing comedy for 2 years and personally I feel like “Is it too soon?” but PJLA approached me and said they were having the festival (the PJ Laugh Fest) again and said “Why don’t you have your own show?” I said “I don’t think I’m ready” but they convinced me and said “You should give it a try and Terry from PJLA said ‘If you don’t try it, how are you going to know?’” so I said I’d think about it, and I did, and then I said “Ok I’ll do it, for one show,” but they said “No, you do TWO shows.” One show is 300 people. I said “I can’t! I can possibly, maybe bag about 300 people from my MACC shows and things like that,” but they said “It’s ok, you take two,” and they were organising everything; they were providing the venue, the light operator, they said “All you have to do is show up and do what you do!” I’m very thankful, I think I needed that extra push because on my own I cannot gauge whether people would pay money to come and watch me; that’s still something very new to me.
Emmagem: What’s going to be different about this performance, compared to the ones where you’re collaborating with other people?
KJ: In terms of individual performance, it’s going to be the same thing: you’re going to see me talking. In terms of the show, what I’ve done differently this time is that I’ve brought a magician onto the show. I realised that in this festival there are a lot of comedy shows, there’s Harith and Douglas, and Joan Kam is bringing a cabaret, so I thought, ‘Why not? I’ll bring in a magician as well. A mentalist, and a really good one at that’ so I think that brings something different to the show. I also have with me my friend Rambo Tan who is probably the most – in his own words, he says he is the “mostest, machoest man in Malaysia” and I agree. It’s hard for me to agree, but I have to agree. You have to watch it to believe it.
Emmagem: Tell us more about this Rambo Tan!
KJ: Actually, he called me last night and said that he thought of a segment for his joke: he wants to teach people how to get girls because he said he’s very good at getting girls. He said that girls love mystery. Ok I’ll try to impersonate him *put on heavy Chinese accent* “You know, girls like mystery. I tell the girl, ‘You want go dinner,’ she say ‘Oh, of course’. Then she ask me ‘Where?’ I say ‘Secret’ then she very happy. Then I say ‘Recipe’ and then she sad. So ah, it prove that the ‘secret’ is the one she like.” Those kinds of stuff you know? “To be a good man, ah, you need two characters you know? Number 1, you must be a gentleman, number 2 you must be a confidential. So together, I am a ‘genital man’.” So I said, “Wah you ah, really the best. So why don’t you do a show with me?” He said “How much you pay.” I’m like “You come in free la” and he said “OK.” *laughs* He’s like that, you know. He’s a real character, basically.
Emmagem: What will David Lai be doing at the show?
KJ: He’s one of those guys who go around asking “Can I show you something?” and most of the time, people run; but when they don’t run, he actually bends forks and coins in front of your face and say “Look, I can do this!”, that’s his close-up thing. Onstage, you know how you watch on television those big, big magic shows whereby they make people appear, he can actually do that too! And he has produced big shows in the Middle East; he’s only a few years older than me but he has produced million-dollar shows there, it’s really big. I’ve seen him change sand into water and water back into sand. He’s also a mentalist, I’ve seen him go onstage without props, and ask the audience to name items and he would’ve had brought it there. And he can name a dog using letters given to him by the audience, and the letters will appear on the dog’s tag. I really think he’ll bring something different to the show.
Emmagem: Yeah that sounds really interesting! Ok, last question. Boxers or briefs? (You’re welcome, ladies)
KJ: Boxer-briefs. You know, briefs are a triangle? Boxer-briefs are a rectangle. Boxers are shorts and briefs are triangles, I’m in the middle: I’m boxer-briefs. Why would that interest you, boxers or briefs? Is it so you can imagine? Or.. or what? How does that help?
Emmagem: That’s for the ladies to know…. and for you to never find out.
Thank you for your time!
The MACC – l-r: Kuah Jenhan, Douglas Lim, and Phoon Chi Ho
Kuah Jenhan’s first solo show ‘Tall, Dark and Comedian’ is SOLD OUT! But fret not, you can catch him at the Actorlympics, a show where the cast (comprising of Afdlin Shauki, Harith Iskander, Nell Ng, Rashid Salleh, Ida Nerina, Patrick Teoh, Douglas Lim, Reza Zainal Abidin and, of course, Jenhan) contend against each other in an improvisational and comedic battle. Running from 31st May to 2nd June at PJLA in Jaya One, ticket prices are RM60, and RM30 for students and senior citizens. For more information, click here!