What it takes to be a stand-up comedienne in Malaysia
No laughing matter
Stand-up comedy is a serious business. It's a discipline that requires a lot of work, courage and wit. One has to be on the ball to be able to perform on stage and earn the audience's laughs. If you ever wondered what it takes to be a female comedian in Malaysia, Joanne Kam is the person to talk to. The Queen of Comedy has come a long way since making her debut in the 90s and is most known for her bold, no holds barred style. Her illustrious career spans stand-up comedy, theatre performance, TV and radio shows. Joanne shares what it takes to be a successful comedienne in Malaysia in this quick interview:
Hi Joanne. Can you share with us how did you get started in stand-up comedy?
I started stand-up comedy in Singapore at the iconic Boom Boom Room alongside Kumar. In fact, Kumar was the one that asked me to come in as a guest performer one night and immediately after that I was offered the position of co-host at the BBR alongside Kumar by the owners. My style of comedy is very much cabaret comedy and sometimes, they seem to be a comparison as both our styles are slightly similar since we were both from the same show club in Singapore.
What are some skills or techniques that you need to be good in stand-up comedy?
A sharp wit—your stories must not only be funny but original and relate to your audience. Also, it's important to create an on-stage persona that is an extension of yourself.
What were some initial challenges that you faced? And, how have you evolved since?
As a woman, I felt when I first started comedy, it was hard to find a voice. People were not used to loud women, in fact, some actually thought I was a drag queen doing comedy. Later on, I realised that there is no pleasing everyone but you got to stick to your grounds and believe in your work. Right now, my style has evolved to long-form comedy and more experiential style of stories.
What are some things that people don't know about being a stand-up comedienne?
It's not easy to get your laughs. The stress of coming out with new material can also create anxiety and depression among comedians but our business is laughter so we always put up a happy brave front but on the inside sometimes it's like treading on water.
Can you describe to us how it feels like to be on stage? What are some things that run through your mind?
The stage to us is like a drug. I think this goes to all performers not only stand-up. But for comedians on stage, when we get you laugh and do a killer set, the feeling is like an ultimate euphoria.
Some of the things that run through my mind... "Is my time up?" or "Is it time already, so fast!?". Or if it's a bad night, I'll be telling myself to just pull it through. I think the mind does little pep talks in your brain when you're on stage.
How do you find your materials or inspiration for your shows?
Stories—everybody has them, sometimes observing and listening to people is a good habit. I also derive inspirations from watching comedy skits like Saturday Night Live. James Corden, Key & Peel and most recently, A Black Lady Sketch Show.
What has been the most rewarding part of your career as a stand-up comedienne? Any show highlights?
The most rewarding part of my career as a stand-up comedienne was my one-women show that we took on tour—La La Lian. Not only was it my first solo show, it was 1 hour and 20 minutes long with no breaks, and the show was an in-depth look into my own personal life story. It wasn't just a stand-up showcase but more of my journey from childhood to being a single mother and my career as an entertainer.
What do you still love about your job after all these years?
I still love being on stage and being able to create different creative showcase for my audiences.
Besides stand-up comedy, you've also dabbled in TV, radio and theatre – what has been your favourite medium of story telling?
I love theatre and comedy, so when I can I always try to combine these two. I think it is also the adrenaline rush of performing for a live audience that lifts you up as well.
What has comedy taught you about life?
Comedy has taught me to understand myself a bit more and to stand by one's decision. A lot of times you need to live past negativity in your life especially when your comedy is so accessible through YouTube. Everything seems to offend people and there is no pleasing everyone. The entertainment industry is not an easy industry to sustain. Artist and performers are forgotten very quickly, but being able to still be relevant and continuing to be on stage after 27 years, I consider myself a success story. The lesson here is you have to keep reinventing yourself and also not be afraid to take on new challenges.
What's your advice for anyone who is thinking of going into stand-up comedy?
Be resilient, work at your craft and get your stage time. Learn to respect the art and always have a good story to tell.
Lastly, tell us about your new show 'Laugh A Mania' – what can the audience expect?
'Laugh A Mania' is a new way to enjoy comedy. It's a one of its kind variety show that will have everyone coming out of his or her boxes doing different style of comedy. There are skits, parody song and even dance. All in all, you'll be in for a whole new world of laughter.
For information on 'Laugh A Mania' shows, visit this site.