I grew up in this house and in this neighbourhood. This place is called Happy Garden. Everybody here is old.
The roads here have funny names. This road is Jalan Jiran (Neighbour), Jalan Nikmat (Comfortable), Jalan Nyaman (Pleasant) and further down… Jalan Hujan Emas: Golden Showers!
My mother is Hakka, father Hokkien. I am confused.
I am the second eldest grandson on both sides of my family. So I was always the sidekick. In my family, my name was fei zai – fat boy – and I wasn’t complaining. In every playground, there’s a scaredy cat – I was the scaredy cat. I was afraid to play with the see-saw!
Being in this position, I was observing situations, seeing how people work. I guess that’s what helped me in comedy. It’s experiences I observed.
I went to a boys school. Some boys would be good at sport, some good at studies. The people who are not good at those, be funny lah. In primary school, there was this TV series called Fei Mao (fat cat). I was short and pudgy and I looked like fei mao. And fei mao was so popular that Malay, Indian friends all watched it. so I would impersonate fei mao and they loved it!
My dream was to perform at Actors Studio, in Bangsar. That was my small time dream.
After college I did advertising. But I had this dilemma. What if I had a mid life crisis and thought that I should have pursued comedy? So I decided to try comedy first.
Before it closed, Actors Studio Bangsar had an open mic night, called Free Flow. I didn’t know what an open mic was then. But they said, “Do stand-up comedy.” You paid ten bucks and got ten minutes on stage.
After that I made some friends, Kavin [Jay], Zak, Andrew Netto. All at the same event. Harith [Iskander] was in the audience. Douglas [Lim]was the guest star doing a sketch with Rashid Salleh. Chi Ho was there but not a comedian yet.
I asked him, “You mean, people do this as a job ah?”
I won a comedy competition at Avenue K, and afterwards the event organizer said, “I give you another 500 if you come to my event and do a show.” At that point, I honestly asked him, “You mean, people do this as a job ah?” I had no idea. I was like, “What kind of cheating job is this?” Actually, that feeling never left me.
I wanted to do comedy to make people happy. That should always be the way with comedy. You shouldn’t go into it thinking I wanna be famous, I wanna make money. Cannot. You won’t last one.
When you do a bad show, it’s like you try to make people happy – but now they hate you and you are an annoyance to them. 300 people just dumped you in front of each other and are now gossiping about you in front of you. That’s how bad it feels.
At one point, I stopped doing comedy for almost three years. I told Indi Nadarajah I couldn’t do it anymore because I doubted myself. Then he gave me the best advice. He says, “You should be happy you doubt yourself. Because when you doubt yourself, you know you’re real. And when you know you’re real the audience can see you’re real.”
I want to do stories about my late dad. He passed on three years ago. I don’t know if will be stand-up or monologue but my priority is to just write. Write a story from when I remember my dad to the day he passed away.
Your dad is a big part of your life. I didn’t talk to my dad much. I’m very quiet, I’m only in this room and he’s downstairs most of the time. But he was a big part of my life.
We were close in different ways. The first MACC show, my whole family bought tickets. He refused to go. Only on the last day, I asked him, “Why you don’t want to come?” He said, “If everybody go, who take care of the dog?”
Then I realised why he was reluctant. As father you don’t want to see your son fail. Because they would never thought I could talk on stage so much. He was afraid to see me not do well.
My dad had a heart attack a long time ago so could not work. So he went to the market a lot. At his funeral, all his market friends came. The aunties and uncles told me, “You know, your father always came to market and bring your poster and said, ‘I dunno why my son so quiet, but can talk so good on stage.’”
This is my dad’s garden. He did this amazing thing, he made plants look like animals. I don’t know how he did it. I bet some Chinaman would pay a lot for this.
I went to Methodist Boys School in KL. Serious boys school syndrome: after boys school, you are either desensitized to girls or hyper-sensitized to girls – too nice. I’ve got a friend. He likes this girl and finally gets the courage to tell her. He walks up to her and says, “I like you, but I think we should be friends.”
I’m becoming less nice, which is good. Too nice is a grey area. Too nice can also be creepy.
My neighbour had this car when I was about 12,13; a red Toyota MRS. It was my dream car! Then the neighbour moved out. When I had my own money, I looked for this same car. But this is not easy to find. So I tracked down a guy who was selling it through the Toyota club. It was the same colour – red – so I was very happy. Then this guy asked where I stayed. When I told him Happy Garden, he said, “Which road?” I told him. Then he said, “I used to stay there too”. It was the same car! It was the neighbour! So I actually got my dream car.
I’m going to move out soon. But this will always be home. If I could get a house around here, I would.
Now there are so many venues for comedy and that’s how it should be. So many open mic nights and now even some open mic-ers start their own open mic nights! But some of these open mic hosts want to get a bigger title instead of honing their craft. You shouldn’t brand your open mic like some big thing – open mics are not. It’s not an event. It’s where people try stuff, some will be good, some won’t. That’s why I like One Mic Stand – they keep it real.
Oh, the big three: I don’t have racial jokes, political jokes and sex jokes. I have an explanation for that. It’s not that I want to be a clean comedian but I don’t know anything about these things, so I can’t talk about them. This year I’m 26. I don’t really follow religion, I don’t care about politics, I’m just 26. And sex – I’m a 26 year old Chinese boy, what sex? So how am I supposed to talk about these things?
How I do my comedy is that I like telling a story and in great detail. But I think I just also tend to write things funny. You have to be honest. The worst kind of comedy is to be someone you are not. You are you.
Kuah Jenhan is a stand-up comedian. In 2009, he formed the Malaysian Association of Chinese Comedians (MACC) along with Phoon Chi Ho and Douglas Lim. He has also performed two solo shows since 2011, and appeared at The Best of Malaysian Comedy in Australia last year.
Interview and video by Ling Low; Photos by Stacy Liu