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Laughing The MALAYSIAN Way

IT is a serious business making people laugh and funnyman Douglas Lim knows it all too well.

In his latest hosting gig, the stand-up comedian takes on 10 Things We Love About Malaysians, a one-hour special that explores our quirky habits from our unique way of speaking English to Malaysian timing.

Malay Mail‘s MELANIE CHALIL has a laugh with the multi-talented actor, composer and lyricist about the art of being funny.

How involved were you with curating the 10 things for the show?

Pretty involved because they gave me an opportunity to work with the content team and that’s always very nice for a host. I also got to work on scripting and a bit of direction to add comedic elements in.

Any favourite bits?

There’s a nice feel-good one on street vendors, which I didn’t know existed, who distribute food to people who are hungry in Kuala Lumpur. You hear all the bad things that are happening and then you see this bunch of people —they’re not saints or deeply religious, they’re just normal people but for one day a week decide to give out food, so that was nice.

What’s your pet peeve about Malaysians?

A lot of Malaysians right now are going through a phase where we don’t realise how ignorant we sometimes are, about another person’s culture, beliefs or practices. On top of that, we are stupidly arrogant in that ignorance, resulting in a lot of illogical, emotional responses.

You make people laugh for a living but what’s the biggest laugh you’ve had recently?

I just got back from an audition in Johor Baru with Astro for a programme called Lawak Solo, a reality show for solo comedians. There was one guy though who tickled the hell out of me, I don’t know why.

A guy from Kelantan drove for 12 hours to get there and he did the most horrible puppet show but it was so bad that it was good. He had a doll that was meant to be a baby and after a while, he forgot the baby was a doll and he put the microphone near the doll’s mouth. I laughed really hard.

Do you feel pressured to be funny all the time?

I do live with a certain amount of pressure of needing to impress people and get a laughing response because that’s what I’m known for and people expect that. I use that to my advantage but when people recognise you as a comedian, what you say automatically gets them thinking ‘I think there’s a joke somewhere here’.

When you pause, people will be like ‘Where’s the joke?’ so they are thinking with you and they laugh. Whereas if a doctor were to tell you something and the doctor pauses, you wouldn’t go ‘What’s the joke?’. So yes, I do feel pressured to elicit some form of laughing response so people are satisfied with whatever meeting they’ve had with me.

Does that tire you out?

Yes, but I’m generally not very fit so a lot of things tire me out. Brushing my teeth is tiring.

If comedy is a reflection of our society, what does our comedy say about us?

If you’re looking at mass market comedy, then what you realise about Malaysia is we are a young nation, in other words, not mature. We are 59 and that’s very young for a nation.

Perhaps we haven’t reached the standards of a developed country and mass comedy would show you that reflection where you get a lot of humour that is less commentary, a bit more physical, gesture-like and Three Stooges-like.

You mean like slapstick?

I hesitated to use slapstick because slapstick is an art form of comedy which can be absolutely hilarious. We do see efforts in slapstick but it’s done fairly badly. Mass comedy would give you the reflection of the majority of the country’s level of education, social and economic status and challenges. Whereas niche comedy, which is the urban comedy, you see the issues that are important to people who live in the city.

Why haven’t we seen something so lovable like Kopitiam ever since it ended?

I think in general the English content market failed to generate enough revenue. If you look at locally produced English content, we are down to the news, one talk show on Astro and Harith Iskander’s show.

We don’t really have English content shows anymore, that could be one problem. The other is, because it’s an English-language comedy, the competition against American and British triple A shows is hard to fight. If anyone wants to take up that challenge, it can be done but is it worth the effort or risk? I do not think it is because of a lack of talent, because we have a lot more now.

10 Things We Love About Malaysians airs Aug 28, 10pm on HISTORY (Astro Channel 555 and 575) with repeats on Sept 3 (12pm), Sept 5 (6pm), Sept 6 (6am and 1pm) and Sept 12 (5pm).