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Laughing with the times

20 Feb 2020 / 09:49 H.

SHE is a legend in the Malaysian stand-up comedy scene, and one of its pioneers in the country. A staple in the industry, Joanne Kam now also hosts the show Seriously Kam on local web-based radio station Another Freakin’ Online (AFO) Radio.

With her almost three decades of experience in hand, who better than her to ask about the state of Malaysia’s comedy scene and how it has matured with its audience.

She told theSun: “I think comedy in Malaysia changed about 10 to 12 years ago. Back then, there was no distinction among the different types of comedy. Everything was lumped into one.

“When I first started, the only comedy act besides me was Harith Iskander. I think we both started at the same time. I started in Singapore, and I came to Malaysia. There was also Instant Cafe Theatre, Indi & Allan, Comedy Court, Dee & Moon. I came from this generation.

“About 10 to 12 years ago, there was this influx of new comedy styles and talents. You have people like Andrew Netto, Douglas Lim, and Kavin Jay.

“The stand-up scene has grown. People have to write their own jokes [and] new jokes to keep up. In Malaysia itself, if you are talking about working comedians, there are so many.

“Some of them are so good, and they can travel internationally.”

Joanne herself is no stranger to performing for international audiences. Just last year she and fellow stand-up comedians Douglas Lim and Dr Jason Leong were featured at the International Melbourne Comedy Festival.

“So it has changed a bit, and I think it has changed to a much richer format, and it has given Malaysian comedians a chance to showcase not only the country but the talents as well.”

But, how does Joanne handle evolving Malaysian audiences and stay relevant?

She said: “The thing is, there are a lot of new audiences that have not seen my act. I have a constant flow of newbies, and some of my videos have gone viral not only in Malaysia, but in Singapore as well.

“That created a new audience base for me. My audience base is [usually] about 40 to 50 years old. You must understand that when I started, these were people who were drinking at the bar while I was performing. They were about 20 years old back then.

“Now, when I have shows I see two separate audiences; returning fans that are older, and new fans who heard of me through word of mouth or saw my videos, but have never seen me perform live.”

She added that her material has also changed over the years to keep up. Joanne’s comic delivery used to be quick one-liners or short bits, but now she uses more extended story-driven narrative jokes for her shows.

This new life story-driven stand-up format has gained popularity and is a staple in many TV specials and live shows.

However, how does Joanne deal with a Malaysian audience that is more mature, and less susceptible to adult content, the style of jokes she is known for?

“There are always ways to expand that and make it ‘in your face’. Because as we grow, as the audience grows, and as the listeners grow, they become more accepting of certain jokes and rhythms, so it’s good to test the audience once in a while,” explained Joanne.

Joanne also gets inspiration for her jokes from her life experiences, from the news, and her observations. “I like watching people,” she added.

The key is to be relatable. “I do a lot of relationship-based jokes, in your face jokes about sex – recently I also expended to male-female comparison type of jokes. So it’s not my style to do social media or millennial jokes.”

When asked about her current projects, Joanne says that in addition to doing more videos through collaborations, and with AFO Radio moving to 1 Utama, she is working on opening a comedy workshop for young comedians.

“Comedy is not the only thing I do,” she said. “I started directing recently, as well. Last year I did two large LOL projects in which I wrote and directed. They are The POMPuan Show and Laugh A Mania.

“Perhaps the next big goal I have is to venture further internationally.”

Of course, after almost 30 years in comedy, what else does Joanne want to do?

“Can I say make more money?” she said, laughing.

Joanne Kam will be performing with Sharul Channa (Singapore), Aditi Mittal (India) and Yumi Nagashima (Japan) at the Queens of Asia Comedy Special on March 13 at 8.30pm at HGH Convention Centre KL. For tickets, visit qoa.qtic.my

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