The class clown

Rizal van Geyzel is a stand-up comedian who wants to have fun with the truth

14 May 2020 / 13:46 H.

BEING a stand-up comedian is no laughing matter. It requires total dedication and commitment to the craft. And 37-year-old Rizal van Geyzel understands this fact very well.

Four years ago, on March 26, 2016, Rizal lost his mother. It was the saddest day of his life. On the evening of the day he buried his mother, he took to the stage and started cracking jokes to make people laugh.

“I was scheduled to perform,” says Rizal, who has a Chinese-Dutch father and a Turkish-Malay mother.

He had prepared for a substitute to perform, in case he was not emotionally ready to meet his audience. A number of comedians were kind enough to offer their services and take over his slot, so he would have time to grieve. In the end, he decided to perform.

“I should perform on my saddest day,” explains Rizal.

“If I cannot mask my emotions and make people laugh, I should do something else. My mother would have wanted me to perform. My mother would not like it if she knew she had hindered my plans and my activities.

“I think my performance was a nice tribute to her.”

He also told his audience about his mother’s death and her funeral.

“If anyone in the audience had heckled me, on the day that I had just buried my mother, I really believe that my mother would have come out from her grave to haunt them,” he jokes.

His mother, who was a secretary, had supported him when he wanted to quit his stable job in the hotel industry in 2013 to become a full time stand-up comedian. But his father, who was in the army, was a totally different story.

“My father believed my stand-up comedy was just a hobby, and that I would eventually go back to the hotel industry again,” says Rizal.

But now his stand-up comedy has become his bread and butter. He has travelled to more than 20 countries to perform, including the United Kingdom and Australia.

In 2014, he became the co-founder of The Crackhouse Comedy Club in Kuala Lumpur, a venue which has hosted countless stand-up comedians, both local and international.

He wanted to make people laugh ever since he was young. He was the class clown who never failed to make his classmates laugh their hearts out.

Rizal says that while he enjoys writing new material, he does not mind repeating his jokes as long as he enjoys telling them. – Courtesy of Rizal Van Geyzal
Rizal says that while he enjoys writing new material, he does not mind repeating his jokes as long as he enjoys telling them. – Courtesy of Rizal Van Geyzal

“Being a comedian had crossed my mind many times,” he says. “I thought it would be nice if, for the rest of my life, I can just make people laugh and live off that.

“[But] realistically it is not a practical profession to have.”

So he studied for a diploma in Hotel Management and joined the hotel industry. In 2013, after five years of working, he handed in his resignation and pursued his dream of becoming a comedian.

“Even now I still have relatives who ask me if I can make enough money being a stand-up comedian,” says Rizal, who has three step-children and one daughter.

“I do not live a lavish lifestyle. But I can pay my bills. I can support my family. I love what I am doing.”

The first Malaysian stand-up comedian to really appeal to his heart was the legendary Jit Murad.

“He was very articulate, playful and smart,” he says. “I wish he was still performing.”

Another comedian whom he admires is the Malay-language comedian Mad Sabah. “There is so much honesty in his act,” he says. “As a comedian I believe you have to be honest first. The funny pieces will come later.”

Rizal admits that there have been occasions where his jokes have fallen flat, and he failed to get a laugh from his crowd.

“The only thing you can do in those situations, is to just bite the bullet and move on,” he says.

He also believes a stand-up comedian should grow a thick skin when receiving bad reviews on social media.

‘Comedy is a subjective matter. What you find funny may not appeal to another person. You cannot please everybody in the room.”

There have been allegations that many Malaysian stand-up comedians repeat the same jokes from one show to another, and do not source for new materials.

“I will repeat my jokes as long as I enjoy telling them,” he says.

“Sometimes my regular audiences will bring their friends to my show and they get upset when I do not repeat some of my old jokes. I want to give them new material but they want to listen to something they have listened to [before].”

When asked where he sees himself in five years time, without any reservation, he answers: “Hopefully, still making people laugh.”

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