The laughing game

14 May 2020 / 12:33 H.

PHOON CHI HO has built a reputation as one of the country’s top comedy performers. He has written scripts for sitcoms like Small Mission Enterprise, Oh My English! and more recently, Club Mickey Mouse.

Outside of comedy, Phoon is one of the most well-known faces in the advertising world, having written, directed and acted in countless local and international advertisements across all media platforms.

Did you want to be a comedian when you were young?

“I wanted to be a pilot. I thought it would be easy. All you have to do is push a few buttons. I did not know it would involve maths. I was not good at maths. That put an end to my dream to become a pilot.

“I went for a degree in Mass Communication. My mother thought I would never stop talking, and Mass Communication would be suitable for me.”

When did you decide to be a comedian?

“I was writing for a magazine. At the same time, I used to perform, write and produce videos with my friends from college. We were doing mostly comedy sketches. We called ourselves The ComeBackKings. We performed 100 gigs around town before we [disbanded].

“I realised I could not do comedy and write at the same time. I had to decide between them. I found I was earning more through comedy [and decided to stick with that].

“Now I am questioning my decision to be a comedian. During the MCO, a comedian has difficulty sustaining himself.

“When I was younger, my mother said: ‘You better study hard if you do not want to end up becoming a despatch boy.’ These days (thanks to the MCO) a despatch boy [is getting more work] compared to a comedian!”

What advice can you give to people who want to do stand-up?

“If you have a day job, do not quit until you are successful. You may find yourself funny, but your jokes may not go well with the audience.

“It is best for you to test audiences while still holding on to your job.

He advises those who are thinking of pursuing a career in stand-up comedy to have a back-up plan. – Courtesy of Phoon Chi Ho
He advises those who are thinking of pursuing a career in stand-up comedy to have a back-up plan. – Courtesy of Phoon Chi Ho

“You must also realise you need to diversify. You cannot just rely on your comedy. In the West, a stand-up comedian has more opportunities. They could easily get a Netflix show for their stand -up act.

“I act in commercials, write scripts and have my own talent agency. I have just started an online cooking show. I am toying with the idea of doing something in the culinary world.”

What is the best advice you have gotten before becoming a stand-up comedian?

“It came from my mother. When I told her that I wanted to be a comedian, the first thing she asked was: ‘Why do you want to become a comedian? Don’t you love money?’

“It was then that I decided to come up with a plan where I can make enough money while doing stand-up comedy.”

Between writing comedy skits and performing, which is your favourite?

“I feel more comfortable with performing. I think performing gives you the opportunity not to be yourself. “Performing allows you to come out from your shell and become someone else. It is like being a naked turtle.”

Who are your inspirations in the comedy scenes?

“Internationally, they are Demitri Martin, George Carlin and Mitch Hedberg. They are ahead of their time. Locally, it is Harith Iskander, Dr Jason Leong, Kuah Jehan and Rizal Van Geyzel.”

Tell me more about your family?

“My wife is an embryologist. Her working hours are crazy. My job allows me the flexibility to spend more time at home with the children. My eldest is six and the youngest is four. They are funnier than me.

“I always tell them, never become stand-up comedians like me because your daddy does not like competition.”

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