Kuah Jenhan takes being funny very seriously. As one of the new wave of Malaysians comedians to hit the scene, he’s recognised for his down-to-earth observations on Malaysian life, and people in general. Aside from being a comedian, Jenhan can also add the label of ‘screenwriter’ to his cap, with a movie he penned that starts shooting at the end of 2012. The future looks seriously bright for our favourite funnyman.
Tell us a little bit about where you come from.
I come from a humble house of women. I have my grandma, my mother, my aunt and a monster – (ahem) my sister – but I actually grew up in a boys’ school. I was in a boys’ school for 11 years of my life where against my odds, good looks weren’t the currency. Athleticism was. Those who had none of it, had to be funny. And I wasn’t the fittest boy. I started putting on sketches during events at school and eventually found my way to a bigger stage. I also have a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Media Management.
What do you usually dress up for?
Wish I could sound cooler, but I am a horribly lazy, but opportunistic, person. I wear shorts and shirts as often as I can. That’s the lazy part. But I also enjoy dressing up and at an occasion that warrants it, like my shows or functions, I don’t just dress up… I DRESS UP. That’s being opportunistic.
How does dressing up play a part in what you do?
You may think comedy and dressing up are two separate things, but you’re wrong. Usually, when people have stage fright, the most overused line of advice one would give is “picture the audience naked.” I have no idea why, but all I took from it was: it’s okay for the audience to be naked but you better be dressed!
Also, most of my work involves performing for corporate functions where people attend in suits and ties. The least I can do is show them some respect and dress to the occasion. I’d also hope to inspire people to think if I wasn’t that funny, at least I made an effort to comb my hair. It’s my fallback. Thankfully, I have always been funny enough to not know if it is a good one or not!
What did you originally envision yourself to be doing before this?
Remember I mentioned before that I have a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Media Management? I was an Advertising major, and wanted to pursue advertising. How I came to decide on that was an odd tale. When I was 17 and about to sit for my SPM, I was also posting up posters I’d make for fun, pictures I’d taken - I used to take photographs for magazines - on the internet and made friends with an advertising student who was in a local college. Being curious, I asked what it was like studying it and I ended up liking it so much that I offered to answer her assignment questions. I aced it.
I know the moment I mentioned the word ‘her’, everything is less credible, but it was true! Anyways, after graduating with my degree, I thought to myself, rather than pursuing advertising now and risk getting out of shape, having a mid-life crisis, harping on my passion for comedy, I would put that aside, and invest time in my passion. I gave it a shot and look at me now: working way better hours, doing something I’m passionate about and still out of shape.
Can you tell us more about that one moment in time that inspired you to pursue your passion?
How this started was, at my very first stand up comedy show when I was 18, I made friends with the other performers who told me about a comedy competition in a local bar. I told them I wasn’t interested because I didn’t even know what stand up really was. Then they said “First place, RM500.” I joined it and won. After that, I was given 2 jobs by an event organiser to perform at corporate shows and didn’t do too well. Afraid, I retreated back into hiding and disappeared for close to 3 years.
One day, I bumped into Indi Nadarajah of Comedy Court fame, who was one of
the judges at the aforementioned competition. He pulled me aside to ask where I had gone. I told him I doubted myself too much to try doing stand up again. The following sentence that he said to me remains the best career advice anyone has given me. He said: “You should be lucky you can doubt yourself. When you doubt yourself, that’s when you know you’re real and your audience know you are real. The worst thing that can happen to a comedian is over confidence.”
What were the difficulties that you faced when you first started out?
I faced many difficulties. As comedians, we had no venues to perform at, no one to pay us, and no one who believe in stand up being a ‘thing’ here. When I first started out, stand up comedy was hardly known. Sure, there was Harith Iskander but even someone as majestic as Harith couldn’t convince venues to have regular comedy nights. But there was a valid reason behind it. There were simply not enough comedians to sustain a weekly or even monthly comedy gig then.
When I started doing stand up comedy professionally, for the first many months, all I made was RM200 a month. And that was fine. I knew if I invested time making sure I improve every show I did, the jobs would come. And they did. Never shortchange your passion for money. Unless you’re a shark. Figuratively and literally!
What do you feel sets you apart from everyone else?
Concealed behind my rugged bad boy exterior (I made this up) is actually a very clean comedian. By clean I mean, no swearing, no controversial topics like politics, religion, and sex. But it is not by choice. I’m a young boy, politics are not of my interest yet. I’m a young boy, I live free, die hard, no religion to tie me down. I’m a young Chinese boy! What's sex?
What's your proudest moment thus far?
This year has been great for me. I went on an Australian tour with Harith Iskander and Douglas Lim, We performed in Brisbane and Sydney, and we were also part of the Melbourne Comedy Festival - only the second biggest comedy festival in the world!
Also, I have co-written a sitcom, “Small Mission Enterprise” that is currently airing on NTV7, Thursdays at 9pm. I’m also currently polishing a movie script I wrote as well. The shooting begins end of this year.
But those are not my proudest moments. The proudest moment for me is being able to care for my family and send my sister to university. I owe my career to my Mum though. Before I learnt to walk, I would always crawl between my Dad's leg, and through his sarong to which my Mum would yell out, "Jenhan! Don't crawl under people's legs, later you grow up become stupid, everyone will laugh at you." Thanks Mum!
What are your upcoming projects for the future?
Right now, the movie I’m writing at the moment is taking up most of my time. Apart from that, I’ll be on Actorlympics, an improv theatre show, from the 7-18th at PJLA, Jaya One.
Next year, the Malaysian Association of Chinese Comedians (MACC) will be back with a brand new stand up comedy show called “Bromance of The Four Kingdoms”. It’s running on 21-24 February in Penang and 26 Feb - 3 March in PJLA.
I’m also in talks to go back to Australia and Singapore for bigger and better shows and of course, looking forward to put on my third solo show in the second half of the year.
Also, not forgetting the ever on-going project of not being so fat.
What do you want the world to remember you for?
Here is how I want to be remembered: I want you to write down the first word of every paragraph from Questions 1-10 and remember me as the person who had that much time to try to entertain you.