Making you see the funny side of things

Syazwani Hj Rosli

Local comedians Khai Anwar and Tony Sigar may not be the most obvious pairing, but the oddball duo was recently invited to compete in the Maharaja Lawak Mega (MLM) 2019, one of the most anticipated annual comedy competitions and reality programmes in Malaysia.

MLM 2019 saw the local duo competing against professional and well-known comedians, individuals and groups, such as Rahmet, Popon, Bocey, Zero, Rare, White, Stone, Jambus, Rojak and J-Born.

Although they were eliminated in the second week of the competition, Khai and Tony have remained positive and optimistic about the whole experience. The two recently spoke with the Weekend Bulletin about their journey into comedy that brought them to the big stage of MLM 2019.

Asked how his interest in comedy started, Khai said, “I don’t have a passion for comedy in the traditional sense, but it is something I recognise that I am able to do without expending a lot of effort and I enjoy doing. Over the course of my life, I’ve made peace with the fact that I enjoy making people laugh, not necessarily in any environment. So while I enjoy performing and being adulated with laughter, it’s not something I work all day and all night to achieve.”

Khai has been a regular at Brunei’s only stand-up comedy platform BruHaha for the last couple of years since joining its workshop.

Khai Anwar and Tony Sigar take the stage at the Maharaja Lawak Mega (MLM) 2019. PHOTOS: SYAZWANI HJ ROSLI
Khai and Tony are all smiles.

His comedy style, he said, is very self-deprecating. He explained that he likes to poke fun at his own ‘lack of intelligence,’ his status as an outsider being born and raised in Brunei, his lack of understanding of South Asian culture and his dysfunctional relationship with his parents.

“A lot of my material is commentary on everything I see and observe. I fully write my own material. I have lived through almost everything I talk about on stage. I look at things around me and my experiences so that I can connect different dots, to create a cohesive set,” he explained.

Speaking on MLM 2019, Khai shared that when he first got called by the producers of MLM and was informed that he got selected, he asked them about the possibility of bringing another person along because he knew that he would not be able to handle the pressure. He noted that being on the MLM stage marked the first time that he and Tony had teamed up.

Khai said that the experience with MLM 2019 was a mixture of sweet, scary and sad.

“It is sweet because we got so much support from everyone at home, especially strangers and close friends as well as families. It was eye opening to see who truly believed in us and taught us a lot about our expectations from people. I, for one, now know how people perceive me as a comedian and as a peer.

“It was scary because I knew from the onset we would be out of our elements, the barriers of culture, language, style and experience meant that we had the odds stacked against us. However, the collaborative process Tony and I had allowed us to truly explore our strengths and weaknesses. Working with Tony was a pleasure because he was so open to ideas and was willing to step out of his comfort zone. By week two, we were synced really well and were having more fun. It was sad because we had just gotten warmed up before being eliminated,” he shared.

From the whole experience with MLM 2019, Khai learnt that no matter how good one might think they are, they will always not be good enough.

“So many people get so comfortable with a bit of validation and living inside a particular bubble that they stop searching for lessons in humility and avenues for growth. Creating, performing and writing is all about evolution – the evolution of our form, our craft and our mindset. We have to constantly aim to be different without losing sight of ourselves.”

“Being on the MLM stage and realising that I was not good enough was extremely liberating. It meant that I hadn’t perfected my craft as a performer and meant that the only way to go was up,” he said.

Asked about his future plans, he responded that he never had any because he believed that it might set a person up for disappointment. When it is not stand-up comedy, Khai said that he would be doing smaller, creative venture on the side. He just likes keeping himself busy.

For those wanting to venture in comedy, Khai advised to “find your comedy voice. Do not copy other people’s material. Once you have something true to yourself, look out for an audition or a workshop. The local comedy scene is very nurturing and is taught by those who know their stuff.” Meanwhile, Tony’s exposure in comedy comes from his family (immediate and extended) who enjoy watching old films such as P Ramlee and the Warkop Trio (Dono, Kasino and Indro) as well as Mr Bean movies. He said that their daily lives would revolve around the references from the movies.

“Most of my work revolves around being and doing things formally. As an insurance agent, I would be presenting to my clients formally and professionally. As for my start-up company, I would pitch my company to investors similarly. On the flip side, I joke a lot with my colleagues about many things. Then, it just so happened that the founder of BruHaha, Zainal, offered a workshop on doing stand-up comedy. I took up the opportunity and the rest is history,” he said.

Tony is more into a story-telling style of comedy, where the subject covers the funny things he encountered on a daily basis.

“I write my own stories based on the observations of my daily life as well as how other people influence it. The BruHaha group will help with finding the funny side of my stories and help make it funny. It always starts with a 100 per cent original story and gets upgraded based on input from others. As I get on stage, 80-90 per cent of my materials would be inputs from others” he said.

On his time at MLM 2019, Tony said that he instantly did his homework when he got the call. “I watched a whole season of the 2018 competition and saw that chances of success were quite high as a group. On top of that I’ve only ever performed, never competed. Plus, Khai has quite a number of acting experiences and I don’t think I can ever hold the stage on my own,” he added.

“The MLM 2019 experience was overwhelming but in a great way. After the first week’s performance we understood each other’s strengths and weaknesses, to which we worked very hard to turn into a much better showing the next week.”

What he learnt from the competition was that language or accent is not the main barrier, but how to present the jokes to people from different countries or across cultures.

When asked whether he will be back for stand-ups, he responded that it is definite but not as of yet. As for future plans, Tony said that he hasn’t thought of it yet but he is hoping to give the regional stand-up comedy scene a try, at least by 2020, with Indonesia being his first stop.

Sharing some advice, he said, “If someone has ever laughed or giggled to any of your jokes and you have some interest in showing your brand of comedy to more people, then give BruHaha comedy a try. They run workshops once or twice a year. Do drop by and learn the basics of comedy first. Stand-up comedy is not the hardest thing to start doing and it’s never a challenge between you and your audience – it’s just you beating your last performance”.

For Tony, stand-up comedy is more than just expressing himself. It allows him to share – funny stories aren’t meant to be kept in a vault.