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A set meal of Asian humour

A set meal of Asian humour
Rhonda Dredge

The art of stand-up comedy was obviously far more demanding for this group of five entertainers than stepping up to a mike and telling a few jokes.

These were cultural commentators from Asia, here to analyse everything from food to customs as part of the Comedy Festival.

Even though parents were clearly causing most of the hassles for the young performers in Best of Comedy Zone Asia, there were a few swipes at Aussies.

For Sonali Thakker from India, who has just launched her first one-woman show, her father was the bane of her existence.

He was never phoning just to say, “hi”, but always beginning with a piece of advice.

“‘Remember to talk to people more intelligent than you’, he said recently. So, I hung up on him.”

Worse still was her mother when she tried bridging the generation gap and posted “remove your bikini” under a Facebook selfie of her daughter.

Sonali joined stand-ups from Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia in what we might call a poignant and amusing take on cultural mores, and they were calling “a nice, delectable set meal”.

The ability to laugh at yourself is the crux of stand-up as performers search through their language banks to find the words that describe that awkward feeling.

While Sonali looked like a typical student in jeans and white joggers, Sakdiyah Ma’ruff, the first female Muslim comedian from Indonesia, was in more traditional clothes and was doing it hard just being on the stage.

“I told my parents the show was a scholarship,” she said. “I’ve been in 17 years of lockdown.”

Humour is big in India with most TV advertisements now relying on a laugh and even performers like Anriban Dasgupta with his movie star looks preferring the mic to the desk where he worked as a corporate salesman.

Both he and Sonali made clever use of this sole prop on an empty stage, the mic becoming a judo partner for Sonali’s routine as she tried to please her father and when there was feedback, a sign for Anriban that the Indian embassy was listening in.

“India is fast becoming the largest dictatorship,” he said, looking around nervously with a sly smile.

The finale was provided by Douglas Lim, a prize-winning comedian from Malaysia, with his hilarious rendition of Square Pegs, a TV sitcom that is never sad enough for its Chinese audience.

He stole the show with his grovelling on the floor, self-parody, and lack of professional standing among the corporates who phone and want to employ him to tell a few jokes at their functions.

“‘Is that Duck-less Lim?’ they say. They make me sound like a bad Chinese restaurant. Duck-less Lim. Duck-less Lim. A few jokes. It reduces my craft. This is the art centre not the joke centre. I hold a mirror to society.”

Melbourne received a few digs as well from this intelligent crew. The city became famous in Malaysia during the lockdown when the virus was spreading despite quarantine because of the behaviour of the guards who “were taking off their clothes” instead of taking precautions.

Compere for the evening was Fakkah Fuzz, a Malay from Singapore, who added spice to this set meal of Asian humour with his digs at “uneducated” Malaysians.

All in all, Best of Comedy Zone Asia was an intelligent, edgy, and well-rehearsed show that did not depend on daggy and obvious audience participation.

Best of Comedy Zone Asia, Fairfax Studio, until April 23. •

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