The company has taken on many projects, from Hari Raya light-up launch events and live comedy shows to organising tour packages to China and India. Most of these events and projects were anchored by Suhaimi's gregarious personality and he would be on the frontline, usually as a host.

He also produces VCDs and DVDs of his comedy skits distributed by regional record label Life Records. The first product, a comedy skit recorded live titled Keramat Bernisan Tiga (Three Sacred Gravestones), released in 2004, was, as he puts it, an experiment.

"I saw there was potential in the Malay VCD and DVD market even though everyone was telling me that they wouldn't sell."

He proved the naysayers wrong - 25,000 copies were sold in three weeks in Singapore alone, a figure unheard of in the local Malay entertainment industry. A sign of its popularity - pirated copies of the VCD - were making the rounds in Malaysia. Suhaimi says his industry contacts estimate that as many as 40,000 fake copies were sold.

In all, his discography of VCDs and DVDs have sold 100,000 legitimate copies.

His successful home video "experiment" is an example of the comedian's business acumen, says general manager of Life Records, Mr Osman Ariffin.

"People know him as a comedian but as a businessman, he is a man with ideas. He likes to think out of the box and he is not afraid to take risks."

Another risk that paid off was crossing over to English television when the producers of Channel 5 sitcom Living With Lydia offered him a cameo role as maintenance guy Sulaiman Yusof. His character became a hit with the audience and Suhaimi was written in as a permanent cast member. The sitcom, which starred the late Hong Kong comedian Lydia Sum, ran from 2001 to 2005.

"I had never taken on a regular acting role on Malay television before Living With Lydia. I was a little worried about having to memorise my lines, but I discovered that unlike live shows, everything was done in takes and you had plenty of time to memorise your scripts in between different scenes."

He was soon taking on roles in Channel 5 sitcoms such as Police & Thief, in which he starred opposite Channel 8 actor Mark Lee and eventually, multiple roles in The Noose, for which he won the Asian Television Awards accolade for his role in the show.

Getting regular exposure on English and Malay television means that Suhaimi is constantly approached by fans in public.

Yuhana, who is almost always by his side, says that she is used to it, as are their two sons Amirul, 17, and Sufi, 13, and daughter Nurjannah, 16.

Suhaimi says he did not have girlfriends before he started dating his wife, who was from a neighbouring secondary school. Although the couple met when he went to her school for Islamic religious knowledge classes, he asked her out only when he was serving national service.

"I had just graduated from Officer Cadet School and for the commissioning ball, we needed to bring a date. She was the only person I could think of."

Yuhana admits that she thought he was a "cool and funny" guy. "And yes, he was quite handsome in his uniform back then," she recalls with a smile.

Their elder son, Amirul, says that although Suhaimi often makes his children laugh, he can be quite the disciplinarian as well.

"He can be quite strict sometimes, especially when it comes to us fulfilling our religious obligations."

Despite being a celebrity, Suhaimi is adamant that he and his family live a simple lifestyle. Home is a four-room HDB flat in Serangoon and he drives an eight-year-old Hyundai SUV. He says: "I know some people have this mentality that if you're famous, you have to live in a big house and drive new cars. I don't need all those things. Right now, I have only two pairs of shoes that I intend to wear until they are worn out."

Now that the kids are older, he and his wife can afford to make more trips to Kuala Lumpur, where the comedian is trying to make a name for himself in the Malaysian entertainment industry.

The couple have a rented condominium in Kuala Lumpur and a maid helps to take care of the household in Singapore while they are away.

Television viewers across the Causeway recognise him as a finalist in the popular reality comedy television series Maharaja Lawak Mega which ran from late last year to January and Super Spontan earlier this year ("Spontan" is slang for spontaneous).

His stint in Maharaja Lawak Mega (Mega Emperor Of Comedy) has opened doors. He is directing and producing a 15-episode comedy series for cable channel Astro and has landed his first movie starring role in a Malay suspense film called Psycho in which he plays his first non-comedic role as a murder suspect.

"After spending 25 years in the industry in Singapore, it is time to expand my horizons and branch out to the bigger market in Malaysia. There are so many opportunities there."

Earlier this year, he caused a stir in the local Malay entertainment scene when he penned an open letter on his Facebook page criticising MediaCorp's Malay television station Suria for not showing enough appreciation for local talents. He called on his fellow Malay Singaporean artists to seek greener pastures in Malaysia instead.

"It was constructive criticism," he explains. "It wasn't a personal attack on anyone in Suria. It was meant to be a wake-up call to fellow artists that there are bigger things out there than just the local market and that they should seize the opportunities in Malaysia."

Suhaimi knows that he has not reached the level of stardom achieved by Aaron Aziz, the local actor who is one of the most popular movie and television stars across the Causeway.

"Aaron spent more than eight years building his career there, I've spent less than two so I'm still a beginner over there." In any case, Suhaimi says that he intends to become less actively involved in the entertainment industry in 10 years.

"Even after I retire, I'd like to still contribute to the entertainment scene by offering to pass on whatever knowledge I've accumulated over the years."

dinohadi@sph.com.sg


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