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Benson Ang
Tuesday, Jul 8, 2014

Showbiz

Mirth makers

The Straits Times | Benson Ang | Tuesday, Jul 8, 2014

From left to right: Mr Hossan Leong, Ms Irene Ang, Mr Rishi Budhrani

Want a good laugh? Catch an up-and-coming home-grown comedian in action.

The stand-up comedy scene here is growing, with at least three weekly comedy nights springing up in the last four years. And the crowd at some of these venues has grown by as much as 10 times in the same period.

For example, the weekly open mic night Comedy Masala at The Vault bistro lounge in Circular Road sees about 200 people each time, compared to about 20 when it started in 2010 at the now-defunct Home Club.

A similar open mic night, Talk Cock Comedy, held by events company The Comedy Club Asia, draws about 120 people a night at the Blu Jaz Cafe in Bali Lane, up from 25 when it was launched in 2010.

Mr Heazry Salim, 39, The Comedy Club Asia's co-founder, says: "There's clearly a demand for stand-up comedy here. Laughter helps people to relax and unwind after work and more people are seeing it as an interesting way to spend their evenings."

Correspondingly, a new generation of funnymen (and women) - estimated to number about 25 to 30 - are taking to the mic.

In their 20s and early 30s, most of these newcomers have day jobs and began dabbling in comedy routines about three years ago.

Their evenings are typically spent performing wherever a stand-up comedy night is being held - usually at a bar or pub - to gain exposure.

One such up-and-coming talent is Rishi Budhrani, 30, who has been performing regularly since 2011 at Comedy Masala.

Last Tuesday, he told a finance executive in the audience: "Did you watch The Wolf Of Wall Street? That movie is all about sex, drugs and debauchery, and your life is nothing like that, is it?"

As the audience burst out in giggles, the executive shrugged his shoulders, smiling good-naturedly.

On Wednesdays, expect to see Budhrani at Talk Cock Comedy. And on Fridays, he will likely be performing at The Butter Factory's weekly stand-up event, Fridays With Fuzz. This is hosted by his friend, fellow stand-up comedian Fakkah Fuzz.

Budhrani, who runs a corporate training and events company by day, says: "I came into stand-up comedy as a personal challenge as it's probably the most difficult type of public speaking.

"But it's really grown on me. I enjoy the fact that I can share my views about the world and make people laugh at the same time."

Adds Fuzz, 27, whose real name is Muhd Fadzri Abd Rashid: "I love it when audiences get the jokes I write. These are based on my observations of life in general, and it's great when I can express them and am understood."

He used to work as a stunt performer at Universal Studios Singapore, but became a full-time comedian in February after securing his own regular gig with The Butter Factory.

"If you want to do something, you have to put your heart and soul into it," he says.

He declines to reveal how much his pay cut is after switching jobs and would only say: "I can still eat but, of course, cannot eat lobster."

While these comedians are coy about their rates, industry players estimate that a newbie can earn $800 to $1,500 to write and perform a 30-minute segment.

Bigger names can command $5,000 or more for the same job.

The new crop of comedians, who include Jinx Yeo, 34, Zulkarnain Sadali, 24, and Sharul Channa, 27, are all friends.

In fact, Budhrani is married to Channa, one of the few female comedians in the scene.

Channa, who is currently on tour in India, where she is performing with Indian stand-up comedians Aditi Mittal and Atul Khatri, says: "With comedy, I can be myself. I'm in-your-face by nature, so comedy is the perfect fit for me."

Of course, life is not always a hoot. The rising talents say the biggest challenge they face is having to figure out what their audience finds funny.

Fuzz says: "Every crowd is different. Whenever I walk into a club, I have no idea what the audience likes. I can only sense this when I'm onstage, so everything has to be done on the spot.

"I always keep two or three go-to jokes as a safety net so I can move the set forward."

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