Published: Monday July 14, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday July 14, 2014 MYT 9:17:14 AM

Lessons from the road: Harith Iskander and his brand of Malaysian humour

The touring life is veteran comedian Harith Iskander’s tonic to keep punchlines fresh.

He is not a native Sicilian. And he is too animated to be a stony-faced Vito Corleone. But given the chance, homegrown comedian Harith Iskander can definitely sing for his supper and find humour in any situation – even if someone found a horse’s severed head placed in a bed.

Moving on from that gruesome scene in the classic Godfather movie, we have to say that Harith has played up his adopted role as “The Godfather of Malaysian Stand-up Comedy” rather well. Indeed, the comedian, of Malay and Scottish parentage, can be ruthlessly funny under the spotlight.

If you have seen Harith, 47, in action, he does stalk the stage, shoot from the hip and scowl at the crowd. More importantly, he always leaves the audience in stitches.

The comedian, who started entertaining the masses nearly 23 years ago in the Klang Valley circuit, has embraced this “Godfather” persona wholeheartedly in terms of hustling and networking – at home and abroad.

These days, the Johor Baru-born, Klang Valley-based Harith journeys far and wide with more foreign shows and curious fans.

“What I do or say on stage is very much up to the audience of that particular show. Yes, I would have a basic set list/ideas in my head, but when I get on stage it very often changes and I end up doing stuff on stage that I never planned to – and that sometimes turns out to be the best parts,” he says about taking humour on the road.

His current solo tour has seen the funnyman roar through recently concluded comedy club dates in Singapore and Jakarta in Indonesia.

There are more dates to keep him busy on the road, including upcoming shows in New Delhi (India), Perth (Australia), Hong Kong and Seoul (South Korea). We caught up with Harith to find out how things have been going on this comedy tour adventure.

Is comedy really a universal language? Does Malaysian humour travel well?

I have been performing stand-up comedy for 23 years and done shows all over the region and the response has been amazing.

I often get invited back to perform there again. And I’m talking about, from audiences who have no idea who I am.

At the end of the day, human nature is universal and most of my material is based on my observations of human nature. If what I do can be considered as “Malaysian humour” then I would say, yes, my brand of Malaysian humour travels very well!

How long are these shows on this tour? All of them solo sets?

The shows in each city go on for a minimum of 75 minutes and sometimes can go on to over 90 minutes. Each city that I go to will feature an opening act or a host from their own country.

For example in Singapore, I had two young Singaporean stand-up comedians open the show for me – Rishi Budhrani and Jinx Yeo – which was great because I got to share the stage with fellow comedians from a different country.

In New Delhi, I will have the honour of having Papa CJ (who is probably one of the best in the business in India) hosting my show and “introducing” me to the Indian audience.

By the way, if you think it’s always fun to be able to hang out with comedians before or after the show, let me tell you that comedians are some of the most dull and uninteresting people off stage (laughs)!

Has this tour abroad been a platform for more daring comedy routines compared to your material at home?

If by “daring” you mean I attempt to juggle knives while delivering a joke – no. Like I said earlier, much of my material which I do in Malaysia can “travel” so I don’t feel the need to say something I wouldn’t say in Malaysia.

A lot of comedians might use profanity, and do political or sexual jokes as a major part of their act, but I have never gone down that path. At the end of the day, I’m still representing my country and proud of it.

Despite your vast experience, are you still learning new things when it comes to the comedy business?

Absolutely! Every time I watch a comedian (be it new or experienced) I think there’s always something to learn from them (even if it’s what not to do on stage – it’s still a lesson).

And meeting and watching the younger comedians coming through the ranks is great because it keeps me on my toes – if you’re the only fish swimming around the pool it can get pretty boring.

Plus the experience of creating relationships with foreign comedians who come to Malaysia as well as catching up with them overseas when I travel is something you can’t get from a book (or should I say, a YouTube video).

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