'YBeeee' returns to the big stage to unleash the unity groove

YBeeee, the smarmy MP of Ulu Katak and the Deputy Minister of Kickbacks and Comebacks, makes a return in 'Cafe Night Live! Edisi X', where he tries to play nice to win more hearts and minds. Photo: Instant Cafe Theatre

Comedian Kuah Jenhan is looking forward to his interview with the gleefully opinionated YBeeee at Instant Cafe Night Live! Edisi X at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre’s Plenary Hall this Saturday (March 18).

He’s expecting this meeting to draw a crowd that’s interested in current affairs, while the brashly over-confident YBeeee is convinced they are all there for him and his razor-sharp wit. It is time to talk politics, says this politician. But mostly, he thinks, it is time to talk about me.

YBeeee is a satirical character played by Jo Kukathas, Instant Cafe Theatre co-founder and award-winning actor-writer-director. He is a smarmy politician who is a straight talker (in his mind) and a slimy chameleon (to others).

“He shifts according to what is going on in the country. Last year during Instant Cafe Night Live Edisi Banjir, a show I did at the height of our collective anger at the last administration, he was a much more sinister character, plotting in the shadows while sneaking out during the MCO for durian parties," says Kukathas, 60, in a recent interview.

During Najib’s era, he stole and stole and but he made it clear this was nothing new, we just mudah lupa. During Badawi’s Prime Ministership he was a shadowy puppet master controlling Pak Lah in LalaLand. In Tun Mahathir’s time, he was in the Ministry of Misinformation and Breaking Records and often appeared in a TV show called Only Money Matters. He was weaselly, recalcitrant, arrogant, invincible. If people unrest, he said, we will arrest,” she adds.

YBeeee first came on the scene in 1990, in the early days of Instant Cafe Theatre in KL where his first public appearance was a sketch where two YBs hold a press conference to address rumours of in-fighting. In this press conference, YBeeee and Zahim Albakri’s YB proceed to say terrible things about each other while pretending to be very supportive.

“I remember one of Zahim’s lines in response to my calling his character two-faced was, ‘It is true my esteemed colleague does not have two faces. If he had two faces do you think his wife would let him out wearing this one?’ My YBeeee character was always the one who was ugly, a bit of a loser and frankly a bit needy compared to Zahim’s more suave, cosmopolitan YB,” she recalls.

Kukathas (left) and Kuah getting animated during a rehearsal for 'Instant Cafe Night Live! Edisi X'. Photo: The Star/Glenn Guan Kukathas (left) and Kuah getting animated during a rehearsal for 'Instant Cafe Night Live! Edisi X'. Photo: The Star/Glenn Guan

Over the years, YBeee has played opposite many other actors playing YB characters, including Afdlin Shauki, Harith Iskander and Indi Nadarajah. Being only a deputy minister and never a minister, he was always the less powerful one. Not that he really minds not being Number One; the plotting and planning how to stay in power is what drives him.

“He always wants to be liked. Maybe that’s why he uses humour to win people over. But over the years, he has become more assertive. He was hen-pecked by his wife, but later found love with his Chinese girlfriend, Cindy,” explains Kukathas.

Hats off to YBeee for being so adaptable in a world where the only constant is change. With a new government running our country in a cautiously optimistic post-pandemic time, even as the threat of an economic recession looms over us, what is the YBeee we will see when he takes to the main stage later this week?

Let’s all get along

“In this show he’s trying to figure out how to be in a coalition government. But he’s philosophical. He knows politics makes strange bedfellows and he has been in bed with some very strange fellows – just ask his wife. But he concludes that the good thing about strange bedfellows is that they keep you on your toes. And sometimes on your elbows. And sometimes on your elbows, knees and toes ... And he wants to be as philosophical as Anwar (Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim) in putting Descartes before the horse,” says Kukathas.

Kuah, as the “special correspondent” of the show, hopes that he will finally get the best of the sleazy politician with his hard-hitting questions. He has sat down with YBeee for interviews numerous times throughout the years, even if this politician is hardly the most pleasant interviewee. It does sound like Kuah is a total glutton for punishment but it is also because he is idealistic and hopes that one day, he will get YBeee to understand the people’s plight.

Of course, it could also be that YBeee has attempted to bribe him plenty of times in the past. Kuah is not telling us whether it has ever worked, but he is proud to announce that he has steeled his heart against temptation this time.

“I don’t want to like YBeee but sometimes he is just too charming and generous as he will bring me gifts, which I now realise I should not accept! Sometimes he makes me like him, so this is what I hope to overcome. For this upcoming show my strategy is to make sure the gate to my heart is locked tight and I will be on the ball and put YBeee in the hot seat.

“People can expect a lot of hilarity as I put YBeee under the spotlight, hoping he waxes lyrical about his political prowess only for me to show him it is more dated than ever. I plan to ask about topics that the new generation are passionate about like climate change. I will also be questioning YBeee about Madani, why he only wears red on social media during Chinese New Year, and most importantly, the rising cost of chicken,” says Kuah.

Because YBeee prides himself on having his finger on the pulse of the nation, the audience can expect him to bring up AI and ChatGPT, the local movies Pulau and Mentega Terbang, MACC, the investigation of his former friends, the recession and how to tighten your belt, his new book on economic reform called “YBnomics” and Anthony Loke (mainly because he is jealous of the Minister of Transport’s popularity).

Love him or hate him

YBeee aspires to connect with youths and one suspects Kuah is – or was – part of this vision. But even our young-at-heart special correspondent cannot pretend to be “Forever 21”.

Kuah will be turning 36 this year, but please don’t tell YBeee this.

'I didn’t know when I first played them that people would take to them so much. Maybe because they aren’t characters at all. I don’t think I created them as much as I was possessed by them! I’m just a channel, a vehicle,' says Kukathas (holding her cat Lucy) about her characters YBeeee and Curry Spice. Photo: The Star/Glenn Guan'I didn’t know when I first played them that people would take to them so much. Maybe because they aren’t characters at all. I don’t think I created them as much as I was possessed by them! I’m just a channel, a vehicle,' says Kukathas (holding her cat Lucy) about her characters YBeeee and Curry Spice. Photo: The Star/Glenn Guan

“Unfortunately, I am no longer considered young by society. In fact, my own mother has given up on asking me to date and to get married. However, compared to YBeee, I am definitely young. I hope that my ‘youngness’ and maturity will help me be a solid representative for the youth,” he says.

With or without Kuah, YBeee is going to keep going. Not one for subtleties, his theme song for Edisi X is Destiny’s Child’s Survivor.

Kukathas has said that the character isn’t exactly her favourite person in the world, so what gives? Yes, the audience can’t get enough of him, but is that why she keeps trotting him out?

“Ybeee loves coming out to play. I’ve tried to box him up but he always finds his way out. After playing him for over 30 years I’ve come to understand what makes him tik. And TikTok. That’s the thing about being an actor, you have to give life and then inhabit the characters you play. You can’t judge them, you have to be empathetic.

“I have grown weirdly fond of this sick, power hungry old man. I have noticed that he often speaks the truth, mostly without intending to but also sometimes because he is arrogant enough to speak the uncomfortable truth. In this show he is trying to compromise, he is trying to be mature and play nice. Or maybe he’s just fooling me! A leopard doesn’t change his spots. We’ve seen that,” says Kukathas.

Besides YBeee, Kukathas will also be playing another character, the vivacious Curry Spice from Sentul, star of “Keeping Up With The Coomarasamys” and the only member of her own girl band, “The Asian Spice Girls”. Curry Spice will be interviewed by the “host” of the show, (pop jazz singer) Sean Ghazi, who will also be singing.

Kukathas finds a kindred spirit in the sassy Curry, describing her as truthful and more outspoken than YBeee, who has no qualms telling a lie if it can further his agenda.

“I like Curry because she’s less compromising, she’s wild, she swears, she’s loud, she’s argumentative, she speaks about taboo subjects, she represents freedom, she wants to live her best, most honest and authentic life, which isn’t always easy in Malaysia. I wish I was more like her. But I guess that’s why I created her. She can say the things I can’t. Or don’t. Be the person I’m not. She’s clever, she’s sexy, she’s funny. She’s confident. She will bite your head off. But she is full of love and hope,” she says.

Modelled after a late night talk show format, Instant Cafe Night Live! Edisi is presented by Instant Cafe Theatre and Shiraz Projects. The sight of local comedy shows taking on major venues in the Klang Valley is also an encouraging sign.

“It’s The Late Late Show mixed with The Today Show mixed with Saturday Night Live with a dose of Monty Python. YBeee I think is Pythonesque,” says Kukathas.

Kuah is as enthusiastic about the show as he is with the interview with YBeee, calling it “the funniest satirical show Malaysia has right now”.

“People who are looking for a solid two hours of witty writing and engaging entertainment should come. On top of that, you also get to be swooned by Sean Ghazi and Tria Aziz. If this isn’t a guaranteed fab time, I don’t know what is,” he concludes.

Instant Cafe Night Live! Edisi X is on March 18 (8.30pm) at the Plenary Hall, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. More info here.

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