It was death that jolted marine engineer-turned-comedian Kavin Jayaram (aka Kavin Jay) to take stock of his life and pursue his heart’s desire.
The year was 2006, and Kavin’s older brother Dheepak had died of a heart attack just two weeks short of his 30th birthday.
Dheepak had been much involved in the stand-up comedy scene. For years, he had encouraged Kavin to go for it, as he could see his potential.
Kavin had in fact been drawn to stand-up comedy while he was studying in Newcastle, England, from 1998 to 2002, but did not give it a try until Dheepak’s death.
So comedy became an outlet that also gave him the courage to carry on and live life to the fullest.
“When I was studying in Britain, I went to many comedy shows and I was attracted to the art, but only as a spectator. When I came home, I realised that there weren’t many comedians who had shows often. I thought, this was something I could do.
“One day in 2006, after my brother had passed away and I thought life was way too short to put things off, I decided to get 150 of my friends together in a pub, with Andrew Netto, and we did a show,” says Kavin, 38, in an interview.
“My cousin Andrew is a well-established comedian. We started at the same time. I kinda dragged him along to do a show because he’s a funny guy. He does much better than I do.
“He was picked up by Harith Iskander to open for him, leaving me to dredge the open mic scene until I was ready. He did really well, but I didn’t do well at all. I thought that was it, but it kept pulling me back – I kept getting calls to do shows, and I kept doing it. Eventually, I grew in talent and I started to take it more seriously.”
Since his debut in 2006, Kavin has performed in numerous shows, both locally and abroad. Coming up soon is his nationwide Anger Management comedy tour from Aug 3 to 18 at selected TGV cinemas.
Remembering his former job, Kavin says that he was a Petronas scholar and, in a way, was contracted to work for them. He was a marine engineer for about five years before he left to pursue comedy. And while doing comedy on the side, he worked as a mechanical engineer.
About five years ago, he was retrenched – so that’s when he became a full-time comedian.
Kavin recalls his more memorable performances: “I have done so many shows in my 12-year career: Pajama Festival (in Mumbai), The Singapore Comedy Fringe Festival, Perth Fringe Festival and even Edinburgh Fringe festival. These shows are the ones I am most proud of, since I brought the Malaysian sense of humour to international shores, and showed them that we could easily be as funny as, if not funnier than, anyone else.”
Asked if his family members attend his comedy shows, Kavin replies: “My dad came to a show once – my solo show called Daddy Issues. I think he liked it, I am not sure. We never spoke about it.
“My family still thinks comedy is a phase that I am going through – they don’t understand that this is my career. Most of them still think that I am an engineer; they don’t quite understand that someone could have a life doing what I do,” he quips.
A married man with one child, Kavin describes her as “a very rebellious five-year-old ... the kid, not the wife”.
He also reveals that he collects toys for a hobby, and then adds: “It is awkward when you have more toys than your child. I love Legos and other buildable toys that I do to destress.”
He draws inspiration – and new material for his shows – from his own life and the people around him.
“I have great stories to tell. To quote someone else, ‘Comedians are people who make bad choices in life and tell the stories on stage’. So that is what I do, I tell stories about my life, and most people seem to relate to them. I have so many stories I want to share, and I guess my embarrassments hopefully will make people laugh.
“I have so many uncles and cousins who drink themselves silly and are super hilarious. So, I just sit there quietly, sober, and jot down all the dumb things they say. When the alcohol is flowing, so is the comedy. Some of the s#*! they come up with is gold!” he says.
He describes his brand of humour as storytelling, full of emotion, peppered with awkwardness and “a dash of things you want to forget”.
“I tell stories of my bad decisions in life and the consequences of my actions. My sense of humour should appeal to everyone, but my manager thinks I should market to ages above 18.”
Kavin shares that since he has used up all the good material for his debut Netflix Original (Kavin Jay: Everybody Calm Down!), he’s had to start from scratch and compile new ideas all over again – which is no easy feat.
“For the first time in my career, I am starting from a clean sheet. It takes a lot of soul-searching and open mics to test them out, working out my craft on and off stage. Open mics are like a gym for a comedian, working out material that will be moulded into gems that will eventually find themselves in a show,” he shares.
Just how did he land this Netflix Original?
“To be honest, it is a bit of a shock to get a Netflix special. I thought, to get a special, I had to be like a comedy god, like (Dave) Chapelle or (Jerry) Seinfeld, but it happened. It still hasn’t sunk in completely. I thought at first that it probably won’t go very far and not many people from outside of South-East Asia will watch it, but I have been getting plenty of love and appreciation from all over the world, and it has been great.
“It is a great boost, not only for me but for the entire Asian stand-up community where they have a goal to aim for, and getting a Netflix Special (or from any other network) is not completely out of reach.”