Still celebrating the success of his first ever Netflix comedy special, ‘Everybody Calm Down,’ Malaysian stand-up comedian Kavin Jay sits down with Priscilla Emmanuel and Sarah Anne Lee to talk about his latest comedy album ‘Let’s Get Ready to Grumble.’
Known for his side-splitting witticisms from his days on RedFM, former engineer turned professional funny man has pretty much done it all it would seem. From managing comedy gigs, to having hilarious yet thought-provoking conversations on his Facebook livestream of ‘The Papi and Grumpy Show’, to even providing rib-tickling commentary on his IGTV cooking series, to daily Twitter rants that double as micro-comedy for his audience, Kavin Jay is really setting his stage of comedic reckoning, and we’re here for it.
How and when did you get started in comedy? Was it during your time spent on radio?
I started about 14 years ago (circa 2006) and I was actually doing comedy before I worked in radio. I was studying in the UK then, and something I loved doing there was going to comedy shows. I had no interest to perform, I just loved enjoying a good show. After graduating and returning home, I realised that there were about 2-3 well known stand-up comedians in Malaysia at the time; big names like Jit Murad, Harith Iskandar, and Joanne Kam. Basically, there would be a show roughly every three months, and I had to wait for them. I figured, rather than wait for a show why not do it myself? How hard could it be after all, you just stand there and crack jokes!
So I got together a big group of my friends, around 150 of them, and we put together a comedy show at which I pretty much bombed terribly! With most of the audience being people I knew, the reception to my jokes was a lot of charitable and insincere laughing. It was a painful experience to say the least, but I was actually really glad I got to tick that off my bucket list. But that show got me an invitation to perform at an open mic night at The Actors Studio in Bangsar back then, and I thought why not? It wasn’t as terrible as the first time, and it dawned on me that I just need a lot more practice at this. It could only get better right? I was still working as an engineer at the time, so getting comedy acts became a side gig for me.
Things started picking up for Kavin when small scale events would take place and people were on the lookout for stand-up performers. Seeing as the pioneers of Malaysian comedy at the time were quite expensive to hire, Kavin fondly recalls the offers made to him in return for his showmanship.
“Being a novice at the time, people would call me up and ask me to do a show and they’ll generously compensate me with a couple of beers and a high five. Seeing as my MO in doing comedy back then was hopefully, to pick up chicks, so getting to drink for free worked out to be a pretty good bonus. It took about 4 years for me to learn to get better at my style of comedy, and figure out my audience,” Kavin tells us with a twinkle in his eye.
It took several years of performing locally with other comics when KL Comedy Club opened, and international acts started coming in. Local comedians like Kavin would perform as opening acts for international comics, and it turned out to be a different learning curve. Kavin tells us that himself and the rest of the local comedians would get great tips and advice their more experienced counterparts on how to fine tune their delivery.
With shows coming in thick and fast, Kavin found himself to be quite in demand, and it wasn’t long after this that he got his stint on RedFM.
How does one become a comedian apart from being naturally talented in making people laugh?
To be honest, I had no clue. I did not know how it worked or where to begin. All I did was tell funny anecdotes that I witnessed with friends and family. I did not know what went into writing jokes, and it was only after I started that I realised how technical it all was. It was purely through trial and error that I learnt a great joke needed to have the all-important trifecta of intro, set up, and finally, the punchline. I started out thinking that I’d do fine as long as I swore a lot, but obviously that’s not how it goes down.
Over time I saw how when a joke truly worked, it was because I used the winning formula, and eventually, I developed a style that was uniquely mine. Naturally, it’s different for everyone and it all depends on the kind of audience you hope to entertain. And apart from studying other comics, I found it to be very important to study video recordings of yourself to note which areas to improve on.
We’d like to pick your brain on one of your recent online shows (The Papi and Grumpy Show on Facebook) where you express your dissatisfaction on how race politics is constantly played out in Malaysia. Do you feel that comedians are forced to get political nowadays especially with the scrutiny that comes with having a large following?
I’m actually the least political comic because I don’t really pay much attention to that scene given the sometimes ludicrous drama that unfolds. However, I do feel as stand-up comedians, we hold up that mirror up to society when we do decide to speak up on certain issues. It goes back to the saying that comedy is born out of tragedy. So when something big and important is happening around us, we want to be able to use it as part of our material because we can hold up that mirror, and draw attention to things that really need to be addressed.
After all, we all now live in societies where we laugh at our politicians and we take our comedians seriously. And that in itself is ironic as it gets because we stand the risk of being arrested for calling something out, while our politicians get away with all kinds of inflammatory remarks.
Following up with that, do you feel like there’s an expectation put on you to reveal your opinions on important movements happening in our society?
I think it really depends. I only start talking about something when I feel convicted enough. The video you are referring to saw me talking about our political system that operates based on racially segregated parties and why it’s so ineffective. That wasn’t even scripted, it was just myself and Zak (fellow comedian Papi Zak) having a conversation at four in the morning during MCO when the topic came up, and I went on a rant! The previous episode to that I had a lot to say about the unoriginal and repetitive “entertainment” churned out by local media on a daily basis that also got a lot of hits because many people resonated with it. So speaking for myself, what I bring to the table is articulation of things that affect me as a Malaysian.
In effect, it’s actually helped me to learn how to “dance the line” when I do talk about whatever that’s deemed controversial. I have my ways of getting my point across without ruffling the wrong feathers; something I picked up from when I was on radio and having to engage with my audience in a much more controlled setting.
Please tell us how did you land your Netflix special ‘Everybody Calm Down’ and why was it shot in Singapore rather than here?
I’m going to say that it was purely being at the right place at the right time. I was involved with Harith Iskandar’s show that became the first Malaysian comedy special on Netflix (I Told You So). I was helping out backstage when Harith came and told me ‘“good luck!”’ and that I was to open for him! Apparently he had informed everyone that I was his opening act, but had completely forgotten to let me know.
I managed to do my 10 minute set with zero preparation, but the audience was great and we all had a really good time. The Netflix people were there too, and they were on the lookout for other Malaysian comics that night and I got approached after the show.
The only reason it was shot in Singapore was because of budgeting expenses, so I performed one show right after Fakkah Fuzz performed his special ‘Almost Banned’ with the same audience. I was having a full on panic attack backstage while Fuzz was on, but the audience was just fantastic that night and they gave me the same amazing energy as the previous set, even at their expense! They rolled with my jokes about Singaporeans (something I actually fretted over a little) and it was a really organic and enjoyable interaction that you will see played out on screen.
What can your audiences expect from your new audio comedy album, ‘Let’s Get Ready to Grumble’ and how different is it to ‘Everybody Calm Down’?
It’s completely different as I’m using all new material. The reason I chose to do an audio album this time is because I actually really enjoy audio shows. With a video recording, you’ve got to be present in front of a screen to follow it whereas audio shows allow you to free up your other senses and get on with your day while you’re still taking in content. It’s referred to as the “theatre of the mind” where your imagination is engaged in a different way. You tend to put yourself in the scenarios or stories you’re listening to that creates a whole other subconscious experience. In a lot of ways although comedy albums are a thing of the past, I feel that there’s a very personal element that comes with it that you don’t get from just watching it on screen instead. Because the voice you’re listening to almost sounds like it’s in your head, and you engage with it much more personally.
If you haven’t already, make sure to catch Kavin Jay’s rollicking Netflix comedy special ‘Everybody Calm Down’ and his latest comedy album available on Spotify and Apple iTunes called ‘Let’s Get Ready to Grumble.’ Enjoy daily doses of chucklesome hilarity by Kavin on his social media handles of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram under his name.
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