Kuala Lumpur , 30 Dec 2016
It may be difficult to imagine now, but there was a time when the idea of stand-up comedy was almost alien to most Malaysians.
Actor and comedian Harith Iskander recalled how, back in the 1990s, people would react to his performances at corporate shows with confusion.
“In Malaysia, we didn’t have a culture of stand-up comedy. Unless you had been overseas, or had been exposed to Western culture at the time, you wouldn’t have heard of it. For the first 10 to 12 years I did a show, I would see at least three quarters of the audience look at me like ‘what is he doing?’,” Harith recalled.
“In the early days, I was mostly educating audiences on what stand up comedy was, for those who hadn’t seen it. And I’d know they hadn’t seen it because they’d come up to me after the show, saying they really enjoyed my ‘talk show’. They didn’t know how else to explain it!”
Those early audiences, however, may have been on to something. Today, almost three decades later, Harith, 50, is not only a household name, one of the most well-known comedians in the country, but also the host of a successful talk show, Obviously Harith Iskander!
Known affectionately as ‘The Godfather of Malaysian Stand-Up Comedy’, Harith proved recently that his appeal also extends internationally, after he beat 88 other comedians from around the world to win the 2016 Funniest Person in the World competition.
The famed funnyman achieved the most votes in the finals, held in Levi, Lapland, earlier this month, to take home the title and prize money of US$100,000 (RM444,845).
In preparing for the Funniest Person in the World finals, Harith said he had chosen material from his 26 years of experience in comedy which he felt would resonate with audiences everywhere.
“I need to use material that is instantly recognisable, that no matter who is watching worldwide, people will be able to get it. But I’m going to maintain my Malaysian-ness. It will definitely be material about how Malaysians see the world, and how we live our lives,” Harith said, speaking in an interview a week before the finals.
His strategy worked like a charm because Harith took home the big prize.
“I’m absolutely grateful to have fans all over Malaysia, Southeast Asia, Denmark, Britain, Denmark, and Australia to supportme. It’s never possible without my fans!” he said.
It’s certainly been a big year for Harith: not only did he do well in stand-up internationally, his talk show, which is broadcast on Astro Awani, also received critical acclaim. Since its launch earlier this year, Obviously Harith Iskander has gained over 95,000 followers on its social media pages, and picked up two Gold awards at the Asian Digital Media Awards 2016.
“The show surpassed my expectations. We contacted people I wanted on the show, and I ended up getting almost everyone I wanted who was available,” said Harith, naming Air Asia CEO Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, CIMB Group chairman Datuk Seri Nazir Tun Razak and Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim as some of his most distinguished guests.
“The guest list was my wish list. It’s not always that your wishes come true, but in this case they did! We were working on a fairly tight budget, but my team and the team from Awani really pushed it through. It was just an incredible experience!”
His favourite experiences on the show, he said, were getting to speak to the Crown Prince of Johor, and also to meet Malaysian athlete Datuk Nicol David.
“She’s just in a class of her own. No other sports person has achieved what she has, having maintained being top of her game for so long. And she’s so humble, and so real. Having her on the show, and getting to know how nice she is was so humbling,” Harith said.
Harith has a big year ahead of him: there’s Season 2 of Obviously Harith Iskander, which he’s planning together with his wife Dr Jezamine Lim, the show’s Executive Producer.
He’s also looking into the second edition of the Kuala Lumpur International Comedy Festival, one of the biggest celebrations of comedy in Malaysia. (Harith was curator of the first edition, which was held in 2015).
Additionally, the title of Funniest Person in the World competition also comes with a United States tour, which Harith is certainly excited about.
Malaysian comedy has certainly come a long way, and Harith is a firm believer in its power to bring people together.
“At every show I do, whether there is 100 people or 9,000 people, you have everyone under one roof all laughing together. There is no colour, or race, or age, or whatever, just everyone enjoying themselves. I believe in the power of comedy to unify people,”
Sources : http://www.star2.com/topics/year-ender-2016/2016/12/30/harith-iskander-is-obviously-the-funniest/