24 of Asia’s funniest people get together for a new TV series

SINGAPORE, Aug 23 — Six years ago, if you had mentioned that stand-up comedy would be a big thing in Singapore, you’d probably have been laughed at.

And not in a good way.

But these days, stand-up comedy has gained a foothold in the entertainment and nightlife scene.

There are dedicated comedy festivals, such as the Singapore Comedy Fringe Festival, while other festivals, such as Beerfest Asia, now have a stand-up comedy segment.

There are stand-up comedy shows on stage, such as Happy Ever Laughter and The Kings and Queens of Comedy Asia.

Top comedians from around the world — Margaret Cho, Russell Peters, John Cleese, among others — have performed to full houses here.

And now, Comedy Central Asia has decided to create its own series featuring stand-up comedians, called Stand-Up, Asia!, which premieres today at 8.55pm.

Featuring 24 stand-up comedians from Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, The Philippines, Pakistan, Thailand, India and Indonesia, as well as Asian comedians from Canada and the United States, the eight-part series was shot at the LOL comedy club in Kuala Lumpur in front of an audience.

Each week, three comedians will take to stage to tickle the audience’s funny bone.

“I think it’s great that Comedy Central is shining the spotlight on Asian comedy,” said Umar Rana, one of the comedians who will be featured in the show.

“This is our time.”

The Pakistani expat may not be a homegrown hero like Joseph Schooling, but Umar certainly deserves a medal for helping to kickstart and fuel the stand-up comedy scene in Singapore (and some might say, South-east Asia, too).

Back in 2010, Umar convinced the owners of the former Home Club at Riverwalk to dedicate a night to open mic sessions for stand-up comedy.

He called it Comedy Masala and it was meant to give anyone a chance to learn and perform stand-up comedy to a live audience.

While local comedians such as Kumar or Hossan Leong have, for years, slipped in a stand-up comedy routine in their shows, those show were more theatrical performances and actual stand-up comedy, which is just the comedian and his mic on stage, said Umar.

But it wasn’t easy getting the public’s attention.

“In the first few months, there were times when the comedians outnumbered the audience,” he said.

“But then it started picking up and now the average attendance has been like, 150 people, per show, every week.”

In fact, several of today’s top stand-up comedians cut their teeth at Comedy Masala, including comedy couple Sharul Channa and Rishi Budhrani (both of whom will also be appearing in the TV series, albeit in separate segments), as well as Fakkah Fuzz and Jinx Yeo, whom Umar called “the best comedian from Singapore at the moment”.

“In terms of content and delivery… Jinx is a very intelligent comedian,” he said.

Comedy Masala was also instrumental in fueling the scene in South-east Asia, when it started booking comedians from around the region to perform in Singapore.

Conversely, Singapore comedians started getting gigs around the region too. In 2013, there was the Comedy Masala Show, hosted by Umar and featuring the open mic performances.

“It was like an exchange programme,” said Umar.

“All of a sudden there was a real spark within the comedy scene in Southeast Asia, with Singapore at the hub of all that … and the community just kept getting bigger and bigger and the comedians kept getting better and better.”

Comedy Masala now happens every Tuesday at the club, CATO, along South Bridge Road.

But Umar said that comedy fans should also check out Stand-Up, Asia!.

“You’re going to be really surprised at the quality of the comedy,” he said.

“There are some really funny people around. You can see the audience laughing — they’re not prepped or anything — they had a really great time.”

It only takes a spark to get a fire going, so the old song goes. Going by the way the scene has grown, this fire could be going on for quite a long time. — TODAY