Kumar's Living Together

​Ng Yi-Sheng

August 7, 2015

So let’s talk about what happened last night at Kumar’s Living Together.

First off, I got lost. Turns out that Block 464 Upper Serangoon Road is in a completely different place from 464 Upper Serangoon Road. 

The program booklet did not supply a map or a postal code (though I hear the online resource had a postal code). I arrived at the wrong address, near Serangoon, at 7:55pm, witnessing lost souls wandering the pavements everywhere searching for the comedy show.

Me and my boyfriend picked up these two lost souls and grabbed a cab to the right place. And how did I figure out the right place?  I had Noorlinah’s phone number. Siggghhh.

(This is really the fault of the urban planners rather than SIFA’s. But I am aggrieved.)

As for the actual show… well,  as I said last night, the audience members I interviewed were being surprisingly uncritical.

Kumar himself was in good form, mind you. No drag, but it’s a community show, all about social cohesion, la-di-dah, so of course he had to be on his best behaviour, offending no-one. 

But he did take risks! He joked that his mother told him not to hold girls’ hands so he held boys’ hands; he made jokes about Chinese people being so pale that if we put on skin whitening creams we’d become transparent.

The whole construct was very forced, though: him running into various stock characters representing different communities (seniors, yuppies, new citizens) who each bantered with him about their differing perspectives on life. Chemistry wasn’t always there.

As for his guest stars… I missed Koh Chieng Mun (who was playing a cancer-surviving auntie) and came in late for Zaliha Hamid (who was playing an affable stereotypical makcik). So I can really only comment on Sharul Channa and Shane Mardjuki, who were each problematic in very different ways.

Channa played an upwardly mobile twenty-something banker, utterly deracinated from her roots – e.g. she refuses to eat with her hands like her parents, because she’s worried about ruining her manicure. And boy, she took no prisoners with her satire. She talked about how she hung out exclusively with expats at work rather than locals; told us she’d Instagram our faces under #bukittimah because #serangoon would be too unglam…

But she wasn’t campy enough. She played it too straight, too believably. I think a lot of the audience was confused about whether they should laugh. 

Mardjuki, by contrast, was all about energy and camp and obvious jokes. He played this foreign talent guy who lerrrrvvvves Singapore, and is all too willing to speak Singlish badly and make social faux pas in Geylang and obey the many laws which he’s written down on an infinite scroll.

Yet he does not commit to a specific foreign accent. He sounds like a mix of French, Italian and Russian, all of it coming out of a clearly Asian person’s mouth.  Was he trying to avoid making fun of a specific ethnicity? Was he directed to do this by worried officials? Maybe. But the result just sounds kind of sloppy.

And then Mardjuki starts to recite the pledge (despite playing a foreigner, mind you), and everyone gets in a row and says it in the four national languages.This feels REALLY uncomfortable. We go straight from slapstick to heavy-duty patriotism, and the end result is that the pledge sounds fake.

And of course someone started to giggle when Kumar did it in Tamil. 

Us Singaporeans are horrible people.

But let’s get real here. Just because I’m being picky about this show doesn’t mean other people didn’t like it. Many of them did! Free show, after all. And we got some risqué stand-up into the heartland, setting a precedent for future SIFAs. 

Furthermore, there’s every chance future shows across the island will be smoother and less awkward. Stand-up comedy works like that.

I might go again next Thursday, y’know, so I can report on Koh Chieng Mun and Zaliha’s segments.

I’ll let you know!

  • 2015