Harith Iskander: “Godfather of Malaysian Stand-up Comedy”


[ Background Sounds ]>>Harith Iskander: I’m
known as the godfather of Malaysian standup comedy. Only because I started in 1991 and there was no standup
comedy at the time. In fact, there was no
other standup comedians for the next 12 to
15 years in Malaysia. I was doing it alone. Props to the Malaysian police. Malaysian police are
the most effective in the world, probably. You have the charge, arrest, and payment system
all in the same place. [ Laughter ] When I first started in
Malaysia the majority of the public had no idea
what standup comedy was. What the form was. Admittedly when you do a show in that environment you
have to water it down. My job as a comedian
is to realise where the fence is
and push that fence. So I do remember
in the first five to eight years whenever
I did a show and a corporate event the
audience would look up and then I’d start my bits. And they didn’t actually know
who I was or what I was doing. They’d think, am I the chairman? Am I the CEO? Am I giving a speech? Then they’d start to
laugh and they’d go, oh, he’s telling funny stories. Any Asian will tell you in this
room when you went to school, you got your report card, you hid it for three
and a half months. You hid your report card until eventually your
parents were like, hey, your exams finished three months
ago, where’s your report card? [laughter] Oh, oh, yeah, yeah,
I forgot, I forgot [laughter]. And it does not matter
what result. You show them and Malaysian
parents say, all right, let’s have a look here. All right. Science, 98 percent
out of a possible 100. 98 percent. All right. What happen to the
other two marks? [laughter] Hmm? Huh? What you ate the marks? You ate the marks? Huh? Huh? How come our neighbour
got a 114 [laughter]? Well my time in Perth
has become part of my standup comedy routines and shows. If you actually watch one of my shows now I’ll probably
be doing it a bit later in the show. You know, as a Malaysian I’d
never left Malaysia before. Got off plane. Got at arrival lounge. Got into a taxi. And I said, oh my god, white fella
driving taxi [laughter]. I said, wait man, wait man. Let me drive. Let me drive [laughter]. You sit behind. You sit behind [laughter]. As a Malaysian I was
not used to this. Then we were driving
along and oh, white people doing construction. Oh my god. White people picking up rubbish. Oh! What is this land
called Australia? What’s going on? And then I’m walking around and
then I started to realise oh, all right, you’ve
got the same things. You’ve got the streets. You’ve got a little less
traffic then there is in KL. We have a mall. We have malls, too. You’ve got a mall. Same kind of shops. You’ve got the supermarket. You’ve got the spectacle shop. You’ve got the magazine shop. Same shops. Except one shop in
Northbridge that I came across. Black tinted windows. XXX Adult Shop. No this shop I had never
seen in Malaysia [laughter]. I did not know what
the shop was. The windows were tinted. It was adult shop. Adult shop? What is adult shop? I was 18 at the time but
I was afraid of the shop because the windows were tinted. I would walk past the shop
every single day like, what the hell’s in this shop? [laughter] Why are the
windows-I tried to look. I couldn’t see. Couldn’t see. Couldn’t see. Took me three months. Three months as a young
Malaysian lad to work up the courage to
finally have a look at what is in this bloody shop. I walked to the shop. I remember it was
a Friday afternoon. I looked. Nobody watching. Nobody watching. I went in the shop. Cling, cling, cling, cling. Looked and all Malaysian
students inside [laughter]. And one thing I realised
very quickly about Australians was
everywhere I walked it was, you know, g’day. How are you? Good Morning. On the bus and the
train and the shops. Which is not a thing. As Malaysians we don’t do that. As a Malaysian I’m like, why? Why are you talking to me? [ Laughter ] What do you want? What do you want? What do you want? [ Laughter ] In Malaysia you ask somebody to have you a good day you want
something from them [laughter]. OK. I’m going to be honest. When my parents first said, hey,
you going to study in Australia and all, I resisted it. Only because, you
know, I was 16, 17, and I had all my
buddies back in Malaysia. Now I got to uproot and
go to a different country and start all over again. And I resisted it big
time for a long time. When I eventually got to
Curtin I took it upon myself as a Malaysian that
I actually decided to hang out with Australians. And that time there was a big
Malaysian community but I found that they hung out
with themselves. And the only reason I did this
was not to be snobby in any way, but I was thinking to myself,
since I’m here for three, four years, I don’t
want to go back home and not know something different
then from what home was. So in terms of education
I believe it’s not just an education within the walls
of Curtin, what you get from Curtin, but
also the experience. The life experience of
living in a foreign country. In this case, Perth,
Western Australia. But it was my first
exposure to Australians in a working environment. Not just Australian but
Italian Australians. And I quickly learnt that Italian Australians
are much like Malaysians. They scream and shout at each
other all the time [laughter]. When they’re not actually angry. And that’s what I
tell students now, especially students
who go overseas. And I say great. Grab the opportunity. But don’t just think
I’ve got to come back with a paper and,
you know, the marks. Experience what that country’s about, the good and the bad. [ Foreign Language ] And I’m like is everything OK? No, no, no. It’s all fine [laughter]. People who I work with in the
corporate world, you know, in the hiring, often say to me, some of these kids,
I want to hire them. They’re the top of their
class, blah, blah, blah, but they have no
life experience. I have performed in front
of every prime minister since my day,
which is only three. [ Laughter ] [ Applause ] What I am most proud of is
not actually what I’ve done on stage. I’ve had some amazing
shows handed to me. The closing ceremony of the Commonwealth
Games in Malaysia 1999. I hosted that. And that was broadcast
live across the world, which I did not know
at the time. I found out later and I’m
glad I did not know it was live broadcast. So that’s massive. I’ve performed in front
of otters at the zoo. The audience was there and
there was an otter pond between me and the audience. And that was amazing, as well. So a wide scope of experiences. But what’s made me most proud
is I do remember one time I was walking. I was on my way to
a friend’s house. I got out of the car
and I got stopped by a gentleman who
said hey, Harith. Oh, hey, how are you? I’m your biggest fan. And he launched into how
amazing I was and how good I was and how important I was and
how he would tell my jokes to his friends during lunchtime. And he went on and on and on. And I was just standing there
going thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. And then he got a
bit embarrassed because he wouldn’t
stop praising me. And I would say thank
you, thank you. And then after 15 minutes
I had a chance to speak and I asked him what
do you do, sir? Turned out he’s a paediatrician. He’s a doctor. And not just a doctor. A surgeon of children. And there was an
outbreak of Dengue fever, at the time, in Malaysia. And he was telling me about
the children who had died on his operating table and
the children he had saved. And then I felt so embarrassed because of the 15 minutes
he was praising me, why I should have been
standing there praising him for saving children’s lives. I realised what I was to
him was I was a release. So once in a while he could
come to a show of mine or watch a video and just laugh and then repeat my
jokes to his friends. And I, therefore,
became important to him. And I think that was-and
this only happened about six years ago-I
think that was the moment where the penny dropped
and it struck me. Oh my god, there is
some value to what I do.

14 Replies to “Harith Iskander: “Godfather of Malaysian Stand-up Comedy””

  1. Commonwealth Games in KL was in 1998, not 1999. I remember that cuz my first love died in road accident that year. Before he died he invited me to KL to see the games.

  2. can anyone link me the full video> the show & the interview…
    really interested to watch the show.. (full)
    and the interview session (in full)

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