All about laughs

8 Apr 2019

By Krishveen Kaur

From left: Rohit Kumar, 23; Dominique Nelson, 23 and Shahirah Banu, 21, made their debut as stand-up comedians at the event. PHOTOS: AUDREY LEONG

It was around 7.30pm on 28 Mar when undergraduates Jayshree Khemlani, 22, Darshini R, 21, and Rohit Kumar, 23, were briefing their stand-up comedians on their cues before the inaugural Comedy night @thelaughinglyon.

The trio gave themselves the name “@thelaughinglyon” this year when they were putting this event together. This name was motivated by NTU’s mascot, Lyon the lion. This would be the group’s first experience organising a stand-up comedy event, in a bid to search for stand-up comedians among the NTU community.

“As I popped my head out from behind the curtains while preparing the comics, I was surprised to see that the place was packed. Some people even had to stand as there were no seats left,” said Jayshree.

A microphone was set up in the corner of the fusion bar and restaurant located on campus, Pen&Inc, for the two-hour event. Admission to the event was free and they also offered discounts for drinks.

“We felt like we were entering a black box when we were organizing this event. Besides worrying constantly about whether there would be a crowd, we were having a hard time finding student comedians to audition from NTU, which was an important highlight for our event,” added Jayshree, who was also the emcee for the event, as it was too costly to hire an emcee.

Despite the bumpy journey in organizing this event, the trio were still set on making it happen.

“After watching so many stand-up comedy events in Singapore, we really wanted to bring this idea to NTU because there were bound to be some local talents among us.”

First-time student attempts

Dominique Nelson, 23, shares her experience as a non-chinese speaking student in NTU through comedy.

Among the seven acts of the night, three NTU students were attempting stand-up comedy for the first time.

Dominique Nelson, a final-year student at the School of Social Sciences, was one of these three comedians. She was determined to raise awareness about racism through comedy.

“Among my friends I would say I am the funniest and since most of my friends are Chinese, it is hard to suppress jokes that involve racial stereotypes,” said the 23-year-old, who is of Indian descent.

One of the jokes which the audience particularly enjoyed was a reimagined scenario of a recent video that went viral involving a Malay Gojek driver and a female Chinese passenger.

“Imagine a role reversal, where the Gojek driver was a Chinese and the passenger was a Malay woman instead. If the Malay woman called her mother to tell her she was being kidnapped, I think the mother would reply, ‘It’s okay go ahead, I have ten more children at home’,” said the 23-year-old to an audience who burst out in laughter.

Another highlight from Nelson’s act were the everyday things which she, as a non-Chinese speaking student, struggle with here at NTU.

Minutes before her act, Nelson was pacing up and down behind the curtains, mumbling her lines to herself, minutes before her act.

“They make it look so easy in comedy shows but I was so scared I would forget my lines.”

Rohit Kumar was not as worried about whether he would forget his lines but rather, whether he could actually hear his audience laugh from the stage.

“I could barely see the audience while on stage because the spotlights blinded me. I really had to depend on hearing them laugh or clap in order to continue with my next line,” said the 23-year-old.

Rohit, who is also part of the organising committee, @thelaughinglyon, was inspired to perform after watching a stand-up comedy act by SPH radio personality, Mr Shaun Tupaz.

Radio personality and stand-up comedian, Mr Shaun Tupaz, attended the comedy night as a guest. He was invited by Rohit Kumar, one of the event organisers.

“This was the first comedy gig I attended locally and I was in awe of Shaun who dressed up as a drag queen that night. I really felt he was going all out to make his audience laugh and this idea resonated with me a lot. I wanted to try making a large crowd of strangers laugh,” said Rohit, a second-year student at the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

Rohit dedicated his act to some of his friends from the engineering faculty, who came down to support him.

However, one challenge that Rohit, who did not grow up speaking Singlish in his household, felt he might have faced, before his act, was trying to inject Singaporean slang words into his skit.

“I feel that Singlish is an important factor in Singaporean humor and most of my audience will be Singaporean. But Singlish does not come naturally to me so I was afraid that the audience might not find me as funny,” said the 23-year-old.

With the positive response he received from the audience, Rohit is excited to pursue his interest in stand-up comedy further.

“I would definitely try stand-up again. The adrenaline you get when you hear the place erupt with laughter after hearing your jokes is priceless.”

For Shahirah Banu, she wanted to share with her audience something that everyone, not just NTU students, could relate to.

Funny anecdotes from her mother is something that the second-year student at the School of Humanities, often enjoyed sharing with her friends at school.

One such story, which Shahirah recalled vividly, was when she lied to her mother that she had picked up smoking cigarettes.

“I decided to tell her that I started smoking because, like any Asian parent, I assumed she would get really hysterical. However, she reacted by saying ‘as if you can afford it’ with a blank expression on her face,” she said to an audience of students and working adults.

Although initially uncertain of the crowd’s reaction towards her mother’s anecdotes, Shahirah believed sharing stories about her intimate relationship with her mother helped her build a rapport with the audience.

“Although I couldn't see that well from the stage, hearing them cheer and clap really made me feel like they could definitely relate to my funny anecdotes from mothers.”

Reactions from the audience

In a post-event feedback survey conducted by the team, they found that 94 per cent of the audience would come for the event if it was happening again.

Among this group of satisfied audiences were exchange students as well, who had their first taste of local humour from the event.

Cameron Mackinnon, 21, an exchange student from Canada heard about the event from a classmate and decided to gather his other exchange student friends to check it out.

“It’s not everyday that you hear about a comedy night happening in school. I think the acts were really funny even though sometimes the tempos were slightly fast paced. It was nice to experience comedy on the other side of the world,” said Mackinnon.

Also among the audience was a familiar face in Singapore’s entertainment scene, Mr Shaun Tupaz. He made time for the event after hearing about it from Rohit.

“I didn't really understand some of the NTU-related jokes. but for people who were doing stand-up comedy for the first time in their life, I think it was really well executed,” said Mr Tupaz, who added that Rohit’s act was one of his favourites.

Among those who came down to support their friends was Nelson’s Final-Year Project partner, Rebecca Goh, 24, who took time to brainstorm with Nelson about her jokes over a bowl of frog porridge.

“I always thought Dominique was a very animated person who enjoyed making fun of herself and the things around her. She is a combination of my two favourite comedians, Aziz Ansari and Kumar. So I really pushed her to try and deliver jokes on stage.”

With positive responses from the audience and stand-up comedians, the organising trio, who referred to this event as their pet project, hopes to make this a semesterly affair.

“I wasn't expecting to see people who weren't from NTU show up since this was a small-scale event. I think this event was really a hit and we definitely want to make this happen more frequently,” said Darshini, who is thinking of turning this into student club.

“Ultimately, we really just want to bring some laughter to the NTU community.”

The organisers, Darshni R (second row, second from left), 21; Jayshree Khemlani (seated), 22; and Rohit Kumar (last row, first from right), 23, with the stand-up comedians after the event.