I never know what to expect with comedy. Often it’s offensive and problematic (sometimes liberating) but in the revelry of the spotlight something is always said that feels like a bullet just grazed my shoulder, narrowly missing my heart. I walk out of the show, get up from my couch, step away from my circle of friends applying pressure to my political wound.
But I place my faith in the person of colour on stage. As people who have sat on the margins of society and felt the misdirected fire of “comedy”, I want to find the salvation of this form in comics that represent a clear-sighted, acute awareness of who and what we’re punching our lines at.
“Call for Kuah Jen-Son in the Ladies’ Lounge.”
Comedy Festival volunteers call us in.
Kuah Jenhan is a Malaysian comic and his show, Like This Like Dad, Played at the Forum in the Ladies’ Lounge. It is a cosy little powder room and a-ha is blaring through the speakers. I have no idea what the show is going to be like — the set comprises of a large white closet that dominates the stage, leaving little space between the audience and where I assume Jenhan will be standing.
Before the show I had been turning over what a show called Like This Like Dad, could be about. It was obviously a play on the Malaysian’s habit to pronounce “th” like “d”. Was this about to be a flagellating comic, deriding his culture and heritage? Punchy one-liners with pauses for the audience to chime in with laughter at us?
The show begins with Jenhan bursting out of the closet, and then proceeds to take a turn I did not expect. Jenhan combines family history, identity, and insecurities with beautiful storytelling. Comedy is merely the device, the way poetry or prose may convey an author’s meaning. At times, the routine becomes dredged in winding anecdotes but Jenhan recovers with the next segment of the act. The pacing feels like the movement of family life and Jenhan transports us to the rumblings of a marketplace where his father sees his mother for the first time, various comic moments with his stoic Confucian father, and the love-hate relationship with his sister.
While Jenhan’s routine is primarily located in the personal, this is inevitably tied to the political and moments of dissent are gently fanned away by humour. Perhaps the most political of the show was the interaction between Jenhan and the audience, where Jenhan delicately and graciously deals with the micro-aggression of one particular audience member: “You know, Asian get really scared when white people talk to them.” The man in the audience continued to interrupt Jenhan again throughout the show, but with calm and sincerity Jenhan drifts past the gui lou back into the show.
Jenhan’s show surprised me. The sentiment of the show was “laughter as catharsis” and in a very practical way, Jenhan’s gentle comedy typified the way humans laugh at life, death, and most of all our very absurd selves.
Kuah Jenhan’s Like this Like Dad Shows from Tuesday to Saturday 8.30pm and Sunday 7.30pm at the Forum Theatre until April 17, as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.