IN the United States, comedians like Kevin Hart often tour college campuses around the country, performing stand-up routines that pay big bucks. In fact, college comedy events are so popular that Comedy Central even has a full-scale college tour!
In Malaysia, this whole scenario just doesn’t exist. Until now, that is. Local stand-up comedian Dr Jason Leong (he’s a fully qualified real-life doctor) has put together the first ever homegrown college comedy tour called Comedians of the Colleges.
Leong was inspired to organise it after realising that comedians and colleges share a deeply-embedded mutual attraction.
“There’s a huge culture of comedy in colleges in the US and I wanted to bring that here. I think students are the perfect vessels to receive comedy,” he said.
Leong and fellow comedians Brian Tan, Prakash Daniel, Keren Bala Devan, Gajen Nad, Thenesh Skip and Aw Yuong Tuck will tour colleges like Sunway, HELP, IMU and KDU, between Oct 1 and 22 on a mission to elicit laughter at every stop.
According to Leong, recruiting the local comedians was a process that literally took all of five minutes. The next step was the rather gargantuan task of persuading universities to let him and his friends perform.
Although getting in touch with the right people proved difficult – “phone calls, Facebook messages, then email, email, email” – everything after that was smooth sailing.
“Colleges are always cracking their heads trying to think of events to give to students, and then we came and said ‘hey this is an idea, all you have to do is give us a venue’,” said Leong.
In putting the tour together, Leong sought out comedians who were either young or didn’t have as much experience in the comedy circuit. This was a deliberate move to ensure the comedians could relate to the college crowd (themselves young and inexperienced).
In fact, the two youngest comedians in the bunch – Aw and Thenesh – are only 23 and 24 respectively. Aw hasn’t even graduated from university while Thenesh is fresh out of college, having graduated late last year.
Both are eager and excited to take on the college tour, particularly Thenesh, who is hoping to make comedy his career.
“I’ve been looking for jobs but most of the good parts are in comedy. Looking at Jason, I think he shows that you can survive in comedy. Things are changing, so you can actually do comedy full-time now,” he said.
Aw thinks the college tour will give his career a boost, but admits he is nervous about performing in front of his peers.
“I find it harder. I mean, not like super hard, but I think they tend to judge me because I’m younger,” he said.
While Leong thinks performance reactions fluctuate depending on the crowd at each show, he does agree that some concessions have to be made when addressing a college crowd, like omitting profanities and weeding out irrelevant material. But he says there are some themes like relationship blues and exam pressure that will definitely go down well with students.
“I have one about how my mum is a very confusing parent. When I was studying for the SPM, she wanted to motivate me but didn’t want to put too much pressure, so this is what she said to me: ‘Jason, my son, as long as you try your best and work your hardest, Mama will still love you, no matter what kind of A1 you get!’”
While these are the sorts of jokes bound to have audiences of any age doubled over in laughter, Leong has a larger goal in mind for the tour.
Ultimately, he hopes Comedians of the Colleges will encourage Malaysian students to think outside the box.
“I’m not sure about Malaysian colleges but in colleges overseas, students are taught to be critical thinkers,” he said.
“And that’s what comedians do, because we have to come up with our own original observations and thoughts and make it funny. So these two are natural allies, because young people will be like, ‘Oh, that’s a good way to think of that!’”
To Leong, encouraging young people to think beyond what’s right in front of them is key to developing a whole new generation of young creatives.
“When college students graduate, they’re gonna be the managers, the CEOs and the executives of the next generation. So these are the people we want to ask to come and watch these comedy shows. It’s about planting the seed a little bit earlier,” he said.