Story by CLAIRE GAUNT
Video by the R.AGE team
COMEDIAN Dr Jason Leong wants to put Malaysia on the map – and he isn’t kidding around.
The medical doctor-turned-comedian is vying for a place in the finals of the Laugh Factory Funniest Person in the World Contest, which he has retitled “the Olympics of Comedy”.
Competing against 88 other competitors from 56 countries, including his own mentor Harith Iskander, isn’t going to be easy, but Leong is determined to laugh his way to the top.
“I’ve always aimed to reach out to the world at large,” he said. “I want to represent Malaysia and show the world that Malaysians can be funny – and not just comedians. Our politicians are damn funny too!”
With his brand of Malaysian humour, and a healthy dose of material based on his years in medicine, Leong stands a good chance of moving into the second round.
The 20 comedians with the highest number of votes at the end of round one will enter round two, where they will perform for a panel of judges and celebrities in Helsinki, Finland.
For now, Harith is leading the pack globally with 1.5 million votes and Leong is a close second at 1.3 million. Their closest competitor is Alex Calleja of the Philippines with slightly over 500,000 votes.
The final round will be broadcast live on YouTube and the winning comedian will walk away with a trophy, bragging rights and a tidy US$100,000 (RM415,000).That’s a lot of money, and Leong isn’t going to waste any of it.
“I’ll put it in a trust fund for my unborn and unconceived children!” he said with a laugh. “I’m a guy who plans ahead.”
Despite the irreverence, Leong has a philanthropic side to him.
“I’ll give some of the money to KL’s struggling comedy clubs,” he said seriously – for once. “It’s nice to give back when you win something, and I want to give back to the comedy scene that supported me when I first started out.”
The world of comedy isn’t all fun and games, and some have questioned why Leong would leave behind a successful career in medicine for the uncertain world of comedy. He didn’t skip a beat in answering.
“Laughter really heals people,” he said. “It brings us together and it makes us realise we are actually the same.”
Even when he was a practising doctor, comedy was his passion – so much so that he drove from Penang, where he was based, to Kuala Lumpur to perform at Time Out KL’s open mic night.
In a stroke of luck, Douglas Lim – whose name is practically synonymous with Malaysian comedy – was in the audience, and offered him a spot in comedy group Malaysian Association of Chinese Comedians (MACC), which includes comic stars Phoon Chi Ho and Kuah Jenhan.
Leong was now a bona fide comedian. But he still had his medical career, and he soon needed to make a decision.
After two years of juggling a full-time job as a doctor and weekends performing stand-up, Leong decided to follow his heart.
“Comedy is extremely important because right now, Malaysia is at it’s most divided,” he said. “Our country needs a lot of healing and trust me, laughter is the best medicine.”
“Also, I’m a better comedian than a doctor!”
In the two years since moving to comedy full-time, Leong has racked up some significant “firsts”. He’s the first Malaysian to win the annual Hong Kong International Comedy Competition and the first to perform a full professional set at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood and Gotham Comedy Club in New York, which have hosted comedy legends such as Dave Chapelle, Jim Carrey and Amy Schumer.
“Even though the audience there had probably never seen a Malaysian comic before, they were still so warm and welcoming,” he said. “I don’t speak with an American accent, but when I performed there, I realised, hey! These people like what I say!”
If the YouTube clip of his Laugh Factory performance is anything to go by, Leong genuinely struck a chord with his international audience.
The video has a seemingly endless stream of praise and support from comedy fans across the world, which is a big deal on a platform synonymous with trolls.
Locally, Leong has also made waves in the comedy scene. He described opening for Harith at his 2014 show To Know Malaysia is To Laugh Malaysia, as “the best night of my life”.
The local scene itself is moving and evolving, he said.
“I’m excited to see a new wave of Malay comedy,” he said. “It used to mostly be slapstick, but there’s a burgeoning stand-up
comedy scene that will revolutionise the way people see Malay comedy.”
Of course, despite the new changes, there are differences between the local scene that launched his career and the international scene he hopes to break into.
For one, Malaysian comedians don’t touch politics.
“It’s one of the realities of Malaysia,” he said with a shrug. “But I’m okay with that because there’s still a diverse range of topics I can talk about.”
In fact, staying away from political jokes is working out for him. “They’re limiting!” he said. “I can’t tell them to an international audience. I want to do jokes that everybody can relate to.”
To that end, he would much rather tell jokes that come from personal stories in his life – from his former career as a doctor to his own marriage. No wonder his wife doesn’t find him funny. “She’s a very harsh critic,” he said.
“Usually, when I tell her a joke I’ve created, she doesn’t laugh. But if I can get her to smile, I know I’ll get a room to laugh. It’s surprising how a woman with such high standards ended up with me!”
Vote for Jason Leong to be Laugh Factory’s Funniest Person in the World at www.votedrjason.com, or download the app Indi from Google Playstore or the App Store and search “Jason Leong”! You have until Oct 3.
Watch us get up close and personal with Jason here.