MOST Singaporeans would have heard of Mr Brown. He bucks the trend, speaks his mind, and does so with flair. Meet Singapore’s blogfather, political commentator and comedian.
To many Singaporeans, Mr Brown is many things. He was one of the nation’s first socio-political bloggers. He was a weekly columnist for Today, the free daily newspaper, often entertaining with his alternative political views laced with much humour. He is a father to three wonderful children, husband to Mrs Brown, a photography enthusiast and advocate of cycling.
For those who are not familiar with Mr Brown (whose real name is Kin Mun Lee), he is the author of mrbrown.com, one of Singapore’s top socio-political blogs. His podcasts on life in Singapore, especially in relation to Singaporean politics, are extremely funny.
Some of his best work include a spoof on the 2011 Presidential Elections, where all four candidates shared the same surname (Tan), and a play on the iPhone 4S’ artifical intelligence software Siri (which he renamed Simi, Hokkien for “what?”).
Just don’t call him a social media guru or he will walk out of the door.
Mr Brown’s office is located in a historical part of Singapore in a two-storey shop house. It exudes an unassuming demeanor with tinted glass doors. You’d be forgiven for thinking the building was empty. Yet as the doorbell rings, a slightly stocky bespectacled guy of average height opens the door with a neutral expression.
“Hi, I’m Brown. You must be Diane,” he says, as he offers his hand for a firm handshake.
Glass shelves dominate his work space. Action figures are proudly displayed. There are couches and a coffee table. The entire get-up feels more like a bachelor pad than an office. Then again, mrbrown.com isn’t your typical online publication and Mr Brown isn’t your typical journalist.
So how did the namesake Mr Brown come about?
“It’s a teenage nickname. I got it when I was 18 saying, ‘how now brown cow’ too often,” he says.
“My friends started calling me Mr Brown Cow and then they shortened it to Mr Brown.”
The name stuck. His wife was called Mrs Brown when they started dating in junior college.
The success of mrbrown.com is a testament to the man’s wit, humour and courage. It all started when he penned a satire on Singapore’s National Education syllabus and posted it on an internet forum. Before long, people were passing it around. Singapore National Education Part 1 became a viral email chain that eventually found its way to his own email inbox.
He kept adding to his Singapore National Education, which now has more than a hundred chapters, written over a span of close to 10 years. As his writing continued to gain popularity, more and more people asked him for back copies. Thus mrbrown.com was born as a place where people could access his writing.
Despite being one of the first few people to embrace the internet landscape as a platform for communication, Mr Brown doesn’t consider himself a social media expert. In fact, he frowns upon that term so much that had I addressed him as a social media guru, he claimed he would have walked out of the door (he was only half-joking).
His take on social media?
“It’s no different from someone using paper. It’s just a medium. Part of it is still communicating, telling stories, writing and conversing,” he says.
“People say, ‘You’re known for your podcasts’. But what they’re trying to say is that you are known for the content on your podcasts. It doesn’t matter if it comes in audio form or a YouTube clip because that’s irrelevant.
“You still need to tell good stories, you still need to be interesting, you still need to have meaningful conversations and funny conversations. It’s about that, it’s not about the platform.”
Most of Mr Brown’s jokes are based on Singaporean politics and current affairs. A lot of them poke fun at Singapore’s ruling party, the People’s Action Party.
“We live in a country where there’s a lot of stuff to laugh at, but we take ourselves very seriously,” he says with a smile.
Some Singaporeans may remember Mr Brown’s time as a columnist for Today, where his controversial viewpoints on Singapore’s political scene were published. Eventually, the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts decided to step in and his column was removed from the publication.
Despite that, Mr Brown insists working for Today was really fun. Contrary to popular belief, editorial control was “next to nothing”, he says.
“The column would come out on Friday. On Thursday evening my editor would be chasing me because she wouldn’t know what I was writing about,” he says somewhat cheekily.
“I got away with murder. I don’t know how I lasted so long.”
Then again, Mr Brown isn’t scared to speak his mind, ever.
“If you think too hard about the consequences, you’ll never do it,” he says.
His mantra: “Do first, talk later.”
Mr Brown’s podcasts, videos, and even his Twitter feed have won him plenty of fans. He considers his 59,000 followers on Twitter friends he hasn’t met. While many call him a celebrity blogger, he says that term doesn’t really stick with him. To him, the relationship with his readers is more important than being recognised.
“Wherever you go, even overseas, people always want to have dinner with you. It’s nice. You wouldn’t do that with a regular celebrity. You know, it’s like looking up an old friend.”
Perhaps that is what makes Mr Brown one of a kind.
“You can’t really describe it. Some people call me a full-time blogger, but I don’t make any money off the blog. I don’t put advertisements on it. I’m not a production house, but I have video production facilities, which is probably enough to shoot a short film. It’s very weird, a full-time blogger doesn’t do what I do. Bloggers don’t create content at that level of sophistication, but at the same time I’m not a production house.”
What Mr Brown is, at the heart of it, is a writer. He creates content for his blog, tweets about the hot topic of the week and takes photos of interesting things around Singapore. He is one of three scriptwriters behind the podcasts he is known for.
“We are very rigorous with the writing,” he says.
“Anything we feel is superfluous we throw it out, so it’s quite painful sometimes.”
His view of journalism in Singapore is, however, a rather bleak one.
“Singapore don’t have journalism, only newsletters. There’s a lot of sloppy journalism in Singapore.”
So what advice does he have for budding journalists and communicators?
“Always do your homework. Be curious. Dare to ask questions and dare to interrogate. Always get to the heart of the matter,” he says.
With that, the interview draws to an end, and Mr Brown thanks me for visiting his office.
As I wave goodbye, I realise this will go down as one of the significant milestones in my short journalism career so far.
I’ve had the privilege to meet one of Singapore’s blogfathers,and an incredibly humble, down-to-earth one at that. One who is passionate about his work, who dares to buck the trend, air his opinions and does so with flair.