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Harith Iskander brings Malaysian comedy down under

Sumisha Naidu

Tue Apr 03 2012

Harith Iskander

MALAYSIAN funnyman Harith Iskander injects some serious Malaysian humour into the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Sumisha Naidu shares a laugh with Harith, and chats about his experience as a student in Perth and more.

Harith Iskander. Photo: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

It’s sometime after 8pm at the Melbourne Town Hall and Harith Iskander is reminiscing about his time as an international student at Curtin University.

He tells the rapt audience how Perth seemed just like the Malaysian state of Ipoh to him. And how he was initially taken aback by Australians’ incessant swearing in everyday conversation.

He also shares a story involving a trip to an “XXX” shop.

“I only went  to the XXX shops once!” Harith tells Meld in mock defence  after the show.

“The conclusion of that story is I walked straight out.”

Now more than 20 years later, Harith finds himself back on Australian shores, though this time as, arguably, Malaysia’s most popular comedian.

The impressive line of people waiting to take photos with him and fellow performers Douglas Lim, Kuah Jenhan and Ronny Cheng after the show only makes this clearer.

“A couple of people taking photos said ‘Hey,you’re a great ambassador (for Malaysia)’,” he says.

“But I don’t see myself as an ambassador. I don’t see myself as a fat man in a suit.”

He does, however, enjoy making people laugh.

“I’m glad people enjoyed it, we could tell from the laughter, you could tell it was a hoot,” he smiles.

And indeed it was. From Ronny Cheng’s insistance that Chinese are the “norm” to Kuah Jenhan’s spot-on imitations of Bollywood movies to Douglas Lim’s side-splitting take on Justin Bieber’s “Baby”, the audience was in a state of constant laughter, all the more amplified when Harith took to the stage.

Best of Comedy Malaysia, Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Best of Comedy Malaysia: Douglas Lim & Kuah Jenhan Photo: Melbourne International Comedy Festival

A taste of home

But for Harith and the rest, the show was more than pure comedy.

“It’s like bringing a bit of Malaysia back to the people here,” he says.

Although he acknowledges the comedians had no idea what kind of audience they’d be performing to before arriving in Melbourne, it was clear that Best of Comedy Malaysia had attracted Malaysians, and international students, in droves.

As expected, there were plenty of digs on the little red dot of a country south of Malaysia.

“We’re like cousins…very estranged cousins,” Harith says, as he describes Malaysia’s relationship with Singapore.

What did come somewhat as a surprise though, were the risque quips at the expense of Malaysia’s own politicians. There was much swearing and even references made to former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy case –  jokes which would probably have been left out of the comedians’ Malaysian shows, thanks to a more conservative climate and stricter guidelines.

Harith, however, was not concerned about word getting back home.

“It’s Australia, who cares?” he says, when asked if he saw Malaysia’s Consul-General sitting in the front row.

“We’ve had a wonderful, incredible time – tonight being the highlight,” Harith enthuses.

Wise words from the funny man

And before the evening drew to a close, Harith obliged the Meld team with some words of wisdom for our Malaysian readers in Australia:

“You know what, if you’re here, don’t just hang around Malaysians, that’s what I did,” he says.

“I saw Malaysians who hung out with Malaysians, went back and didn’t learn a thing.  My most valuable lessons, I feel, came from not necessarily what I learned in universities here, but my life experiences here.”

Did you catch Best of Comedy Malaysia? What did you think? Share your thoughts below!