MACC’s farewell and the value of laughter

Lim, Phoon, Kuah and Leong are currently on their ‘MACC Mania X: The Goodbye Tour’, before they each focus on their solo careers

By FAREZZA HANUM RASHID / Pic By www.maccmaniax.com

“TO LAUGH is to momentarily surrender and forget one’s troubles.”

Jason Leong

Those who do not follow the local comedy scene would only know MACC as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission but take away the serious dark blue uniform, the abbreviation also stands for the Malaysian Association of Chinese Comedians.

The more cheerful MACC has, in fact, been around for a decade and is about to bid us farewell.

Douglas Lim, Phoon Chi Ho, Kuah Jenhan and Jason Leong are currently on their “MACC Mania X: The Goodbye Tour”, before they each focus on their solo careers.

Fans who have followed MACC tours over the years will remember past shows like “Planet of the Apeks”, “I want to touch a Douglas” and “Now that’s what I call Jokes Vol 8”.

Lim said: “This will be our final tour before we take a break and explore other solo projects. Writing a new show every year is both exciting and demanding. While we thoroughly enjoy it, perhaps it’s wise to stop for a while to reflect and re-energise.

“I think we can expect quite a few personal stories in addition to our comedic observations and commentary. All I’m saying is, it might get emotional.”

Besides being their final tour, The Goodbye Tour is also the first time the group tours internationally to Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia.

Lim formed MACC in 2009 with Phoon and Kuah who were regulars at Time Out Kuala Lumpur’s (KL) Comedy Thursday. The trio performed as a group for the first time over two weekends.

Lim invited Leong to join the group in 2011 and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Malaysian Reserve spoke to Leong on his journey with MACC.

Ten Years’ Journey
“There have been more ups than downs for sure! We feel confident that throughout the 10 years, we have been a force to be reckoned with.”

However, approaching their 10th year, the group felt that like the Friends sitcom, they should not overstay their welcome as a group.

Phoon Chi Ho

“Stand-up comedy is, at the end of the day, individualistic in execution and the time has come for each of us to focus on our solo careers.”

Looking back on their tongue-in-cheek subject matters, Leong reminisced a time when Lim made a joke about the former prime minister’s wife, and in the audience were some burly men who identified themselves as the authorities.

“But they enjoyed the show!” Leong said in great relief.

Phoon, for his risqué jokes, has been banned by a festival organiser in Johor Baru, while Kuah has gotten some propositions from mothers pawning off their daughters for marriage.

“I myself have garnered a lot of hate from Traditional Chinese Medicine apologists. So, no, we have not gotten into trouble for our jokes at all,” Leong said cheekily.

While there were too many great onstage moments for him to tell, Leong remembered the worst, which was a corporate gig.

Without going into intricate details, he said he did so badly that the agent, event organiser, client and the client’s boss were all upset.

“I nearly cried in my hotel room after that.”

Going Overseas
On subject matters while performing abroad, Leong said throughout the years, they knew how to tweak the jokes such that non-Malaysians will get the references.

Kuah Jenhan

“Usually it just requires some extra but simple explanation, but by and large, our shows have been well-received locally and internationally,” Leong said.

Although The Goodbye Tour is the first time they perform abroad together, individually the comedians are no strangers to travelling for shows.

Leong explained that the only difference is the logistics required to tour overseas, which contributes to an extra headache.

“But when we are onstage, all the effort is worth it.”

Jokes aside, stand-up comedy is serious business, as it involves productions, permits, logistics, profits and losses, among others.

‘Best Job in the World’
“Practice, practice, practice,” Leong advised aspiring comedians.

“Don’t quit your day job just yet; don’t be an idiot. Wait till you can pay your bills fully with comedy. Live life, because comedy is a reflection of life.”

Based on standupcomedyclinic.com, less than 2% of the comedians who started out continue on to any level of financial success.

The website says comedy, when it comes to business, is not to be treated frivolously.

Comedians are even on LinkedIn to expand their professional network and promote their businesses.

Leong explained that the most important step in producing a stand-up show is to book a venue. “Good venues are hard to get especially on good dates, like on a Friday or Saturday which does not coincide with a long weekend. Otherwise, there goes your audience on a vacation.”

Next is deciding on a price point. At this point, an Excel spreadsheet comes in handy, he said, to figure out how many tickets need to be sold.

Then collaterals need to be designed, like poster and social media graphics, which will tie into the theme of the show.

If the show tours around, flights and hotels must be booked. If it goes international, then permits and visas must be secured.

Ongoing marketing and promotion must then be executed to ensure people buy the tickets.

Lastly, on the day of the show, sound check, light check, dry run, technical setup and rehearsals will be executed.

“Along the way, your jokes must be written, rewritten, tried out at open mic shows, rehearsed and tightened,” Leong said, describing it as the best job in the world.

He revealed that Malaysia has the best stand-up comedy scene in the South-East Asia region for both local comedians and international comedians.

After KL, Penang is great for comedy as Penangites can take a joke and are hungry for laughter, while Johor Baru, Johor, and Kuching, Sarawak, are also good places to hold shows.

“Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, has been waning over the last two years. I hope it revives and that cities like Melaka and Ipoh to pick it up.”

There are also opportunities to go abroad. In 2015, Leong was selected to perform at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Social Media
Like every other business, the show business has been affected by Internet where the biggest shift is in social media.

A promoter or producer no longer needs to spend exorbitant fees advertising on television, radio or newspapers.

Leong uses social media extensively in his career which has gotten him sold-out shows and a growing audience.

“Social media has given the power back to the individual.

“For consumers, they now become more discerning because every comic worth seeing has clips on Youtube or Facebook and punters can make a more informed choice on whom to spend money on.”

He also highlighted the value of laughter.

“Our leaders today peddle seemingly racial and religious issues to gain power. Stand-up comedy offers a chance for Malaysians to see them get taken down a peg or two; to see the ridiculousness of those who presume to split us by non-existent boundaries; to hear jokes of and about race and religion, thus humanising and equalising all Malaysians, is cathartic to both the performer and the audience.

“Often, what is funny is subversive, taboo or unspoken. Stand-up comedy brings all these to the fore and forces the audience to confront, reflect and ultimately, laugh.

“We must release the pressure that politicians are so keen to keep bottled up so that they may capitalise on it later. Stand-up comedians, by harnessing the value of laughter, helps make Malaysia a better place.”

After MACC, Leong and Kuah have solo tours planned for 2020.

“I will spend a month in the US gigging and hopefully get into Just for Laughs in Montreal next year,” Leong said.

Meanwhile, Lim and Phoon will also be active in comedy sketches, corporate shoots, brand endorsements and touring internationally.

Self-dubbed “the comedy event of the year”, 12,000 “MACC Mania X: The Goodbye Tour” tickets are opened for sale across 11 locations and within 24 hours, an unprecedented 1,500 tickets were sold.

The tour made stops in Penang, Johor Baru and Singapore in September.

It will head to Kota Kinabalu on Oct 11; Kuching on Oct 12; Hong Kong on Oct 26; Brisbane on Oct 31; Sydney on Nov 1 and 2; Melbourne on Nov 7 and 8; and Perth on Nov 9.

MACC’s grand finale will be held at the HGH Convention Centre KL on Nov 15 and 16.

Tickets can be purchased on www.maccmaniax.com. Corporate rates are also available.

Douglas Lim

Douglas Lim
Dubbed “King of Malaysian Comedy”, Lim has been active in the industry for over 20 years.

He made an instant impact as Steven the Stylist on Kopitiam — Malaysia’s English sitcom which ran for seven seasons, garnering numerous awards locally and regionally. This role also had him nominated for Best Actor in a Comedy in the Asian Television Awards.

Jason Leong
A doctor-turned-comedian.

The year 2014 was ground-breaking for Leong as he successfully spread his brand of comedy well beyond Malaysia’s shores. After becoming the first Malaysian to win the 7th Annual International Hong Kong Comedy Festival, he then became the first Malaysian to perform a full professional set at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood, US, and Gotham Comedy Club in New York.

Kuah Jenhan
Kuah has been nominated for several prestigious awards including Best Comedy Show at Perth Fringe World 2016 and Best Original Book and/or Lyrics for the musical Lat Kampung Boy at the BOH Cameronian Arts Awards 2012. He has also written and produced five solo comedy/theatre pieces which have seen sold-out seasons in Malaysia and Australia.

Phoon Chi Ho
One of the pioneers of KL’s under-ground comedy scene, Phoon has built a reputation as one of the country’s top comedy performers. Outside of comedy, he has written, directed and acted in countless local as well as international commercials across all media platforms.