It’s Alaric Tay’s 20th year in the entertainment and acting scene. He’s not planning a big party for it, and no one else appears to be doing so. “Maybe you guys can talk about it in the article,” he jokes. Well we did, and it also appears he’s finally scored it big after two decades on telly with his latest project. SENT is his first Hollywood collaboration through HBO Asia, a crossover project that we’re sure will be far more successful than Sun Ho’s.
You directed and produced SENT, but you decided not to star in it. Why?
I think it’s always challenging to multi-task and you either do one job well or you don’t deliver your best at both jobs. So I had to decide which I wanted and I thought this would be a good directorial challenge. I’ve done short films before but never a whole series. And with HBO. It’s nothing like working on a series on local free-to-air.
There’s a lot of talk about local free-to-air programmes and the inherent entertainment value in focusing on family-friendly content.
You’re right. I share that sentiment and it’s unfortunate because we only have one network and it’s more or less governed by the authorities. You can choose not to do it, but then where will the funding for other programmes come from? A lot of the funding we get for productions come from them, and they focus on promoting community values and lifestyles.
With HBO Asia, do you now see a greater interest in creating entertainment-oriented content?
I think a lot of the productions and money out there is focused on more than just Singapore as a market. They are looking at the entire region. So it’s something our screen writers need to look at. They need to create content that’s geared towards the region and the world.
How do you think comedy can serve to reflect society’s misbehaviour?
Comedy has evolved. But it is a very poignant way of bringing out issues in society that may otherwise be difficult to talk about. Early comedy like Chaplin hit the nail on the head. He talked about very real issues but he delivered it in a way that was designed to engage by virtue of laughter. It was (and still is) relevant. But there are also many people doing short online content and lowbrow entertainment today. I think comedy should just be an interesting platform to do whatever you want.
Do Singaporeans appreciate comedy?
Of course. We’re a very repressed lot, but we have a lot of opinions. When it’s time to say our piece, we don’t. But then we go somewhere where we can be anonymous and we lash out. And a lot of people abuse the Internet for that. In SENT, Haresh’s character is very relatable in this way.
Highbrow or lowbrow comedy, does it matter?
I’d like to be able to quantify what Singaporeans find entertaining in one simple line, but it’s really a very wide spectrum. Maybe some of the heartland aunties and uncles prefer the lowbrow stuff but at the same time, I’ve had them come up to me and tell me they really appreciate the satirical slants or the issues we are trying to highlight through The Noose. Like I said, it’s stuff that they do think about, but they don’t talk about it. And their interest isn’t just limited to local or regional issues either. It’s a sophisticated audience. They aren’t the sort who will be laughing at someone slipping on a banana peel.
SENT is currently on television, with replays starting November 28, 9pm and every following Tuesday on HBO Signature. You can also catch it on HBO on Starhub Go and HBO On Demand. A version of this article appeared in the October ’17 issue of AUGUSTMAN.