Haresh Tilani isn’t a comedian or entertainer by training. He’d studied engineering at university under the auspices of our national airline. When he came back to serve his bond, however, he was seconded into the company’s digital marketing arm and that’s when he discovered the power of the Internet. His friends decided to finally sit down and develop a platform, which turned into the Ministry of Funny. Now he’s fronting the first HBO Asia comedy series, SENT, which according to him was in part inspired by his experiences in the corporate culture of Singapore.
How did the Ministry of Funny start?
It started as a hobby in 2011 with my friend, Terence, who was studying in the US at the same time as I was. He worked on Wall Street for two years and when he came back, we saw this gap in comedy that was prevalent in the US, that we thought YouTube could fill. We’d spoken about doing something for years and we finally got our act together to put out our first video.
But it wasn’t a regular thing. It was truly a risk when we decided to make it a full-time thing. We’d no idea how to make money off it, but we just gave it our all.
And how did that led to SENT?
The brilliant thing about the Internet is that it’s global. So it was HBO that reached out to us. They’d seen a few videos they liked and they had a concept they were working on being developed by two writers in Hollywood. And eventually they realised I was a good candidate for the lead role. The script was written by Zach Hines and Yalun Tu and Terence and I were part of the writer’s room. We spent five days in a room figuring out what the story was and that was when my prior life got infused into the story.
So there are parts of your life in the story?
Yeah, the guys needed insight, so they were asking what were the dynamics of an Indian family in Singapore, of an engaged Indian man in the US. So my mum is kind of written into the script and my brother is also sort of in the script as is my older sister. There are parts of them that are written into the script, but I did give them a heads up so they’re cool with it.
Your character feels very passive aggressive in some ways. Is that reflective of the Singaporean persona?
Yes. It’s reflective of a lot of Singapore. I mean, humans in general can be passive aggressive by nature, but here, we almost define it. I think it’s possibly because we all grow up with a fear of authority, of speaking out and rocking the boat, which is a terrible thing. Even based on my first career in the corporate world, there’s a clear hierarchical structure. Some bosses are very open but in school, there’s a lot of regimentation. Having an outlet is great, which is why I think social media is great. But on the flip side, if everyone has an outlet, there’s some weird stuff that can go down. There’re always pros and cons and you have to live with the consequences. What frustrates me is when people don’t want to take responsibility for their words and actions.