The court jesters of yore may no longer exist, but stand-up comedians have taken their place. The two aren’t dissimilar – each is a keen observer and scathing critic who coats his words with a sugary layer of humour to make things more palatable. George Carlin is probably among the first to come to mind. Closer to home, we have talent like Sam See, who was on season four of Stand-Up, Asia! on Comedy Central. Far from being confined to just the local scene, he’s gone international, and performed at events like Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This veteran has seen things evolve here for close to a decade, and thinks there’s much potential waiting to be realised.
How do international audiences differ from the local crowd?
They’re generally a little more pop culture-savvy and a lot more updated on current affairs. I feel that they’re just more aware of what’s going on in the world; you could do jokes about the Hong Kong protests in Singapore now, and some people will get confused. Singapore audiences have genuinely been getting a lot better in this regard, especially in the past decade, but there are still huge swaths of them who are content to stick to simple race-based humour. What’s worse is how these people get disappointed if they don’t get the kind of humour they want. Sometimes they react by not engaging with the comedian at all.
That sounds like a tough crowd. I’m guessing it’s usually more fulfilling to perform overseas then?
Oh yeah, 100 per cent. It’s definitely more enjoyable to perform anywhere else, because the crowds overseas are more receptive and more giving with their laughter. I still like performing here though – it’s a challenge, and the only way to make myself better.
You talk a mile a minute, even more quickly than you do in real life. Has this always been your style?
I used to talk a lot quicker. I’m trying to slow my delivery down further, because it’s still a little fast. As the years go on, I’m getting more confident on stage, so in 20 years’ time, I’ll probably be slow enough to be understandable (laughs).
What about the content you deliver?
It’s definitely a lot less crass. I’m still dirty, but I’m using more innuendos, euphemisms, and allegories now, instead of saying things out explicitly. I think my jokes have got more personal – and honest – as well. I’m basing it on what I think and feel, rather than what I think will endear me to the audience. If you don’t like what I say, then I’m sorry, because there’s nothing I can do about it.
You make no secret of your sexual orientation on stage. Has being openly gay ever got you into trouble here?
Only with the audience. There have been times when I’ve dropped the bomb that I’m gay on stage, and some members of the audience immediately switched off. It’s annoying, because the reaction wasn’t due to the joke, but because they didn’t like me as a person. It’s shocking to me, because they get so cracked up by jokes about how a minority race is inferior to them. It’s about making a judgment when the person is in the room, versus when they’re not.
Do you think there’s potential in Singapore’s stand-up comedy scene?
Yes, definitely. I’ve been involved in comedy as a performer, showrunner, and producer for eight years, and I’m currently the director of The Comedy Club. I can clearly see that there’s a demand. I think the best thing for the scene right now is an influx of new talent. Honestly, though, I don’t know how to do it. We can make the spaces available and the steps a budding comedian needs to take clear as day, but if people don’t want to step up to the plate, there’s nothing that I can do.
How would one conceivably get started?
First off, start watching some live comedy, because the live environment is very different from what you see on the screen. Then, sign up for the open mics – it’s where everyone starts out in comedy. Give it a few tries, and if this is something you find enjoyable, then keep at it. We’re all around to help.
More information about Sam See and his latest gigs are on his website.
Photos Cher Him Art Direction Chia Wei Choong Styling Bryan Ho Hair & Grooming Wee Ming using Kevin Murphy + Nars