WHEN world-renowned Canadian comedian Russell Peters was in Singapore recently on a global comedy tour, he gave Ms Sharul Channa a signed autograph with the words: “Welcome to this awful business!”
Ms Channa was bowled over by this laudation as she ranks among a small breed of full-time female comedians doing regional gigs in Asia and Australia.
She has been hailed for her “balls of steel”, razor sharp wits and spot-on comic timing.
The description makes her smile. “‘Balls of steel’ might be true since I don’t hold back in saying what I want to say. I’m not a dainty woman on stage and I believe for the truth to be spoken, you need to say it with scrupulous passion,” she says.
She adds: “It’s always nice to hear feedback about yourself but generally I like to just do my job to my best potential hoping that people enjoy themselves.”
She believes that people don’t choose stand-up comedy, it chooses them.
“People never can choose to be funny for stage. I believe you either have it or you don’t have it,” says the 27-year-old, who did a Diploma in Theatre Arts (Acting) at LaSalle-SIA, College of the Arts, and a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and minor in marketing from University at Buffalo, through the Singapore Institute of Management.
“Every gig a stand-up comedian does is a challenge. The promise to make a room full of people laugh is a big promise to make. Believe me, it’s tough,” she says.
“What I enjoy most is that I have been blessed to be in an art form that makes people smile, laugh, giggle, think which means for the time the people are watching us, they are happy and away from their respective problems.”
Taking the plunge
Ms Channa vividly recollects her “stage fright” on her debut as a stand-up comedian, three years ago, at Comedy Masala at The Riverwalk, Clarke Quay.
She was “nervous, excited, scared, confident and just slightly shitting in my pants”.
She says: “The first time I was on stage was like standing at the edge of the swimming pool. You know the water is cold and you’ll probably freeze just slightly but it’s so exciting and you can’t wait to immerse yourself in the water.”
For her material, she relies on her personal experiences and observations and also her feelings about the absurdity of some of the cultural practices followed by people around the world.
“I believe no topic is controversial if you use the right words to phrase it,” she says.
She is currently touring with an all-female stand-up troupe called ‘Comedy on Heels’, performing in Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur and Mumbai.
She has done gigs in Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, India, Australia and the United States, either as a headliner or an open-micer.
The daily routine of a comedian is not a bed of roses, she says. “I make it a point to get up in the morning and watch some stand-up comedy clips, generally Ellen Degeneres or Bill Cosby.
“I then take an hour to write down all the funny ideas in my mind that I had either explored from observations the day before or things I would like to talk about.
“My comedy book and pen are with me everywhere I go…whether I have to go pay a bill or to a meeting with a client about the next laughter-based motivational workshop I have to conduct.”
Most evenings, she performs at a number of local pubs at Clarke Quay, Boat Quay and Orchard Road from 9pm.
She does what she can to relax so she can feel energised for the performance.
She says: “This is the only job in the world that requires you to be charged up and relaxed at the same time when we are on stage – we are giving our 120 per cent.”
The mind-boggling compilation of jokes are like a personal library in her head, she says, and when she reaches the venue, it’s time to pull out the books depending on what the audience wants to read.
“This is a 24-hour job, some of us get jokes in our minds while we are asleep and we keep our book at our bedside, just in case!” she adds.
Her work requires spending many hours alone in a room, alone.
“A killer five-minute set can take 10 months to perfect and till then you have to go to possibly every open-mic to test your material, come back and edit and then go back to test and come back and edit until it is a perfect five minutes,” she says.
“Stand-up comedy requires not only the five minutes you are seen on stage but also the hours and hours of writing that the audiences are unaware of. Stand-up comedians are always out there to challenge and out-do themselves to make the audiences laugh – it’s a very fulfilling career.”