#throwback was real at Yellow Boots & Why U So Like Dat. A talk organised by the Wee Kim Wee Centre, SMU on 2nd April 2016, the full house at Ngee Ann Kong Si Auditorium got to know more about local veterans in the comedy scene, Gurmit Singh and Siva Choy. After all, in a country known for her too-serious and self-censoring ways, who better to ask the questions: “Is Singapore finally learning to laugh at herself?” and “Are Singaporeans ready to hear the sound of their voices?”
Starting from the beginning, Gurmit walked away from behind the podium and conversed comfortably in front of the audience, most of who grew up while Phua Chu Kang was still on air. The idea for one of the longest running hit TV sitcoms in Singapore was sparked off with one person asking, “Why don’t we have a character that is a contractor? A lot of people renovate homes.”
Laughing, and shaking his head just a bit, Gurmit continued, “When I was Sec 3, I worked for a general team. There were two brothers. One brother; he could speak good English. The other was hopeless. He had a moustache and smarmy look. If you went ‘Ouch’, he would hit back ‘What for?’”
Gurmit did not expect Phua Chu Kang to blow up in popularity. People still come up to him to ask for a picture and autograph, despite it being a decade since the last season. It is his family who keeps him grounded, said Gurmit.
Talking about catching up with his children, after his long run as a celebrity, Gurmit said, “When I was in Bali, [my kid] turned to me and said, ‘Dad, this is nice. Thanks.” Spending time with his family is his main priority now. Gaming is one of his shared hobbies with his children. A self-professed computer geek, he confessed with a cheeky grin, “I once spent 17 hours straight on the computer.”
With the audience in high spirits, Siva reeled us in with a gesture towards the high-tech auditorium and chortled, “I got into university by accident.”
He relived his pre-U and university days with affability and humour. “You know how the teachers make you write an essay on how you spent your Sunday?” he said, to immediate noises of agreement. “My friends usually start with ‘I went to the beach.’ I said, ‘You already live on the beach! East Coast! What are you talking about?’”
To the delight of all the students in the audience, Siva joked about his bad trigonometry and his stern teachers. In a light reminder of corporal punishment back in the day, he said in mock indignation, “You don’t need a 3-foot ruler to teach trigonometry!”
Keeping it real was a consistent theme. It also makes up Siva’s most popularised work, Why U So Like Dat? Released in 1999, it was Singapore’s first comedy album comprising of Singlish songs and coffee-shop skits, selling 50,000 copies to date.
In the lively Q&A, moderated by Professor Kirpal Singh, Gurmit and Siva revisited the question of the day.
“Comedy comes from inside,” shared Gurmit, “but there are days when there are no laughs. There’s a lot of hard work involved.”
Today, we have shifted from a single-ethnic audience in different kampongs to a general multi-ethnic audience. Unfazed, Gurmit replied, “Your audience needs to understand you.”
Said Siva, “As comedians, we work within the limitations - as with all cultures. If you can make good, social satire, people will listen.”