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Toy Factory’s Masters of Comedy: An Interview with Judee Tan and Sugie Phua

MOC main visual

As part of the Singapore Chinese Culture Centre’s Cultural Extravaganza, local theatre company Toy Factory has been specially commissioned to create opening show Masters of Comedy 《天才谐星》, premiering this week!

Directed by Goh Boon Teck and written by Johsen Ong, the 90 minute show will be performed in Mandarin, and pay tribute to some of our most iconic local comedians, from Bai Yan all the way to Jack Neo and Mark Lee. Starring some familiar faces from our local theatre scene, and even Wang Wei Liang from Jack Neo’s Ah Boys to Men film series, the show will utilise a talk show format to present comedic dialogue and cross talk, taking inspirations from these comedians acts in the past, and even advertisements they might have starred in.

We spoke to cast members Judee Tan and Sugie Phua on their roles and the state of Mandarin comedy in Singapore. Read the interviews in full below:

Judee Tan

You’ve primarily performed shows in English. Were there any challenges to switching languages and performing comedy in Mandarin instead?

Judee: Definitely. I have the extra step of making sure I am reading the words correctly haha! While I wouldn’t say my Mandarin is very bad – I am effectively bilingual – I am certainly more comfortable operating in English. Essentially while I approach the material in the same way I do for English, I have to first make sure I know all the words, then work with the writer in terms of understanding what he is trying to achieve via his writing/style and the persona he’s chosen for me.

There are certain nuances that are particular to Mandarin, of which I am in good hands since both Boon Teck and Johsen are supremely well versed. The final step was to then take all that has been designed, embrace and embody it such that it becomes natural for me to execute it. I’ve done a number of Mandarin shows with Boon Teck/Toy Factory and they were all tragedies. Masters of Comedy would be the first time I am attempting a standup/comedy monologue in Mandarin.

Bakchormeeboy: Was there a (local) comedian you watched growing up that inspired you to become one? 

Judee: Does Ris Low count?

Bakchormeeboy: In Singapore at least, it feels like there is a lack of female comedians, particularly those performing in Mandarin. Why do you think this is so, and has the situation improved? (and if it hasn’t, how can it?) 

Judee: I think comedy as a genre is harder and definitely needs much thicker skin. You have to really dare to go out there and not be afraid to die, cos that’s what good comedy is, imho anyway. Edge is important and it takes a certain kind of personality to want to put yourself through that kind of stress.

Bakchormeeboy: What do you think is the key to being a good comedian?

Judee: Do it for the audience. Let them have a jolly good time 🙂

Sugie Phua

Bakchormeeboy: We don’t often see you performing in comedic roles, how have you been preparing for Masters of Comedy? (and will we be seeing you use your singing voice during the show?)

Sugie: The extent of me performing stand up comedy has been my pastime watching YouTube for the past 10 years. I have always loved comedy though, and hopefully years of watching it will translate on stage. My voice is my weapon so no doubt there will be items on the show where I will be putting my voice to good use.

Bakchormeeboy: Was there a favourite (local) comedian you watched growing up? What was so memorable/appealing about him/her?

Sugie: After I started my job as an entertainer, I got to host many events. Once, I got a chance to host with Liu Ling Ling, or Ling 姐 and saw this master of comedy in person on stage. I was in awe and thought to myself “if I can be half as funny and half as at ease as she is on stage it would be so great.” She truly is a master of comedy.

Bakchormeeboy: It’s not often we see comedy touted as a key part of Chinese culture, at least not on the local standup scene. Besides acts like Masters of Comedy, where else might we be able to see local Mandarin comedians?

Sugie: I think comedy exists across all cultures, including here in Singapore. Growing up, I’ve seen Wang Sha, Ye Feng, Hua Liang, Zhao Jing, Jack Neo and Lin Yi Ming on TV. And even offscreen we have the Getai entertainers with plenty of jokes and humour.

Bakchormeeboy: What do you think is the key to being a good comedian?

Sugie: Someone once told me – don’t try to be funny. Trust the material, just be, and the jokes will work by themselves. Adding on to that, if you perform with your whole heart and connect with the audience, they will love you.

Masters of Comedy runs at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre from 19th – 25th May, Tickets available from SISTIC. For the full lineup and schedule of the SCCC Cultural Extravaganza 2018, visit the SCCC website here

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