Five years ago, comedians Rishi Budhrani and Sharul Channa got married. In that same year, the two also presented the very first edition of The Rishi And Sharul Show, combining their individual fame and talents as comedians and garnering rave reviews and sold-out theatres. Now, five years on, Singapore’s comedy couple are teaming up once again to showcase The Rishi And Sharul Show 2, bigger and better than ever before.
But it’s not like the two comedians have been stagnant over the last five years; in fact, each one has seen plenty of individual success in their respective independent careers, with Rishi continuing to hone his stand-up comedy with Singapore’s first LIVE TV comedy panel show, OK CHOPE!, toured his solo show Cannot Means Cannot, and hosted STB and Singapore Airlines’ travel miniseries Unexpected Journeys. Sharul, on the other hand, has not only performed for the Darwin International Festival and the Melbourne Comedy Festival, but has also just wrapped a tour of India with her signature show Sharul Channa is a Pottymouth. Sharul has also delved deeper into theatre, with one woman show Crazy Poor Sita and Papa, both in 2019.
Speaking a little on her experience diving back into theatre, Sharul explains a little more about playing characters as opposed to her stand-up routines: “As an actor, you’re always trained to get emotionally involved. But you must always remember that you never become someone else, you are always you playing another character. It’s about bringing the character closer to your personality and imagining what you might do in that situation. Doing Disco Sheela was easy because it was playing multiple characters, but Crazy Poor Sita was a huge emotional investment. I didn’t let myself cry till the show was over, and when it was, I had a big cry, not because I was the character, but for how hard this character’s life was. I couldn’t cry during the show because I’d met these people, and they don’t cry, because they’re so used to the hardship.”
“Mental illness is a very real thing in the theatre world,” Sharul continues. “A lot of actors get very attached to the idea of validation one gets from playing each character. You mustn’t get too attached to it, or you’ll always be chasing that validation from the audience and link that to a specific character you play. I get that enough as a standup comedian from all the laughs, but then actors who aren’t generally feel insecure. Standup trained me to always be uncertain, and to constantly challenge myself to push and get that validation via laughs.”
Adds Rishi: “Everyone’s process is a little different. I first fell in love with Sharul when I was watching her grad show and she has such a good grasp over performance. She’s only grown from strength to strength over the years, and I’m genuinely in awe of how she can seamlessly slip in and out of her roles. It takes a lot of effort to be able to do that. For myself, I usually internalise each project, and it helps to do something immediately after to change my state. I can’t just sit around and celebrate or brood, so I end up changing things like shaving or going away for a while, recuperate, and then dive right into the next project.”
Speaking of love, with The Rishi and Sharul Show 2 playing for one night only at Capitol Theatre on 14th February, it’s no surprise that the topic of choice will be love. “Theatre companies can take Christmas, Chinese New Year and every other festival, but we’re staking our claim on Valentine’s Day. Plus, which other theatre couple in Singapore can do such a show together?” says Sharul. “Since last year, people have been telling us that they wanna see us together. People buy into the idea of love, and sincerely believe that we have a good relationship going. We see ourselves as best friends living together in companionship, and for the longest time, we’ve decided not to put up photos of us together. Why? Because it’s not real! Onstage, we want to show that we’re in a comfortable relationship, and not have to keep going oh I love you so much throughout.”
It isn’t going to be all hearts and flowers at the show though, as both Sharul and Rishi tackle the hard truths of love and relationships over the course of the evening. “While we do say that #marriageisajoke, we do love a lot about each other and our careers. It’s a lot about growth and coming to terms with our relationship with each other,” says Rishi. “There was once we were rehearsing a sketch we had together, before we suddenly had a huge fight where Sharul walked right out. The stage manager started flipping through the script trying to figure out if it was part of the show or not! These days, we’re learning how to deal with it better now, and one important thing we’ve come to terms with, is that we can respect each other’s work a bit more than we did.”
Living together is one thing, but to work together is a whole other ball game, according to Sharul. “Relationships alone are already the most difficult thing, and it took us maybe 5 years to understand where our personal and creative differences lie, and figure out how to approach and resolve them. It’s about learning to be the best of friends, letting bygones be bygone, and letting our relationship evolve as time goes by,” she says.
“It’s important that we’ve each done our own thing as individuals instead of relying on each other. We must have that independence and not have to fully depend on each other for support, rather than making our entire thing Sharul and Rishi.” adds Sharul. “As individuals, we keep growing, and after this show, we’ll be going back to doing our own individual shows and projects. We maintained very clearly in most of our solo interviews that it’s never Sharul and Rishi, only Sharul and her husband or Rishi and his wife. The marriage must always be secondary to our careers.”
Of course, it’s not as if their lives are entirely separate, considering that they’ve built up an entire domestic life together, supporting each other by attending each other’s shows and at times, even entering each other’s professional lives as guests. “There are times events companies do go hey, could you maybe get Sharul on board? And we suddenly find ourselves becoming agents for each other,” says Rishi. “And after this, we might even start doing guest positions on each other’s shows more. The corporates love it, so sometimes she might come on my show for a 10 minute segment, and appeal to the ladies as well as the gentlemen.”
“Rishi is a perfectionist, while I’m a raw energy type of person,” comments Sharul. “He needs the exact temperature and exact setting for something to work, and I’m this get up and go person who’s spontaneous and will do exactly what I’m thinking. But even then, we’re constantly changing, in both body and personality. The woman Rishi married is quite frankly not the same woman anymore. A lot of the time it’s about learning to re-love the same person again and again.”
“For me, 2020 is about developing this new relationship with each other, and every year it keeps changing. There’s always something to be worked on, and it’s usually to learn how to be best friends with each other, and talk to him as family,” she continues. “Love seems like such a dirty word sometimes, and I prefer to say I understand or respect this person, and allow this person to have his own life other than completely being about me, so there’s space for both of us to breathe. And in a sense, we’re learning how to be together by learning how to be apart.”
On the importance of doing such a show, Rishi comments: “A lot of comics will probably be watching the show, and well, we want to show the younger guys that it’s completely possible to do a show like this, on our own money. People will hopefully ask us things like oh how are you guys doing this, how much is rental, how do I get started, and we want to pave that way forward. The comedy community has been very good to us all, constantly assisting us in ways such as how the Merry Lion has been giving us spots to test our material at the club, or people helping with the writing.”
“I still can’t believe we did this on our own, with no sponsors and that we dared to take such a huge risk. But so far, it’s been worth it, and it’s so rare to have such complete creative freedom and licence to do what we want and not be answerable to anyone but ourselves,” he continues. “We’ve got a good team under us, and Sharul and I have split our time quite well, from spending time writing material together, to being at the comedy club at night, and the occasional corporate show to pay the bills in the leadup to the show. It’s finally time to put all that we’ve learnt and experience we’ve gained over the last few years to the test and see how it goes over with the public.”
While the two of them don’t have any children, and don’t plan on having any anytime soon, they remain loyal owners of a dog named Bubble. “The big benefit of not having children, for now at least, is that I’ve always seen children as distracting the parents from issues in the marriage,” says Sharul. “It’s such an Asian mindset to think that you have a child and all the problems just go away. And by not having children, we don’t get distracted from the issue, and instead, we face it head on. We work in 5 year cycles, and we like to think that every 5 years, we start something new with the relationship and discover something new about each other. Whatever happens, we want to remain best friends and companions, and find out where this relationship brings us next, while still respecting each other’s independence and differences.”
Love, for both of them, is about maintaining independence amidst interdependence, able to live apart as much as they enjoy living together, and having that flexibility. “I like to see a long term relationship as interlocking spurs in rivers,” says Rishi. “It’s like how the river may be flowing one way, but eventually splits into a number of tributaries, and goes far away from each other. But eventually, they interlock again, and all come back to join up at the main river. Being in a relationship with Sharul feels like that, where we go in and out of these interlocking spurs, and we both need to learn to be comfortable with that. There are times we have to go off on our own path, and we wind up at different points of the river. Eventually though, we do need to come back together, and that means to re-love, re-connect and re-learn about each other, and genuinely try to understand the other person. This trying, and genuine desire to understand your partner, that’s what love is.”
“I’ll be very honest – meeting Sharul changed my life,” Rishi concludes. “I don’t think I’d have the guts to do a lot of things if I hadn’t met her. As much as I don’t think I’d be far from the industry I’m in right now, there’s something about her audacity for life that inspires mine. I was definitely quite scared of doing something like this in the past, but now, I’m much more confident that doing this show together, beyond financially, would not put a strain on our relationship, because it’s stronger than anything you can throw at us.”
The Rishi and Sharul Show 2 plays on 14th February 2020 at the Capitol Theatre. Tickets available from SISTIC