Now in its fifth year and a mainstay of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Comedy Zone Asia has proven a hit among audiences of every background. Globally, comics peer inwards at what makes them distinct, but because the Asian scene isn’t as congested (for now), and their experiences aren’t as widely accessible in the mainstream, 2019’s Comedy Zone Asia is masterful in weaving diverse and cultural epics into tales of literally faraway lands and untouched topics. When the empires strike back, they strike with rounds of applause.
In the case of Brunei’s Zainal Bostaman, he addresses subjects that could land him in shit if they caught wind of it back home. An engineer by trade, Bostaman is known for his placid demeanour but often has a go or two at the recent socio-political happenings in Brunei – can you blame him? It’s raw, widely contested and condemned, but where some comics layer facets of their personality to fit the bit, Bostaman’s honesty and caricature of spreading love whilst picking apart the happenings of a nation embroiled in discourse shines.
On the flipside, Sonali Thakkar couldn’t be arsed what anyone else thinks. She just wants people to stop mistaking her name for an African country, damn it! The seemingly sheepish comedian’s deadpan delivery is anything but. Between solo backpacking and convincing her parents she needs a younger sibling, Thakkar presents her material with such monotonous, minimalist expressions whilst consistently killing the punchline, you’d think she’s helming India’s version of The Office. Recounts of her angst-filled encounters with fellow backpackers and dowry struggles with her parents, when coupled with her nuances of timing and silent breaks, are signs of a star in motion.
Taking it back to his roots is Anirban Dasgupta – failing comedian, corporate hustler and roommate to his wife. “You can fit the entire audiences of my shows in India in an UberPool. And I’ll be driving the Uber,” he jests. In all honesty, Dasgupta is suave, smooth, and an international veteran, having launched his own Amazon Prime comedy special to rave reviews. He bares his daily struggles of life on stage and invites you to chuckle at the misfortune and agitation he puts up with – which includes his parents’ deep interests in his marriage’s boink schedule. Dasgupta drinks the kool-aid but spits it right back at everyone.
Speaking of being a bit naughty, Joanne Kam has been on such a dating app swipe fever she now possesses a bruised finger. She’s also matched with a profile of fried noodles. Make of that what you will, but the queen of Malaysian comedy is now more than 20 years in and commands the stage with the moxie of someone who’s eternally skulling Red Bulls. Internationally renowned, Kam intersperses her performance with the jazzy slang of her people whilst brutally firing on all cylinders about her sexual misadventures; “The only rock I’ll climb is Dwayne Johnson!” On the night, she opened the show and performed segments between changing acts without any choppy awkwardness – a seasoned duchess.
The smaller, but by no means less feisty, geo-neighbour to Kam is Singapore’s Fakkah Fuzz; a man so in love with rice and spicy foods he could not go six hours without them after landing in Melbourne. A champion and household name of the comedic scene in his hometown, and with a Netflix special titled Almost Banned, Fuzz’s risqué commentary and goofy mannerisms fit the bill for grand closer of the show. Drilling on his satorical observations, Fuzz’s valiant, unapologetic descriptions of the every day, like karate-chopping policemen or people not knowing what race he really is, gives audiences a snapshot of an experience that’s uniquely Singaporean.
Aptly – but also curiously – held at the Chinese Museum, Comedy Zone Asia is a breath of fresh satire you’d be foolish to ignore. A celebration of Asian diversity and a necessary cultural force to the comedic roundtable.
Highlight: Cheeky utilisation of boogers to ward off unwanted men by Thakkar.
Lowlight: A case of ‘phone ringing and taking the call’ in the front row. Unnecessary. Dasgupta’s handling was masterful and priceless.
Crowd Favourite: Kam’s bastardisation of current Asian it-girl Marie Kondo’s mantra for post-naughty shenanigans.
Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Comedy Zone Asia is running until Saturday 21 April, bar Mondays, at Chinese Museum.