Kuah Jenhan brings a new perspective to Perth Comedy Festival, from Malaysia via Uzbekistan.
No stranger to Perth audiences, nominated for FringeWorld award for Best Comedy in 2016, Kuah Jenhan hits the right notes early and keeps the audience with him. He regularly appeals directly to the expat Malaysians in attendance, their warm responses verifying his claims and demonstrating his hits on key topical targets.
Jenhan covers lots of ground in Perfect Stranger, geographically more than topically, with a keen eye for people and reactions to common situations. His physical demonstrations and clever accent work bring scenes to life as he discusses censorship in Malaysia, the way that religion informs cultural expression and the ways that societies are tied to the “age” of their countries. Special moments include a vivid re-enactment of an interview between an earnest but baffled reporter and the Chief Censor in Malaysia, discussing the risk of spreading homosexual propaganda to young people, via Beauty and the Beast, and an architectural analysis of the National Costume round entry of Miss Malaysia in the Miss Universe beauty pageant.
The recounting of episodes of life in Malaysia and the contrast with the Australian approach to various issues is effective as Jenhan’s descriptions encapsulate the impossibility of working as a comic commentator in such a “stifling” environment where everyday life already satirises itself. Jenhan’s decision to go to a totally different environment to seek inspiration is contextualised, although his choice of Uzbekistan as his muse remains a quirky mystery.
Jenhan’s traveller’s tales of his trip to Uzbekistan with its associated cultural misunderstandings and slapstick adventures in communication is recounted with much zest and humour, managing to convey his Malaysian view of the world to an Australian audience. Highlights include his description of the process of obtaining a visa to Uzbekistan from Malaysia, including a biography of the consular official in charge of processing the application. Jenhan sweetly balances storytelling in his anecdotes while revealing all the cultural angles to his mixed audience, with plenty of enthusiastic mime and laughs at his own expense. He further develops his social theories before neatly returning to Australia.
While appearing at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Jenhan featured in an ill-advised Herald-Sun promotional series comparing famous international comedians with up and coming performers. The series was retracted after criticisms that the comparisons were being made on ethnicity and appearance rather than performance styles. In this series, “Kuah Jenham” (sic) was compared with the famous Ronny Chieng, with commentary describing “Jenham” as “hirarious (yes, hirarious)” – spelling and repetition from the original.
Using display boards, Jenhan analyses the article, and discusses the reactions to the article in Australia and Malaysia. His bemusement at the shame and apology from Australians, the positive reactions from Malaysian friends and his admiration for the piece’s ability to offend two separate cultures in distinct and directed ways leads to incisive, perceptive and witty discussion about racism in various contexts.
The tension in the room dissolves as Jenhan ties everything up with his theories of Meg Ryan being a force for global unity, leading to everyone in the audience holding hands and moving together in harmony. A great night out and a talented addition to this year’s Perth Comedy Festival.
2017 Perth Comedy Festival
Venue: State Theatre Centre of WA, Perth Cultural Centre
Dates: 5 – 6 May 2017
Tickets: $21 – $26