V.K. SANTOSH KUMAR
There is no letting up for Kumar even after 26 years as a stand-up comedian.
People are still flocking to his shows seeking relief from the stresses of daily life.
"But there's a difference," he told tabla! recently. "Earlier all types of Singaporeans used to attend my shows. Now it's mostly heartlanders."
According to Kumar, 51, whose original name is Kumarason Chinnadurai, this is because "everywhere it is so dark now".
"The heartlanders need a laugh because they are really sad," he said. "They are stressed out by their daily lives. So they come to my shows where I talk about social issues - our situation, our policies, the way we are. They enjoy it and have a good laugh."
The fun and enjoyment that Kumar provides was seen on Nov 6 when he hosted a hilarious two-hour show at the Capitol Theatre in support of Beyond Social Services, a charity dedicated to nurturing communities where children, youth and families can thrive despite their disadvantaged backgrounds.
He captivated the sell-out crowd of 960 with his irreverent comments and cutting wit on transportation woes, online fashion faux pas and the need for genuine connections.
The event raised $183,000.
"If you are down and disheartened, listen to his jokes," said Mrs Saraswati Natesan, who attended the event. "You will be delighted and enlightened and your life will be filled with sunshine."
For Ms Yvonne Zhang, who lives in Ang Mo Kio, Kumar is a "great stress reliever". "He is easily the most hilarious comedian in Singapore. His jokes are very real and they stem from his own observations," she said.
To Kumar, "laughter is a good way to let stress out".
"So people leave all their problems outside the door when they come in for my show," he said. "They sit down with a clear mind and have a good time. All the bacteria comes out of their bodies and then they go back to whatever they have to do."
Kumar pointed out that he has to address major social issues - such as expensive housing, tough education courses and competition for jobs.
He believes it is this stress that is driving people to attend his shows. "I think they want to do this more often," he said. "It's therapeutic, like going to a yoga class.
"I have people who have suffered a stroke come in a wheelchair and watch me. They say I am the best cure for all their problems.
"People from the heartland cannot afford to go for shows at the Esplanade. That's why I have brought down my price a bit lower."
Kumar has been in the stand-up comedy business for the past 26 years, since he made $40 a night as a singing waiter at Cheers! The Fun Pub at Novotel Orchid Inn.
But in recent months he has changed his style.
"Last time people were not ready to laugh at themselves," he said. "So I made really simple, stupid jokes.
"Now I have moved on because there are so many new stand-up comedians. I have to up my game and fight. So I talk less sex and more issues."
He also has another big advantage over the younger comedians.
"These kids don't know Singapore then and now," he said. "I can do a lot of then and now because I can compare then and now.
"The audience wants to know about then but the younger comedians don't know about then. So I talk a lot about then.
"I do a lot of comparison, talk about people's behaviour, fashion sense and upskirt videos. This is what society wants."
Kumar knows the pulse of the people very well but he admitted that he is not the best stand-up comedian in Singapore.
"It's experience that's carrying me through," he said. "There's nobody better than me because I am a drag guy (in the 1990s he became Singapore's most well-known drag queen with his caustic wit and biting observations about life, politics, race and sex). It's difficult to do that."
Can someone step into his stilettos in the near future? "I'm not grooming anyone. Once I die, it all ends because comedy cannot be taught," he said.
"It's hard to teach someone to tell jokes because you cannot think like a normal person. You have to think out of the box".
It was chance that made him a comedian, though.
"It just happened," he said. "My parents and classmates were shocked that I became a comedian. I never expected this to come out of me."
His other option was to take up a job in the food and beverage line.
"I love to do service," he said. "I often go to my friend's cafe and serve people. I maybe would have become a flight steward."
These days he performs at the Canvas nightclub along The Riverwalk on Tuesdays (and Thursdays because it is the festive season) and F.R.I.E.N.D.S Cafe at Magazine Road on Fridays.
He is also busy doing overseas tours. "I just finished my Australia and Sri Lanka tours," he said. "Next year again I'm doing Australia and then a solo show at the Esplanade. So my schedule is quite packed.
"The response has been good, so I'm lucky. But you also have to do your homework. You cannot just say I will do my stuff and whether they accept me or not I don't care. So in Sri Lanka I cannot do Singlish or talk about Singapore stuff. I have to cater my show to the audience's tastes."
He did a tour of India "long time ago" and performed in cities such as Bengaluru and Hyderabad, but it is a difficult market for him to conquer "because there are a lot of good Indian comedians".
"I am not greedy any more," he said. "Not that I have a million dollars in the bank. I am comfortable with what I have. I want to go on till I can... till I become a vegetable."
Over nearly three decades, Kumar has shown that laughter is one of the best medicines to cure people's ills. Several generations have enjoyed his sarcastic wit and earthy humour.
"People will remember me for the rest of their lives because I have been talking about the problems they are going through," he said. "When I die, they should remove the Merlion and put me there.
"But the problem with the world is they wait for someone to die before recognising him."
"People will remember me for the rest of their lives because I have been talking about the problems they are going through. When I die, they should remove the Merlion and put me there."
- Stand-up comedian Kumar