Kavin Jay is a name that needs to introduction. He may call himself the grumpiest comedian in Malaysia, but his passion for the craft shines with every show he undertakes. Kavin is one of two Malaysians who have their own show on Netflix, his being the stand up comedy Everybody Calm Down.
Since its release in February 2018, the show has gone on to become a hit internationally. Kavin now travels the world to perform at numerous sold out shows, always staying true to the Malaysian identity he holds dearly, with his grumpy persona in tow.
Kavin talks to the Varnam team about his journey in Malaysian stand up comedy, and what lies ahead.
Varnam (V): How has life changed since Everybody Calm Down premiered on Netflix?
Kavin Jay (K): It has been incredible. I got a lot of attention outside Malaysia. It was great because I got to travel and do more shows abroad. It was a huge leap for me.
You know, I thought my sense of humour will only appeal to Southeast Asians, but it really grew past this region. An American publication rated me in the top 10 comedies on Netflix. An Australian portal later ranked me in the top 100 stand up comedy specials of all time, alongside eminent comedians, some of whom I have grown up watching!
V: Now that you are approaching a worldwide audience, has the Malaysian Indian comedic element in you taken a back seat, for the Malaysian to stand out?
K: Well, it is in the back seat, but it’s still in the car. When I perform abroad, it is easier for me to identify as Malaysian, rather than Malaysian Indian. But in my stories about my family and my upbringing, there is that Indian value that I bring forward.
My message is – no matter how you grow up, we all had a similar childhood. Let’s look at the similarities we share instead of our differences. As an Asian kid, no matter where you grew up, it is always going to be the same – your parents will keep plastic bags for the rest of your lives, you get beaten up by them because it is entertaining, that kind of thing.
My message is – no matter how you grow up, we all had a similar childhood. your parents will keep plastic bags for the rest of your lives, you get beaten up by them because it is entertaining, that kind of thing.
V: True that! Part of your material is about being heavy, but you cleverly perform without punching down on fat people. Is this a calculated move?
K: It comes in naturally to me, because I am heavy. I don’t ever want to punch down. I don’t want to ever make someone uncomfortable because of what I say. But sometimes, I do fail at that and say the wrong things. My intentions, however, are always clear.
I know what its like to be punched down as a fat person, as a minority, as a person with social anxiety and a learning disability.
Whenever I write a joke, I’m always thinking, how will this affect somebody else. Every comedian has a line that they wont cross. Mine is that I don’t want to offend anyone. Whenever I think about what’s funny, it’s never about people themselves, it’s more about the situation that I’m in.
People often think that when you do comedy, there must always be a target, the butt of the jokes. But the target doesn’t have to be a person, it could be a situation. For example, one of my jokes on Everybody Calm Down is about flying, and it is the situation that I am making fun of. It is not a “Nobody should be fat” kind of thing. Its never about that.
V: So are there any topics that you consciously avoid while writing your material?
K: I avoid talking about religion, because I don’t know enough about religion to make fun of it. Women’s rights is another topic I avoid. I grew up in a household of 7 aunties, who are stronger than anyone else I know. One slap from them and I will end up in the middle of the road! So I have never had the need to poke fun at women.
I grew up in a household of 7 aunties, who are stronger than anyone else I know. One slap from them and I will end up in the middle of the road!
V: Your comedic character is this whinging, angry grumbler. Is this a reflection of how you really are?
K: It is actually an amplification of who I am! I get very annoyed at the littlest of things, but the big things wash over me. For example, when someone rams into my car from the back, I get out of my car and I’m like “It’s fine, that’s why we have insurance,” But show me a tree blocking a sign board and I’m like “Argh, why do you do this to me!”
V: Who are some of the comedians in our region that you look up to?
K: Harith Iskandar, for sure. He has been doing this for 20 to 30 years. Harith really paved the way for stand up comedy in Malaysia, and without him, we wouldn’t even have this industry. My favourite comedian in Malaysia is Douglas Lim. He has a knack for noticing what’s on people’s minds, and writing it out. It’s literally on the tip of your tongue, and you’ll hear him perform it. Simply brilliant.
V: You have groomed a few of the younger comedians like Keren Baladevan, Prakash Daniel and Brian Tan, tell us about that.
K: I wouldn’t use the word groomed at all! With these guys, I could see their talent immediately. And while I did guide them along the way, I cannot claim any credit to where they are now. They have taken my guidance and they know how to apply it. Many don’t. Keren, Prakash and Brian have done really well.
V: Was that the reason you chose to do The Macha Men Podcast with Keren?
K: Keren and I are good friends, and we have really good chemistry. We talk all the time, and one day I thought, hey, let’s do a podcast. But we didn’t want to do the age-old trope where comedians just talk about comedy. I personally find a lot of podcasts syok sendiri (full of oneself). The Macha Men Podcast is different in the sense that we give out a lot of information. So, even if you don’t find it funny, you’ll get plenty of interesting information on topics ranging from Mona Fendi to the assassination of Kim Jong-un to Sybil Karthigesu.
V: Would you recommend a career in stand up comedy?
K: I would recommend it, but with caution. People often think that stand up comedy is just “Aiyah, just go up there, tell a few jokes and you will make money,” This is not true! It takes years of dedication, hard work and perseverance for you to make a decent amount of money.
I am doing this full time now, only because I have put in 13 years of work. There’s no such thing as instant success. Nobody is going to pay you thousands to tell a few jokes if they don’t know who you are. And for them to know who you are, you need to work hard and put yourself out there, and that includes going to open mic sessions and struggling to get laughs.
Working your way up in stand up comedy is akin to going to medical college.
Working your way up in stand up comedy is akin to going to medical college. You don’t enjoy the process, but you have to put in the time, and eventually when you graduate, you hope to get into a good hospital. It is a lot of investment in yourself.
View this post on Instagram
V: We hear that you’re dipping your toes in training next..
K: Honestly, I have never backed down from a challenge. I’ve wanted to share my presentation skills with people, but I never knew how. I mean, sure, I can talk about being a comedian but not many people want to be comedians. And yet, there are so many things that I go through as a comedian that people can learn from. So when I was approached to conduct this session, I thought this could be beneficial to people who want to improve themselves.
V: Fantastic. And on the career front, what’s next for Kavin Jay?
K: I am never a person to set goals. I used to do that, and I got very disappointed when they weren’t met. Right now, I don’t set goals, I just work towards making myself better. Being on Netflix wasn’t a goal, but when it happened, I was elated. Different people have different methods of motivation, and this just works for me.
What do I really want to do? I want to tour the USA, Europe and Asia. And it is already happening! I’m going to perform in China next month, and have planned to travel to Australia and Los Angeles next year. I want to take this Malaysian sense of humour to the world, and tell them, “Eh, Malaysians can also be funny!”