Some celebrities are hush-hush about their age. But for stand-up comedian Kumar, he named his latest tour show Kumar Fifty50 to celebrate his turning half-a-century old last August. The multi-faceted performer from Singapore, known for his drag queen image, has spent nearly three decades in the entertainment industry.
When asked what this milestone means to him, Kumar replies candidly: “It means I have one leg in the grave while the other is dan-cing, and I’m trying to relish life as best as possible. It’s a reminder to start ticking off boxes from my bucket list – and I’m making sure to enjoy every moment as it comes.”
On stage, Kumar is the cross-dresser with big hair, full make-up, clad in glittery dresses, telling his brand of titillating jokes. He does not deny that his drag queen persona has made him unique.
“But besides my image, I can understand and relate to topics from both ends of the gender spectrum. When I talk about things, it makes sense to both men and women, for different reasons. Secondly, it’s because I try to keep things relevant with current affairs, and I practise observational comedy.”
Kumar, whose real name is Kumarason Chinnadurai, forayed into the entertainment industry at age 22, as a singing waiter at a fun pub called Cheers! In 1991, he landed a gig at the now-defunct Laughs Comedy Club, playing the role of an Indian drag queen. It was then that he decided comedy was his calling.
His big break came the following year when he was offered a gig at The Boom Boom Room on New Bugis Street. At a time when people barely dared to speak about queer issues or politics, Kumar cracked the most outrageous jokes about sex, race and government, in between sets of lip-syncing and dance routines. His cross-dressing eventually became his trademark and soon he was Singapore’s most well-known drag queen.
How he got his gig at the The Boom Boom Room was a “pretty long story”, says Kumar. He started off as a compère – and stole the show – and was given his own segment of stand-up comedy a few months later. Recalling the early days of his career, Kumar says there were many memorable moments.
“Like the first time we filled the room within the first three months of launching, performing to police and authorities at 3pm, finally getting a sizeable pay cheque after working super hard, meeting the first love of my life, putting together a production for the first time, which was quite unbelievable,” he reminisces. “The small things matter as much as the big things.” Indeed, his shows were deemed provocative in stiff Singaporean society and were subjected to scrutiny and monitoring by the police.
After The Boom Boom Room closed for good in 2005, Kumar started performing at a theatre-bar called Gold Dust (of which he was part-owner). In 2007, he sold his share of the club and has since been splitting his time between Hard Rock Café and 3-Monkeys Café where he performs regularly for four nights a week.
Does the quick-witted Kumar ever have a particular moment on stage when he is lost for words?
“Yes, I get that sometimes. I get into the story I am telling, and the reactions from the audience cause me to lose my train of thought,” he laughs. “Most of the time, the audience will cue me in on where I am and we move along from there.”
Kumar says he enjoys observing people and blends into a crowd (in his off-stage image) really well. “It is surprising to some, but people are very funny especially when they think nobody is watching,” he sniggles slyly.
Every performer longs to garner attention and adoration on stage. What Kumar loves most is seeing the smiles on his audience’s faces.
“Each one of them is truly a blessing. On the other hand, what I dislike is hecklers. Sometimes they really disrupt things even if they don’t mean to,” he says, referring to the negative responses he had received from certain segments of an audience.
Over the last decade, Kumar has performed many popular shows, both abroad and at home, such as Kumar: Stripped Bare And Standing Up (2009-2010), Kumar’s Amazing Race (2011-2012) and Kumar: What Makes A Man A Man? (2013-2014), to name just a few.
This year, he will be taking Kumar Fifty50 on a nationwide tour show in Malaysia, starting on Feb 27 and 28 at HGH Convention Centre, Kuala Lumpur. The show will cover Kumar’s experiences and struggles from a light-hearted perspective that only he can tell.
“There will be a lot of truths,” he says matter-of-factly. “Kumar Fifty50 is me sharing my experiences. I’m hoping people will walk away knowing that at the end of every tunnel, there is a light. They just need to keep doing something to reach it.”
Kumar discloses much of his private life in his biography titled Kumar: From Rags To Drag, published in 2011 to commemorate his 20th year in show business.
The multi-faceted and all-round entertainer has also appeared on television, film and the theatre. He was the co-host of a short-lived but popular talk show called The Ra Ra Show on television in 1993 which was later banned due to its sexual innuendos.
Kumar starred opposite well-known Hong Kong actress Carol Cheng in the English sitcom Oh Carol! and has appeared in a few other programmes.
He has also appeared on the silver screen in a couple of local films.
“Stage and TV or film are different ball games,” says Kumar. “I like acting because it is a change from the regular routine. However, working for film or TV is easier because you can do retakes. With stage, it’s kind of like do or die. Plus, when filming and you need to answer the call of nature, someone can shout ‘Cut!’. When I’m on stage, I’ll need to hold it in,” he laughs.
As one who never seems to run out of jokes, Kumar discloses that he is in fact a more reserved person when he is off stage.
“I don’t like too much attention when I’m going through my daily affairs. I prefer to keep things uncomplicated and smooth-sailing rather than stand out. I don’t think anyone thinks themselves as funny, but I try to find the funny side of life as best as possible,” he says.