Malaysia’s top comedian Zizan Razak is actually quite a serious person. Seriously?

Whether he’s pulling funny faces or delivering witty comebacks, the popular funnyman has been making audiences laugh since placing second on Astro’s comic talent search show, Raja Lawak, in 2007.

“I’m serious when it comes to my work, and I’m also a serious person by nature,” the 31-year-old comedian and actor said.

Clad in a floral print button-down shirt, Zizan came across as quiet, thoughtful and unassuming compared to his playful, larger-than-life on-screen personality when we caught up with him for an interview.

“As comedians, people may have the perception that we are not serious. To do comedy, you have to take your work seriously in order to find the punchlines,” he said.

This approach to his work has resulted in some, well, serious success. Released in September this year, Polis Evo, led by Zizan and Shaheizy Sam, raked in RM17.96mil, surpassing The Journey’s record of RM17.28mil to become the highest-grossing local film of all time.

This means Zizan has now starred in three of the top five all-time highest-grossing local films including KL Gangster and Hantu Bonceng.

“I didn’t know that,” Zizan, who hails from Dungun, Terengganu, responded with genuine surprise when asked about the impressive feat.

Indeed, Zizan doesn’t dwell much on his past achievements. In fact, he takes on each day as if he’s starting out all over again: “I wake up every day feeling green or feeling like a new person. I have to do that. To improve myself, I have to empty myself. When I’m empty, I have to find something. If I think I’m already successful, what else do I need to look for?

“I’m always finding something new to do. When I get to do something new, I’ll go crazy studying it until I get it right.”

And boy does Zizan know what’s he’s talking about. The record-breaking buddy cop flick, for instance, saw the star taking a risk, playing a dramatic role though still maintaining his comedic roots.

“I’ve always wanted to take on a dramatic role but I can’t change 100% from doing comedy just like that. I’m aware that viewers want a good laugh when they watch my movies. So I have to change things bit by bit,” he said, noting he draws inspiration from works by Hollywood actors Will Smith and Johnny Depp.

Zizan plans to flex his acting muscles even more in the future, harbouring hopes of winning the Best Actor award at the Malaysian Film Festival one day. “I want to win that award because I want to prove that comedians can also do that.”

He even tried his hand at making music which was met with encouraging response. Late last year, his pop-rap track Infiniti Cinta made it to the semi-finals of music chart show Muzik Muzik.

“For me, I’ve already won. I’m grateful. That was enough for me because the others were real singers,” said Zizan who once auditioned for reality singing competition Akademi Fantasia but was unsuccessful.

The multi-hyphenate star is also an entrepreneur, opening a convenience store, Zizan Mart, in Kelantan and becoming the franchise owner of burger joint, Burgerbyte, in Selangor.

“What I have now will fade away one day. It’s important to have a strong pillar to lean on so I’m building it first,” shared the star who once enrolled in a culinary arts course.

While Zizan’s career may have been diversified in so many ways, that doesn’t mean his days of coming up with comedy sketches or delivering impromptu jokes are over.

In fact, just a day before our interview, Zizan won the improv comedy competition, Super Spontan All-Star. Hosting Akademi Fantasia for the past three seasons also means having to think on his feet and serve up a fresh batch of jokes on each episode.

The well-known comic confessed it’s still an immense challenge every time he gets up on stage in front of a live audience.

“It’s difficult. You have to be spontaneous. If it’s funny, it’s funny. But if it’s not, that’s it. You’re embarrassed. If people don’t know you, that’s OK, but if people know you and they are paying to watch you … ” he trailed off, shaking his head.

“I salute those who do it every week. You have to always come up with something different; it’s very tiring. That’s why comedians have to be serious. What they say may even change the course of history because people will talk about it.”

Speaking of being talked about, controversies revolving around Zizan’s personal life are always making the news, ranging from a minor car accident (on his Ferrari no less) to his high-profile breakup with actress Emma Maembong and his rumoured new relationship.

“The controversies I put them in one folder, my work I put them in another folder. Don’t worry about the controversies as long as you do your work sincerely,” he offered.

During the photoshoot, Zizan looked spiffy rocking a white dress shirt, a skinny tie and a black quilted jacket. It was clear the fashion-savvy star dresses for success.

“I choose to dress well because I don’t want people to say that comedians just main pakai (getting dressed without giving much thought), don’t cheapen yourself, have standards. It’s not to show off to people, but it’s so that people don’t look down on us,” he shared.

Success, in Zizan’s eyes, is simply the satisfaction of a job well done. “It’s not money or awards. After achieving something and people are laughing and are happy, there’s a sense of peace – that’s invaluable,” he said.

And he is most satisfied when he is giving back to his fans. “I feel like I can’t pay them back enough so when I’m free … once, I was back at my hometown, I packed some chocolates in the bonnet, I went to a school and asked the headmaster if I could meet the kids. They loved it,” he recalled, his face beaming.

With so much on his plate, does Zizan have any free time left for himself?

“In a year, maybe I have a week off?” he said, turning to his assistant for confirmation. “In a month, I may have half a day off or so. But when I do get time off, I will spend it meaningfully … on my bed,” said the busy entertainer, adding he prefers to stay home, rest and watch DVDs.

He doesn’t complain, offering instead: “Artistes are like trees, before I turn brown, I want to do as much as I can now.”