Although I have not met her in person, thanks to YouTube I have no doubt Sharul Channa is a riot. And coming from a conservative family background, she has indeed broken tradition in more ways than one.
Sharul is Singapore’s only full-time female comedienne, and one of the most well-known stand-up comics in the island-state. Born in India, Sharul’s family moved to Singapore when she was just a few months old.
She studied acting at Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore, earning a Diploma in Theatre Arts before going on to pursue her degree in Bachelor of Arts in Communications from University at Buffalo, New York.
Today, the 31-year-old has made a mark for herself both at home and abroad. In 2015 and 2016, she was the host and main act at the Singapore Comedy Fringe Festival as well as part of the KL International Comedy Festival 2015.
In 2016, she was invited to be the comedian-host of Comedy Zone Asia at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Australia’s biggest annual comedy festival. She was then chosen to be the first Singaporean act to tour with the festival for their Western Australia and Asian roadshows.
Sharul was also selected for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow in 2017 where she was part of over 25 shows in Queensland and Victoria.
Married to fellow comedian Rishi Budhrani, Sharul has also headlined shows at the Weirdass Pajama Festival – India’s biggest annual comedy festival – in cities like Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai.
Later this month, Sharul will bring her second stand-up comedy special, Sharul Weds Sharul, to Malaysia for the very first time. Star2 caught up with her via e-mail recently:
Star2: In what year did you have your first stand-up at Home Club (a former nightclub in Singapore)?
Sharul: Wow. My Math is terrible! I started performing seven years back and its 2018 now. Jokes aside, it was back in 2011, when my journey in comedy began.
What kind of desk job did you have before becoming a comedian?
The only desk job I have ever had was making cold calls from (an insurance) office three hours every day to earn extra pocket money during drama school days. It was hardly a desk but then it was hardly a job.
How would you describe your brand of comedy?
It is the woman’s perspective. It is my truth as a human being. It is observational and sometimes super-imaginative. I don’t have a brand as such but some men have said I am loud, noisy and too liberated, and that I speak.
How do your shows for the Malaysian market differ from those for Singapore and Australia? Is it more ‘toned down’ and, if yes, how do you feel about it?
I think Malaysians are one of the best crowds to perform to. They are immediately open to laughter, ready to listen and relaxed, as a bunch. I never tone down my comedy for my Malaysian audience. I have to change references in Australia which I don’t have to do in Malaysia since Singaporean jokes are still relatable to the Malaysian audience.
You’ve said in a previous interview that: “On stage, I am 150% of who I am in real life”. Would you say the stage liberates you?
Yes, absolutely. The stage gives me the opportunity to present my point of view in an over-the-top manner and at times like this, we need to voice out our truths loud and clear for people to listen and understand. Also, the energy I get from the audience members is so amazing that it makes me want to perform better for them.
Has being a comedian changed you in any way?
It has changed me as a person. It has liberated me and encouraged me to always be truthful about myself and give an honest, funny opinion about what is wrong with society. It has released me from the fear of being judged and allowed me to connect with thousands of people through laughter. It has brought me closer to other women and has taught me to always encourage other women to do better.
You’ve mentioned that one reason you wanted to be a comedian was to be a voice for female comedians. What do you think are some of the reasons there aren’t many women in comedy?
The Asian culture doesn’t encourage women to have a voice. We are taught since young to look pretty and behave well – sit with our legs crossed, get educated and learn how to cook and then go over to our husband’s house and then drop everything and have children.
When has the Asian culture ever encouraged women to speak their truth, explore, travel and find our feet and be independent? So, women being encouraged to tell funny things over a mic is an alien concept for Asians. A woman is attractive when she is well-dressed and a personality that can be controlled – that is the concept that has been sold for centuries. A woman with a mic cannot be controlled and no one would want to be with such a woman, right? Well, WRONG!
You say you admire Ellen DeGeneres (American comedian, TV, actress, writer, and producer). Why is that so?
She is a funny stand-up comedian, a humanitarian, runs a hilarious TV show that is also inspirational, and she fought to be honest about her individuality and sexuality.
What’s the best and the not-so-great part about being married to a fellow comedian?
The best part is, we can always share ideas and have each other’s backs. We joke with each other all the time and he is my best friend.
Not-so-great part is, it is very difficult to have serious conversations. We laugh off everything!
What can the audience expect from Sharul Weds Sharul?
The truth about Indian weddings, from couple hashtags, to the extensive wedding buffet, from Aunt Sunita, to walking around the fire seven times for a promise of seven lifetimes. I will be washing dirty linen – in this case, it will be a linen sari – in public.
Expect to be shy, to cry and hopefully laugh at all the things we have been believing in our whole lives without questioning traditions and some religious practices.