Keren Bala Devan tickles the funny bone with his hilarious rants, writes Zuliantie Dzul
LAUGHTER is the best medicine. But I’m not sure whether that saying is applicable to me. After spending an hour with Malaysian comedian Keren Bala Devan, I have a headache and my jaw and ribs hurt from laughing too much.
“I’m not sure why they call it stand-up comedy when somehow there’s always a stool on stage where you can sit,” Keren begins with a chuckle.
As he points out, performance is also about expressing yourself physically.
“The audience can connect more with you if you’re standing up. Yes, it’s more comfortable when you sit down, but it looks lazy. If you sit down, that’s not comedy, that’s book reading!”
Keren is part of the troupe of comedians performing in this year’s LOL Fest, an annual comedy festival organised by LOL Events.
From March 24 till April 15, over 50 comedians such as Hannan Azlan, Andrew Netto, Jason Leong, Jusin River and Kumar, to name a few, will be performing in nine different shows across three key venues in Kuala Lumpur, namely HGH Convention Centre, KLPac and Live House.
SMART WAY TO JOKE
To make people laugh is the essence of being a stand-up comedian, says Keren.
“If they don’t laugh, I’d sit under the shower and cry,” the bespectacled Keren says with a giggle.
“Actually, the show must go on. It’s simple. If I did a bad show, I’d go home and analyse what went wrong and do better on my next show. No point dwelling on the past.”
To be a good comedian, adds Keren, is to be able to tell clever jokes. “You need to know your context and your intent. You must be honest. Let’s take a racial-based humour for example. You can make it work if you’re clear about your intention. Are you trying to make people laugh or are you trying to hurt them? If you’re hurting them, then that’s not a good joke. You need to know where to draw the line. You craft a racist joke where it’s funny to the person you’re targeting at. That’s the smart way,” explains Keren, smiling.
He also shares that being a comedian needs a mixture of art and science.
“First, you come up with a premise. You craft your original material using your creative knowledge on stuff. That’s the artistic process of it. The science part comes in when you develop your idea into a joke. You focus on your writing technique, timing, pacing and delivering. You blend all that and that’s how you do better,” says Keren.
Last Wednesday, five superheroes – Iron Man, Spiderman, the Incredible Hulk, Captain America and Wolverine – and S.H.I.E.L.D (a covert international peacekeeping organisation which operates as humanity's first line of defence against Earth's most dangerous enemies) director Nick Fury assembled in their costumes to brutally roast each other, all in the name of comedy.
Keren played Nick Fury, the roast master in Roast of Superheroes, the two-day event which took place at Live House in Kuala Lumpur.
“We were discussing about who was going to play who, and we needed a roast master. So I said, ok-lah, since Nick Fury was like the leader of Avengers, I’ll be Nick Fury,” shares Keren, who were joined by fellow comedians Papi Zak, Kavin Jay, Brian Tan, Phoon Chin Ho and Prakash Daniel.
“It’s not every day you get to roast people. You can say anything you want but in a funny way. Again, we’re being smart here.”
But if he really were Nick Fury in real life, he won’t assemble those heroes, he says.
“My family is a Sri Lankan-Tamil, and we’re extremely cheap people, very stingy. I’ll select people based on the cheapest rates I can find. I won’t select Incredible Hulk. I’ll probably go with Okay Hulk, slightly cheaper. Iron Man… too expensive, I’ll go with Aluminium Boy or something,” says Keren, sending me into stiches.
Keren’s next show will be Laugh-A-Ton on April 15 where he will join some amazing international such as Justin Heyes and Dan Tackage and local comedy talents in a one-of-a-kind six hour special. The show will also take place at Live House, in TREC.
WHERE IT BEGAN
Keren’s forays into stand-up comedy begin when friends encouraged him to take the stage.
“When I go out with friends, I always joke around and I always make them laugh when I complain about something or get worked up about something. They always think it’s funny and one day they asked me to try do stand-up. I told them ‘Ok, you guys asked for it!’ So I did it,” explains Keren.
It was 2010 when Keren first stepped on stage during Time Out KL Comedy Thursday in Zouk.
With the audience numbering more than 200, Keren had three minutes to either make it or break it as a comedian. “It was intense!” he says, recalling.
But he placed his ‘safety armour’ on (his black jacket which he likes to wear from time to time when he performs).
“It’s a psychological thing, that jacket. I feel more secure wearing it while on stage,” confesses Keren. “But I was nervous. I still am actually before every show. But Papi and Kavin always tell me before shows to go and have fun. But one thing I’ll always remember about that first show is what happened after. That was when reality sank in and the adrenaline died down. My knees decided to give up and I almost fell off the stage!”
But since then, his life has never been the same. His journey has led him to headlining various venues, opening for international comedian Paul Ogatta and performed in shows with Harith Iskander. Keren learnt a lot by watching these professionals approach their audience.
“I look at them and I reflect. I don’t want to be exactly like them. I just want to be as good and grow from that. I learnt how to properly perform for a bigger audience.”
Keren is known for his hilarious rants. His material is often inspired by something to complain about – from strange modern cultural habits like vaping to the annoying behaviour of the general populace.
But the very first joke he told that night was about tall people and how much he hates them simply because he’s short.
“That’s funny to my friends. They always make fun of my size. So I channelled it into that show. I like to rant. It’s not really an act. It’s just who I am and how I talk. That works for me.”
And it certainly worked for the audience.
So how much has he grown since that first show? I ask, sensing another joke coming.
“None! I think I’ve grown shorter actually, and sideways,” he concludes in all seriousness.
Visit www.lolfest.my for more details.
When: April 15
Time: Show 1 (5pm-6.45pm); Show 2 (7pm-8.45pm); Show 3 (9pm-10.45pm)
Where: Live House, E-G-07, Electric Boulevard, TREC, Lot 434, Jalan Tun Razak, Kelab Golf di Raja Selangor, 50400 Kuala Lumpur