Funny Business

Published on 26 September 2017

Photo: mrbrown

Lee Kin Mun, the creator of mrbrown, spills on the serious side of comedy.

By Joel Tan

Long before social media, and Facebook, there was mrbrown.

The comedic alter ego of Lee Kin Mun, mrbrown rose to fame in the early 2000s on the back of the mrbrown show, a podcast that Lee and his friend, Benjamin Lee — who played Mr. Miyagi — created with the help of writers like Marc Nair. Hilarious trash-talk and incisive socio-political commentary and satire, combined with his eponymous blog, made mrbrown a certified hit.

“We just enjoyed making fun of people,” Lee recalls. “It was exactly what we were doing in school. Suddenly we had a small audience.” People were drawn to the show’s mix of irreverent local humour and satire, which brought a smart but always tongue-in-cheek take on affairs of the day, politics, and Singaporean idiosyncrasies.

Lee’s comedic chops soon found a print audience with his popular mrbrown column in the Today newspaper, though it was not without the occasional controversy. In 2006, his article, “S’poreans are Fed, Up With Progress!”, a satirical rant about the rising costs in the city, attracted criticism for its mocking tone and political rhetoric.

Today, the article reads fairly mildly, but in the early 2000s, there was a genuine sense of edginess about mrbrown’s role as a socio-political blogger. Lee, though, never saw himself as an enfant terrible. “You never think you’re blazing a trail or trying to be edgy. Everything I’ve done is an extension of my creative impulse to make people laugh and do stupid sh*t. It doesn’t come from an agenda-driven place.”

If anything, Lee is very serious about the business of making people laugh. He sees it as a creative vocation, one that has spanned almost 20 years now. “Writing comedy is really hard. I’m still learning every day. I enjoy honing my craft. I’m now at a place where I force myself to do this on a daily basis. I feel more alive, my senses are more alert, and I get to practise everyday.”

He’s currently working on a daily podcast, available on the podcast app, Anchor. On it, he pushes out satirical content, often in the voice of his star character, Kim Huat, a lovable beng with a political conscience. The podcast marks a return to the audio format that he loves and has missed for its intimacy.

For Lee, it’s always been about the audience, and keeping them tickled. It’s what’s kept him, and mrbrown, in the business for so long.

Photo: mrbrown

His secret for surviving off Internet content? Keep creativity at the forefront.

“As long as you’re not chasing after likes, and you’re happy with your corner of the web, and you get a certain number of people to appreciate what you do, what else do you need?”

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