What’s it like having a comedic alter ego onstage?
BY DAPHNE ONG
Published on 8 December 2015
BY DAPHNE ONG
Actors bring characters to life on a daily basis, but once in a while, a character takes on a life of its own and becomes a fixture in the entertainment scene. Few are as memorable as those that make people laugh. We speak with three funny-bone ticklers who light up the stage with their hilariously-crafted alter egos.
Unless you live under a rock, you’ve almost certainly heard of Hossan Leong. Arguably one of Singapore’s most chuckle-worthy chaps, the multi-talented media personality acts, sings, hosts, teaches, runs his own entertainment company Double Confirm Productions, and is a recipient of the Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture.
Apart from being a French knight (yes, that’s what the above title means), he is affectionately known as ‘Singapore Boy’ in these parts. With his boyish appearance and infectious energy, the name is still a natural fit long after Singapore Boy made his debut in Leong’s first stand-up act in 1997.
Leong credits Ekachai Uekrongtham, founder of Action Theatre, with coming up with the idea. “Ekachai wanted to make me synonymous with Singapore, like the Singapore Girl, so Singapore Boy became my comedy routine name. My stand-up is very Singaporean. It’s the best bit of branding, besides the name my parents gave me!”
So how close is Singapore Boy to the real Hossan Leong? “It morphs through the ages,” says Leong. “The Singapore part is still there. The Boy part is still there. Still cheeky, still tongue-in-cheek, still all about Singapore.”
Like most comedians, though, he is often greeted with surprise by those who meet him offstage. “I could be just doing normal day-to-day stuff, and people say to me, ‘Not funny, ah?’ and I’d wonder, ‘Why would I be? I’m just sitting on the bus!’ ”
What’s the best part about being the Singapore Boy? “I’m very proud to be a Singaporean. I represent Singapore and do shows around the world, like Singapore Day.”
What’s the worst part? “I’m not a boy anymore!”
You might have seen her on television show The Noose as a North Korean correspondent Kim Bong Cha, or in one of her many roles in plays and musicals. The accomplished actress and songstress Judee Tan certainly has a talent for creating highly memorable and side-splittingly funny characters. One of her most successful is the adorably awkward Dr Teo Chew Moi (aka TCM), a doctor of — you guessed it — traditional Chinese medicine.
First seen in The Hossan Leong Show, Teo Chew Moi’s initial incarnation was nothing like what audiences see today. “The character was written and rehearsed, but I felt that it wasn’t working,” says Tan.
“On opening day, I felt like I didn’t want to go onstage, and I let that feeling manifest with the character. She ended up very awkward and it manifested physically. Somehow, that feeling of dread and insecurity worked! The more I squirmed, the more the audience laughed and reacted!”
How close is Teo Chew Moi to the real Tan? “Very close! To my most awkward self, that is. Every time I appear as TCM, I activate that part of me, which is my vulnerable, introverted self. And I really am all for traditional Chinese medicine and less into Western medicine.”
Playing a character she identifies strongly with also has its down side. “People say to me, ‘Why are you talking like TCM?’ My reply, ‘What do you mean? TCM is me!’ I gave TCM my mannerisms, but people recognise those as hers, not mine!”
Being her famous alter ego does more for the philosophical Tan than just pull in ticket sales. “As an actress, it’s good to have a successful character as a point of reference, a success that people identify and recognise. When I’m stuck, I can go back and reference something I created.”
Sebastian Tan’s perennially- cheerful visage and vibrant singing voice charm both connoisseurs of thespian arts and heartland aunties alike. In addition to his successful annual Broadway Beng shows, he has performed in numerous productions in Singapore and around the world, including a UK tour of Miss Saigon.
Taking a quintessentially Singaporean archetype and creating a highly identifiable yet unique character, Tan has taken his Broadway Beng persona and gone to town with it. Interestingly, the idea came from a night of confiding in friends. Upon sharing what he thought were tragic life stories, his friends ended up doubling over in laughter at his storytelling. Not quite the reaction he was expecting. From there, the idea of telling an audience his life story — plus music — was born. It later evolved to become the Broadway Beng character.
“The best part of having a popular alter ego is that I am allowed to have a Jekyll and Hyde persona, and people think it’s just part of my act,” says Tan. One of the cons of being Broadway Beng is that people assume Tan is, in real-life, just a singing Ah Beng who can’t speak proper English.
“When they meet me in person, they talk to me in a crude Ah Beng way; some even slow down their speech and really enunciate their English words for fear I may not understand them,” mourns the naturally well-spoken comedian.
PHOTO Sebastian Tan/Dream Academy
He has created a versatile character that stands out not only in his own show but also with the other artists and acts he performs with. Broadway Beng has appeared with fellow comedian Kumar, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, in this year’s Great World Cabaret, and as a dialect-spewing Santa in Crazy Christmas 2011, a role he will be reprising in this month’s Crazy Christmas — A GroundNutcracker. Get ready for side-splitting laughs galore!
Catch Judee Tan (TCM) and Sebastian Tan (Broadway Being) in Crazy Christmas — A GroundNutcracker at the Esplanade Theatre.