Profile: Kumar

Published on 3 August 2015

Cross-dressing entertainer Kumar takes on the heartlands with a free comedy show.

BY JO TAN

“People, until now, don’t know what I am — man, woman, trans, straight, gay… I like to leave it like that, it’s nice,” cackles Kumarason Chinnadurai, better known as Kumar, iconic cross-dressing Singapore entertainer.

For sure, Kumar has always been difficult to pin down, even career-wise. Now a feted host/actor/comedian/producer/author, his first showbiz dreams took shape when he was a young boy longing to be a classical bharatanatyam dancer. As showbiz beginnings go, he started as a singing waiter before moving on to comedy, playing a drag queen at the now-defunct Laughs Comedy Club in Tanglin Shopping Centre circa 1991.

The schtick stuck. His cross-dressing persona became the headline act at the legendary Boom Boom Room from 1992 to 2005, where he sang, danced and emerged as Singapore’s pioneer stand-up comedian, famed for his below-the-belt digs about politics, race and sex in Singapore. But even in that lasting comedic role, Kumar was famously unpredictable, something he has carried into just about every job since.

Says director/scriptwriter Esan Sivalingam, Kumar’s long-time collaborator on various TV and web productions, “He was incredible at Boom Boom Room. Starting out, lots of the jokes he used were straight out of a joke book. But his improvisation skills, the things he said on the fly as the audience heckled him, made him unique. When he works with us, we start off with a rough structure, workshop the lines with him, write them down, then expect him to only follow 50 per cent of it. Even when he co-produces a programme, we would be approaching the shoot date and he would suddenly say he needed something last minute and we would have to get it. And you know what? It always made the product better.”

Now, Kumar has also turned theatre director, conceptualising and co-directing the Singapore International Festival of Arts comedy show, Kumar’s Living Together, which tours the heartlands for free. “It has been my dream to bring comedy to heartlanders, the core Singaporeans. I do ticketed shows at the Esplanade… but sometimes, it’s not their thing to spend or travel. So I thought, instead of trying to bring them to the theatre, why not bring free theatre to them?

“Heartlanders really need to laugh, you know. I live in the heartlands, where I can see on a lot of people’s faces that they’re not happy to come home. Maybe they think they will have other problems there, or maybe they have to bring work home. So Living Together will be about everyday heartlanders, their neighbours and all their problems, presented in a funny but not frivolous way. I want to make people laugh, but also think.”

Many people may be surprised to know that sharp-tongued Kumar has a soft, empathetic side. He has sold prized possessions to help less-privileged youths, with whom he has spent much time. “Through friends, I met two kids who want to study but cannot afford to, so I put them through school. One is now a mechanical engineer and another has just started work,” he says.

Now that Kumar has added ‘director’ and ‘charity worker’ to his seemingly unlimited list of accomplishments, what  next? “Becoming a minister,” he deadpans, then laughs.

Kumar’s Living Together plays 6, 8, 13 & 15 Aug in various HDB estates. See sifa.sg for details.

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