Saturday November 18, 2006

The Accidental Funnyman

A meeting with Prabu Krishnananthan leaves GRACE CHEN in stitches. Find out why.

TO BE honest, I didn’t want to meet comedian Prabu Krishnananthan. But a good friend of mine said he was very talented and would make an interesting subject for an interview, and you know the things we do for good friends...

So here I am, waiting for Prabu, when I spy him walking over, wearing of all things, suspenders! Now, which 22-year-old in this day and age wears suspenders? Whatever next? I brace myself for the worst...

But five minutes into our conversation, and Prabu has me confessing to a Brazilian wax and other deeds you wouldn’t ever dream of telling a perfect stranger.

You see, as soon as he heard I had missed his Devilicious show in Bangkok, which revolves around getting people to own up to memorable things they have done, Prabu gave me a personal performance and I found myself spilling the beans on moi and eating out of his hands.

“Ms Shanti, my English teacher at the Victoria Institution, was the one who pushed me into theatre,” Prabu says accusingly.

Prabu Krishnananthan: “My mum is a hilarious woman. She would tell me that I had to be like her, an extrovert, because I was such a shy kid. That was what pushed me to be a stand-up comedian.” --Picture by GRACE CHEN

“I used to have big arguments with her in class, and one day she came up to me and said, ‘You know, you talk a lot. Why don’t you put it to good use?’. And that was how she got me into theatre. I came up with all sorts of excuses. I even told her that one of my relatives had passed away but she was adamant that I do it,” he recalls.

So the loudmouth schoolboy found he had no choice but to hurriedly come up with a handwritten stage adaptation of Al Pacino’s performance in Scent of a Woman a few hours before the performance was due.

And what do you know, he pulled it off.

“I can do serious theatre, but it’s not me,” Prabu confesses.

“Sarcasm coupled with wit is my speciality. I can make the most sarcastic remark and you most probably wouldn’t realise it. My forte is in my quick comeback and one-liners,” claims Prabu.

“The idea is to do it tactfully but leave things to the imagination. This is to keep the sense of dignity. I don’t want to say the ‘F’ word to make people laugh,” he insists.

But then Prabu is no prude, either. His Taboo show pokes fun at Bush, Clinton and Sept 11.

“I first played Taboo in Zouk on May in 2005. The date was 21 and I was 21 years old. At the time, I didn’t know that they had put my promo posters up in the toilet. So when a few people came up to me and asked if I was the guy from the toilet, I thought they had mistaken me for the washroom attendant,” recalls Prabu.

How does he find humour in something like 9/11?

“It’s a matter of using the right words and portrayals. The greatest challenge is to bridge that gap (between sensitivity and humour). What I do is put myself in that situation and let the imagination run wild,” he explains.

Prabu’s imagination has been running wild since 18, when he started performing in clubs. The stand-up comedy circuit has always been small and Prabu found himself up against such established names as Harith Iskandar and Jit Murad. But with the help of his family and friends, he landed himself a string of corporate functions.

Then using the proceeds from his shows, Prabu approached the clubs, offered to pay for the venue and charge ticket prices. This was virtually unheard of, but if there’s a will, there’s a way, and if they won’t book you, you can always book them.

Today, Prabu is doing OK, charging no less than RM2,500 for a 45-minute show.

His trouble, really, is staying within the time limit. Prabu is always keen to give more than your money’s worth. Once he had to be chased off the stage by the manager.

“I saw him gesticulating off-stage, but I was on a roll, so I ignored him,” laughs Prabu upon recalling.

“Before a show, I am extremely serious, but the moment I get on stage I’m myself again,” he says.

Prabu is pretty assured for a 22-year-old, but he admits there is always the fear of your jokes falling flat and being met with stony silence.

“I’m not boisterous, as in Jim Carrey type of loud. I’m more the type who feeds on laughs. That’s my adrenaline rush. As the laughter builds up, I tend to get louder and louder. The more noise the audience makes, the better I get,” he winks.

And like all good Indian boys, Prabu adores his mother.

“My mum is a hilarious woman. She would tell me that I had to be like her, an extrovert, because I was such a shy kid. That was what actually pushed me to be a stand-up comedian. In my show, I refer a lot to my mum because the jokes that she has are more original than a lot of the comedians around,” he says.

Well, you can take his word for it.

“My comedy is different. I do have my parodies of Malaysian life, but at the end of the day, my shows make people feel good. I don’t want to do that kind of comedy that is just ha-ha funny,” he reflects.

Prabu says he has received some flattering reviews for his brand of humour.

“Once someone came up to me and said, ‘Brilliant show. You offended everybody’!

“I said ‘Thank you’.”

And that is a compliment all right, as far as Prabu is concerned.

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