Q&A: Sharul Channa on being a female stand-up comic in Singapore

Marguerite de Leon

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Q&A: Sharul Channa on being a female stand-up comic in Singapore

KC Eng

Coming fresh from a stand-up tour in India, Channa will be headlining a one-night show in Manila on March 16, supported by a roster of Filipina comics

MANILA, Philippines – When we think of popular female stand-up comics, names like Ali Wong, Tiffany Haddish, and Amy Schumer come to mind. And while it’s great that more and more women are taking to the stage to do sharp and unapologetic jokes, it’s Western female comics who still dominate the space, and those in relatively more conservative regions such as Southeast Asia remain lesser known.

In comes Sharul Channa, a Singaporean comic of Indian descent, whose boisterous, often sexually tinged, jokes has gained her a strong fanbase. Coming fresh from a stand-up tour in India, Channa will be headlining a one-night show in Manila on March 16, supported by a roster of Filipina comics.

Rappler spoke with Channa ahead of her show about the hard work that goes into comedy, and her experiences doing gigs around the world.

How did you start in stand-up? What sparked your interest in it, and what was your first experience in the industry? 

I started 12 years ago when a comedy club promoter asked me to do a three-minute spot, since there were no women on the lineup that day. Being an acting graduate, I had some experience acting onstage, but comedy was a completely different skill altogether. Still, I jumped up onstage to try my luck and managed to get laughs in the three minutes I was given. There was no looking back after that. 

How would you describe the Singaporean stand-up scene? What’s it like being a female stand-up in Singapore?

The stand-up scene in Singapore is very friendly, diverse, and inclusive. Being a woman in the scene, I’ve had to work hard to earn my audience in Singapore, but I have a loyal fan base now that comes to watch me when I put up a show. It took 13 years to get here and I look forward to working hard and constantly generating more content and laughs for my audiences. 

You’ve performed stand-up all over the world. Have you noticed anything striking about stand-up in certain countries/regions? And what are the things about being a stand-up comic that you’ve discovered are universal? 

Different countries have different scenes, in some countries the comedy scene is mature and hence more competitive. Stand-up is fairly new in Singapore and Asia, so it’s yet to reach its peak and the people who are riding this wave have a good chance to become the pioneers of Asian stand-up. 

A real stand-up comedian is always hungry for open mic spots to try out new material. Actual stand-up comedians treat all comics with respect regardless of the years of experience they have. Universally, most stand-up comics get to sleep in in the morning since they work hard at night.

As of this interview, you’ll be coming from your India tour. How was it? Any memorable moments? 

I absolutely loved India and its audiences. Audiences in India clap and laugh very loudly, as they are such an expressive bunch and have a lot of respect for stand-up comedians as they seem to understand that it’s a difficult craft to master. 

Every show in every city was different, and hence every show was memorable. I steered towards doing a 15-minute set about each city I was visiting, and that relatability allowed me to gain the trust of the audiences fairly quickly. In order to do this I had to travel around the city and study it. I loved the process of studying each city and its culture every time I traveled to a new one. 

Stand-up seems to be having a moment in pop culture, especially thanks to TikTok, which has introduced stand-up comics to a wider audience. How do you feel about this?

We are lucky because comedians who started their journey without social media had to work much harder to get noticed. If we use social media to our advantage we can reach audiences far and wide without much effort. However, once we do gain those audiences, you should be skilled enough to be able to hold a crowd for over 60 minutes during a live show. 

You’re having an all-female show in Manila on March 16. Tell us more about it! What led you to do a show here? 

I have great fellow comedian friends in the Philippines like GB Labrador who have constantly invited Singapore comics to come to the Philippines, this is the second time I have taken his offer, and since people in the Philippines are so warm, friendly and talented, I would love to entertain them. I am also excited to meet, watch, and perform alongside the new funny women in the Philippines. 

What’s your advice to women who want to get into stand-up comedy? Especially in the context of “conservative” countries such as those in Southeast Asia?

Be resilient, keep going for open mics, and the main aim should be to be funny. I promise you that if you work hard for three years, without getting affected by people’s “advice,” you will get opportunities that only belong to you, to women. –

Sharul Channa: Live in Manila is on March 16, 8:30 pm at Wicked Dogs Uptown Parade, Bonifacio Global City. Tickets can be purchased on the Comedy Manila website.

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Marguerite de Leon

Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon heads Rappler’s Life and Style, Entertainment, and Opinion sections. She has been with Rappler since 2013, and also served as its social media producer for six years. She is also a fictionist.