After Sharul Channa controversy, entertainer Russell Curtis looks to give stand-up a boost in Malaysia via new comedy club

Malaysian authorities hogged the spotlight for the wrong reasons a month ago following the 11th-hour cancellation of Sharul Channa’s comedy show, despite issuing the paperwork for the Singaporean comedian to perform on May 18 at the PJ Live Arts in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

Police reports were lodged against Sharul for allegedly touching on the ‘3Rs’ (race, religion and royalty) during a 2018 performance. Ironically, the government had then approved her performance for a television show aired on Unifi TV.

In 2022, Crackhouse Comedy Club shut down after clips of an open mic night participant who removed her outer clothing and hijab to reveal a mini dress underneath were widely shared on social media.

Despite these episodes, singer-songwriter and aspiring comedian Russell Curtis still believes there is a future for comedy in Malaysia, with the opening of KL Comedy Corner.

Curtis said he is not worried his new club may fall foul of the law, as he will draw up agreements with talents that perform at his new club, stating they must follow government guidelines in their act.

Asked about his thoughts on the Sharul incident, Curtis said: “Of course, I am not happy with it as she assured the authorities that her new act would not touch on the ‘3R’.”

“I felt the authorities should have been more sensitive to the organisers and fans by not cancelling the show at the last minute.

“Comics can and will work within any government guidelines. Comedy is to unite the people, not divide them.”

Separately, Curtis hoped his new club would help “create” more stand-up acts in Malaysia. He is working on a syllabus that he hopes to present to institutes of higher learning so they can offer comedy courses.

“I hope to work with local universities or colleges. This is happening in other countries,” said Curtis, who has a degree in hotel catering and management.

“We can give these students real-life experience performing at a club, and eventually take them to the next level where we do theatre shows.

“KL Comedy Corner plans to get into theatre production – hosting events at venues that accommodate 400-500 people or more. That will be a quarterly event,” he added.

Curtis said the goal is to take more Malaysian comedians internationally and get them to perform at places like the annual Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Curtis added that Malaysia has several top comedians or headliners but the number is small. There are also not many “feature” acts in the country.

Headliners are those who perform hour-long shows, while feature acts do 15-20 minutes of stand-up.

Then there are the newbies, who have three minutes on stage. After a while, they receive an extra two minutes.

“That is the journey of a comedian. But we need more new faces. KL Comedy Corner is the only dedicated comedy club in the country, and I want to focus on developing future comics,” said Curtis, who has two bands – the Russell Curtis Project and Russell Curtis and the Rowdy Gentlemen.

“It is also a way for me to connect with the Gen Zs, as I sometimes do not understand them,” joked Curtis, who has two sons in that category

“Luckily, I get along well with my sons! In fact, my older son’s friend helped design the logo for the club.”

Although his new club is called KL Comedy Corner, it is in Bandar Sunway.

“It is 2024, and I feel Bandar Sunway ‘identifies’ as Kuala Lumpur,” he added with a laugh.

“Our old place was in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. But I noticed that when people search for something in Malaysia, they key in Kuala Lumpur as the location. So, the KL name remains.

“I also decided to name it Corner instead of club as KL Comedy Club is ‘too local’. KL Comedy Corner means we can go anywhere, take a corner, and perform.”

Curtis has had several ‘warm-up shows’ at his new venue, but the grand opening is a month away.

“I am grateful that we sold out the shows we did. They were test runs to ensure everything looks and sounds good on opening night,” said Curtis, who thanked his wife, Shauna Chong and sons, Ryan and Shane, for helping him live his dream.

“I would not be here without them. They have been extremely supportive. I can’t wait for opening night.”

At his latest show over the weekend, Curtis had Daniel, Riezman, Preethina and Asyraf Kamal as guests.

“The response was fantastic. Our kitchen will be ready soon, and then we will be ready to go,” he added.

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