'World's funniest person' Harith Iskander is 'doctor for the soul'
Malaysian comedian Harith Iskander voted 'world's funniest person'
He was watching Harith Iskander's routine at the Laugh Factory Funniest Person In The World semi-finals in Helsinki, Finland, when he cracked a big smile.
It is a simple, everyday act for most people - but the leukaemia patient sitting in the audience had not been able to bring himself to laugh for more than a year.
It moved his sister, who had accompanied him to the show, to tears.
Popular Malaysian stand-up comedian Harith, 50, went on to beat four other competitors, from the Philippines, Greece, India and Israel, to clinch the title of Funniest Person in the World at the finals on Dec 8.
The winner, based on global online fan votes, was revealed on Dec 10.
The competition drew 89 comedians from 56 countries, including Singaporean comedians Fakkah Fuzz and Jinx Yeo.
The organiser, Laugh Factory, is a chain of comedy clubs in the US, that has hosted big names in comedy like Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle over the years.
Harith, often considered the "Godfather of Malaysian stand-up comedy", told The New Paper that he was not aware that his routine had made that impact on the man and his sister.
"That's absolutely humbling and the very reason why I do this work and have been doing it for 26 years.
"As a comedian, you can make everyone laugh all the time but if you're able to truly bring laughter to the life of one person who hasn't laughed for a while then that surpasses everything," said the father of three.
Harith is no stranger to the comedy scene both here and across the Causeway.
Since his first stand-up comedy gig in 1990 at an airport hotel lounge, he has gone on to become a regular fixture at the Singapore Comedy Fringe Festival and has performed stand-up in countries like India, South Korea, Australia and more.
Fans would also recognise him from Phua Chu Kang Sdn Bhd, the Malaysian spin-off of the popular Singapore sitcom, and his very own talk show OHI: Obviously Harith Iskander.
It was Mr Jamie Masada, founder of Laugh Factory, who shared with TNP the anecdote of the leukaemia patient.
For him, the touching episode embodied the spirit of stand-up comedy and the biennial competition, which will next be held in Malaysia in 2018.
Harith, whom Mr Masada affectionately refers to as "a doctor for the soul", was the clear winner of the competition.
Mr Masada, 57, told TNP: "He is very passionate and genuine about what he does, and the audience loved him. He is able to make people laugh and forget their problems, and this is what comedy is all about."
The global competition, which was held for the first time in 2014, aims to get people to laugh in a time of conflict and war in the world, he said.
"People have forgotten to laugh and smile at one another. Life is short, we have to laugh at ourselves, too.
"Laughter is an international language that allows people to put aside their differences," said Mr Masada.
As this year's winner, Harith gets US$100,000 (S$144,240) and the chance to embark on a tour in the US next year.
"One of my dreams has always been to improve myself and achieve recognition, so this is a great launching pad to build my brand in the US," said the "class clown", who believes he got his funny bone from his late mother.
Did he doubt he would beat so many others to the throne?
"I wasn't going all the way to Finland for an eight-minute routine at the semi-finals only to return home. I was there to win," said Harith.
His 18-minute routine at the finals poked fun at business class flights on Singapore Airlines and the perennial Mars versus Venus debate, drawing laughs from the audience in Levi, Finland.
Mr Masada has no doubts that Harith is on his way to becoming a household name beyond his birth country.
"I say, give him five years and he will be one of the biggest Malaysian comedy stars around the world," said Mr Masada.