Confessions of a stand-up comedian
Being funny is harder than it sounds, but the work can help others
When asked to describe her job, stand-up comedian Sharul Channa paused before drawing a comparison between her work and being a storyteller.
The 30-year-old said: "You have to break down each part of your bit and ensure that the audience understands the perspective you are sharing, just like when you are writing.
"For me, the focus is more on the comedy aspect."
Stand-up comedy is characterised by punchlines and zingers, but telling jokes on stage is not a laughing matter.
There is much more going on "behind closed doors" that people do not know about, as Ms Channa demonstrated by sharing how she prepares for shows.
"The jokes start out with an idea or thought, which becomes a premise. At the end of it, I have to find a punchline," she said.
That is something people do not realise, she said - comedy is actually "formulaic". And just like any other craft, practice makes perfect.
Ms Channa writes every day to work on her jokes, and she tells them to her husband, Mr Rishi Budhrani, who is also a stand-up comedian.
"He is my best critic and audience. It is nice to have someone who understands the experience," she said.
The jokes she writes often gets tested at open mic too - the same environment Ms Channa started honing her craft.
She talked about her early days of doing stand-up comedy with such ease that it is hard to believe she made her debut only about five years ago.
She said: "I was at an open mic at Home Club and I thought I would just give it a go. I went up and did three to five minutes and the audience started laughing, especially the guys in the front row.
"I was like, oh my God, they find me funny, they actually find me funny."
Spurred by the reaction, she thought to give it another shot.
At the next open mic a week later, she took to the stage again - only to discover that stand-up comedy was not always going to be easy.
"I did badly. No one laughed," she said.
Instead of getting discouraged, Ms Channa used the experience as motivation to better herself and her craft.
She then decided to be a full-time stand-up comedian, which means she had to write her own material and perform not as a character, but as herself.
Ms Channa admitted that getting positive reactions is nice, but she wants her humour to help people too.
For her, comedy acts as a "mirror to society", and she thinks that it allows people to better process life experiences that may be difficult.
"I wanted to practise and make people laugh because they then give me a kind of validation, which feels good."
"More importantly, when they laugh, they forget their worries for a little while and I wanted to help them do that," she said.
It would not be a stretch to say that Ms Channa had, over the years, helped many people forget their worries.
She has performed in sold-out shows here and overseas.
Last year, she was the first Singapore comedian to be selected to perform at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
She will be performing her first hour-long solo show next month.
She is also preparing for an upcoming show in April, where she will be performing alongside three other female comedians, including Michelle Chong, for the comedy show Laugh You Long Time at the MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands.
Ms Channa gleefully shared another thing she likes about her job, aside from making people laugh.
"I love being able to wake up late, like at 1pm, and still go about my day," she said.
"Which job allows me to sleep in and still make money?"
Secrets of the trade
- Never stop writing. The job of a stand-up comedian is to continually deliver jokes you have written, and you will not have any material if you do not write.
- Not everyone is going to love your work. Mentally prepare yourself for less-than-encouraging comments and learn to deal with them.
- Be open to all jobs. Not all gigs will be in big theatres or high-profile venues. Sometimes, the best shows and audiences come from the least likely of places.