Singapore Comedy Fringe 2016 Interviews
From volcanic lava to violent laughter, Paul Ogata’s humour is unadulterated eruption
Hawaii is famed for its active volcanoes, strong Asian influences from Japanese migrants, eighth smallest state in America and doesn’t believe in daylight saving. You put all that together and it’s a total wonder why Paul Ogata is not yet Senator of his own state.
The incredibly funny American-Japanese has graced Singapore shores many a time, and those who have had the chance to catch him ‘live’ have all left with plenty of fond memories. Quick witted, unabashedly honest and with humour that stings like a bee, Paul holds in his arsenal, a wide array of punchlines ranging from politics to his Japanese heritage and needless to say, life growing up in Hawaii.
Internationally acclaimed doesn’t even begin to describe the 46-year-old. Since his early days as a top-rated morning radio personality, Paul has won the prestigious San Francisco International Comedy Competition, appeared on Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham, CBS ‘The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn’ and on the syndicated ‘Comics Unleashed’.
Those who have seen Paul on stage are in awe of his slingshot style. Even by his own admission, Paul doesn’t shun controversy and in fact, he thrives on it. But, getting to where he is today took his own fair share of hard knocks along the way. Comedy as a craft he says, is not something you can practice ‘behind closed doors’ and hope it works. Comedy is the only art form, as he pointedly highlighted, needs a courageous heart willing to take a battering.
Paul explains: “I enjoy getting people to laugh at things they thought they were supposed to be offended by. If I see them laughing, that’s wonderful. But if they’re laughing while shaking their heads, I count that as a win.
“It always sucks to eat it on stage, but even more so when you first start doing comedy. Stand-up is unique in that it is the only thing in the world you have to do publicly to get better at. With anything else, you practice behind closed doors.
“So unfortunately, you tend to get battered by audiences the hardest when you are the least prepared to do well. Additionally, when I started doing stand-up in Hawaii, there was only one comedy club in the entire state. I could only get on stage once every six weeks back then.”
So as the story goes, Paul has gone from fighting hard to get a home gig once every two months to now, having travelled to more than 40 countries and counting. That’s a glorious vindication to his career choice, especially when one considers his ‘chosen path’ was originally meant for the engineering world.
“Much to my parents’ chagrin, I discovered the joys of performing stand-up while at the University of Hawaii studying to be an engineer,” Paul added. “Shortly thereafter, I stopped studying to be an engineer. I saw a flyer for an on-campus comedy competition. Having never done it before, I figured I would give it a try. Didn’t do so bad, tying for third place. I was hooked immediately!
“When I was a kid, I had a poster of Robin Williams in my room. He was always one of my favorites to watch, as his manic blitzkrieg of thoughts was a sight to behold.
“So far, I’ve performed in more than 40 countries. I once stood on the back of a truck in Afghanistan and performed to Spanish and Italian soldiers. They probably had no idea what I was saying, but they were cheering anyway. Another time, India’s Consul-General in Hong Kong gave me his India flag lapel pin. Not sure if this means I’ve been deputized or that we are dating now.
“Open mic shows have always operated under the principle that anything can happen. Unfortunately, not everything that can happen should happen. One time, a woman took the stage to the Milli Vanilli song ‘Blame It On The Rain’ and began squirting her breast milk on the crowd. She came over to my cup of black coffee and made it a café au lait. That was the number one weirdest thing I saw at an open mic. Another time I saw a guy defecate into a paper cup on stage. That was number two, obviously.”
Thankfully for Paul, there are fonder and not so strange memories of the Asia comedy scene in recent years. Citing Jinx Yeo and Rishi Budhrani as the local Singapore acts to watch out for, Paul also regards Malaysian comedy kingpin Harith Iskander as one of Southeast Asia’s best. The most magnificent news is that all four will be performing at the upcoming Singapore Comedy Fringe Festival, to be held during April 26-30 at the School of the Arts Drama Theatre.
“There are so many talented comics in Singapore. Jinx Yeo and Rishi Budhrani have some really smart, funny stuff. You can’t go wrong with Harith Iskander either. He’s the king of Malaysian comedy! Side note: His wife is a doctor, so if he doesn’t figuratively leave you in stitches, his wife literally can.”
“In America, we’re kind of in the second boom/bust cycle of stand-up. The first big bubble burst in the early 1990s. After a bunch of comedy clubs closed down and equilibrium was established, the comedy scene began rising again. Asia’s nascent comedy scene is still growing by leaps and bounds, with no bust in sight. Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, these places are all bubbling over with local talent and venues for visiting international comics to play. It’s fun to see just how big the region’s hunger for comedy will get!”
“Last March, I was scheduled to do shows in Singapore. But they were cancelled at the last minute because the shows were going to be at the old Parliament, the same place where Lee Kuan Yew’s body was on display. So, needless to say, I have some built up complaints and grievances to spit up. Expect the un-expectorated!”
“Maybe it’s because Singaporeans work hard, or perhaps it is because of the sweltering temperatures, but Singapore audience love a good night of laughs and air-conditioning. Probably more the air-conditioning, but they’re still great crowds!”
Look out Singapore. Paul Ogata will be sparring Canadian Pete Johansson on April 30 at the School of the Arts Drama Theatre for the Singapore Comedy Fringe Festival. Quick get your tickets at just $48 for the night ‘Americanada: Eagle Beavers’ and see for yourself, the utter comic mayhem that is Paul Ogata. Click the poster to get your tickets!
Check out interviews of other comedians performing at the Singapore Comedy Fringe 2016 below!