Man at His Best

Wisdom: Rishi Budhrani

Understand how the humourist extracts 'can' from 'cannot'.

BY Wayne Cheong | Apr 20, 2017 | Culture

Photograph by Ronald Leong

I’m really excited [about my special, Cannot Means Cannot] because I’ve always wondered what it would be like to not be in an ensemble line up. You and the rest are given 10 or 15 minutes each, and you must be respectful of the time. You can’t be a dick and go, “You know what? I’m going to do an hour.”

The theme of the show is Singapore and how we’re accused of not thinking out of the box; our men are criticised for not being romantic; our policies are criticised for being too rigid. Maybe it’s because we don’t question things enough. For example, when you question an elder, you don’t get an explanation. You just get a “cannot means cannot.”

I wanted to be an athlete, but I have flat feet and valgus knees. In the army, I was also diagnosed with mild gigantism. I thought I was just tall but I don’t know…I mean, it could be a misdiagnosis. It’s just an opinion of one doctor. I never followed up on that because how will it change my life otherwise?

If you’re likeable and the audience enjoys you, you can pretty much get away with saying anything on stage. But I’m not the most controversial joke teller in the world, anyway.

I once joked about how ridiculous it is that pilots inform passengers what route they are taking to the next destination and equate it to a taxi ride. That was my take on it. Then someone told me that Kumar stole my joke. I’ve known Kumar for two, three years now and we’ve worked together quite a bit. I stopped watching him, because I felt like we have a lot of similar thoughts. He didn’t see me do the joke and I didn’t see him do that joke until it went online. It’s just parallel thinking.

When Sharul [Channa] and I first met in 2005, we were on opposite ends of the spectrum in our careers and in our lives. The only thing that we had in common was a love for Bollywood.

I think we’re quite boring, actually. At least, I’m quite sure that I’m quite boring. I’ve reached a point where I don’t really enjoy people.

I don’t know if this is an indication of age, but I’ve started to enjoy walking around the house with “feet gloves”.

“Feet gloves” came about when Sharul and I were in Shanghai and we got into a huge argument. She threw something at me, and I got mad and threw a slipper at her. Not even… like, it was cloth. It was cloth. You know, it wasn’t like... It was just cloth. She goes, “You know how disrespectful
it is to throw a slipper at me?” And I went, “It’s not a slipper; it’s a foot glove!” And since then, I’ve called slippers “feet gloves”.

Telling jokes isn’t very different from anything else in terms of practising until it’s perfect. If you can hit 10,000 hours in stand-up, you’re going to be a much better comedian than the guy who did 1,000 hours.

Jonathan Atherton [a veteran comic] once told me [how to be better at standup]: “You’ve got to keep writing, keep hitting the stage, and keep watching the pros perform.”

I spend a lot of time with Bubble (Rishi’s dog). That’s “Bubble…” singular, not plural. “Bubbles” is very girly and “Bubble” is so macho, right?

My dad is fascinating to me, because he was born in India, grew up in Singapore, but has multiple accents when talking to customers, even to people from countries that he’s never been to.

I think we’re not very different that way. He performs for people and they pay him in exchange for goods. I perform to a bigger group of people, and they pay for tickets. Both of us are engaging people, building rapport.

A lot of Indian kids of our generation are not very bright. A lot of them have a backup, at least in the Sindi community. You don’t work too hard at school but that’s okay, because your dad can afford to send you overseas for an education. And when you return, there’s a job waiting for you in your dad’s business.

If you go to New York City today, there’s a free open mic populated mostly by comedians telling jokes to other comedians. Those comics won’t grow because if I were to do five minutes about anal fisting, the comics in attendance will think it’s brilliant [that I’m able to make a taboo topic
funny] but when you get a show with an actual audience, they will hate your jokes.

Watching a pro perform a live show, three nights in a row, you learn more than watching his one special on TV. You get to see how he works the same beat in different ways for a different audience.

A lot of people, rather than saying, “Oh, don’t work with your spouse,” will try and instigate bullshit. Sharul and I play along with it and that sometimes helps to sell tickets.

I’ve always felt like a storyteller, and I just hope that someone else will tell my story one day. That would be nice.

Rishi Budhrani’s Cannot Means Cannot will be shown at the Singapore Comedy Fringe on April 28, 7.30PM.

This article was first published in the print edition of Esquire Singapore, April 2017.