Comedian says she wants off ex-parliament member's talk show over sexist remark

·3-min read
Comedian Sharul Channa in a promotional image, at left. Viswa hosts a panel discussion on Wednesday, at right. Photos: Klook, NUSS/YouTube
Comedian Sharul Channa in a promotional image, at left. Viswa hosts a panel discussion on Wednesday, at right. Photos: Klook, NUSS/YouTube

Singaporean stand-up comedian Sharul Channa last night demanded that former parliamentarian Viswa Sadasivan not air an interview with her over inappropriate comments he made about the way she dressed.

Sharul, 34, was sitting down to discuss women’s issues with Sadasivan on his Inconvenient Questions talk show yesterday when she said he commented about how distracting it would be if she appeared without clothes. The hour-long interview went ahead, after which Sharul said she contacted the producers to withdraw from the program and demand an apology from Sadasivan.

“I was taken aback by this innuendo. It was inappropriate and offensive. I was shocked,” she wrote online, adding: “I expressed that I would not like [to] be a part of the airing of this series, and that I needed an apology for the way I was disrespected in the process.”

“A sexual comment was casually made in the context of a professional environment, and it made me very uncomfortable, and distressed. Considerably distressed, even as I type this.”

According to Sharul, Sadasivan asked why she was wearing a rose on her left collar, and she told him it was to draw attention away from her top. After that, she said that he told her: “It would be more distracting if you were wearing only that rose.”

Sadasivan told Coconuts today that he already apologised to Sharul through email but also said the comedian had misquoted what he’d actually said: “It would have been more distracting if it was only the rose.”

“There is a subtle but distinct difference between the two quotes,” he said. “In the latter there was no reference to what she was wearing. This is more aligned with what I wanted to convey in the spirit of the banter: how much more distracting the rose brooch would be if it was much bigger and all consuming, so to speak.”

He categorically denied any intended sexual innuendo:

“I state for the record that there was absolutely no sexual innuendo intended in what I said. It was the farthest thing on my mind because I was conscious of time.”

Still, he said that he regretted what he said, as he “can see how and why it can be misconstrued as being sexual,” calling it “an error of judgment.”

Sharul had not responded to messages seeking comment as of publication time.

Sharul said she had never met Sadasivan prior to the program. She said she went public with what happened to raise awareness about harassment.

“I am sharing this because the irony is that I was invited, in my capacity of being a stand-up comedian who speaks out about women’s issues,” she said. “THIS is one of the biggest issues women face; workplace harassment. And If I don’t speak out about this, I am not being true to myself and what I stand for.”

Sadasivan has been hosting Inconvenient Questions, or IQ, on and off since 2015. It is produced by his crisis communications firm Strategic Moves and in partnership with the National University of Singapore Society, which has hosted the latest episodes on its YouTube channel. Sadasivan was a nominated member of parliament from 2009 to 2011.