Many of us grew up being told by adults that we can’t do certain things. Be it playing football too loudly at the neighbourhood multi-purpose court or asking for permission to go to the toilet in school, there was always something which we were told we could not do.
Such thoughts are what led Singaporean stand-up comedian Rishi Budhrani to wonder why many of us would rarely ask “Why Cannot?” in response.
And this act of asking is not meant to show disrespect towards our elders, Rishi explained, but to honestly know the reason behind what we were told.
During a recent interview with Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore, the 33-year-old Rishi looked back at a time during his childhood when he was told off by a neighbour living on the second floor of a HDB flat for playing football downstairs.
He said, “We’d play and enjoy and every time, in the evening, he would come down and scold us and say ‘Hey! Cannot play football here! I’ll call the police’… Why is he being such a problem? We’re just a bunch of kids of playing…”
“Now I realise that, if only he had explained to us ‘why cannot?’ I think we would not have been such a******s,” reminisced Rishi, who has been a stand-up comedian for six years.
This is just one of the memories connected to the theme of his upcoming one-hour show, titled “Cannot Means Cannot”, which will take place on 28 April at The Esplanade’s Annexe Studio.
“Our whole lives we’ve been told we cannot do this, cannot do that, and people don’t really have an explanation for that, most of the time. I think it’s my way of asking Singaporeans, hey, why cannot?” Rishi said.
“Cannot Means Cannot” is the opening show for the annual Singapore Comedy Fringe Festival, which runs until 30 April.
Jokes from personal experience
Rishi, who is married to another Singaporean comedian, Sharul Channa, is known to make people laugh with jokes about his personal life. Be it about sex, race or even politics, they all tie back to his personal experiences.
“Anyone can relate to something from any of these areas. In my opinion, if you don’t have a good sex joke or a good race joke or a good politics bit, then I don’t go there. For me, I wouldn’t go for an easy sexual or racial joke.”
He continued, “For me, the stuff that people would laugh at are my personal stories that I tell that may have elements of these involved.”
Speaking of politics-related jokes, Rishi was one of five people who appear on Channel 5’s ongoing comedy talk show called “OK Chope!”, alongside Vernetta Lopez, Mike Kasem, Najip Ali and Sam See.
Just a day before this interview, the show was criticised for joking about Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak. Mediacorp has since released an apology over the matter.
While Rishi said he was not allowed to comment on this particular incident, he has nothing but positive reviews about his Malaysian audience whenever he does shows across the border.
“They are usually more loving, more boisterous, more ready to laugh. It doesn’t take as much time to warm them up,” he said. In contrast, the audience in his home country tend to take a longer time to warm up to his jokes.
Nevertheless, he finds that both the Singapore and Malaysia audiences are able to relate to similar jokes.
“I think [it’s because] the people were one once upon a time, the culture was one once upon a time. I generally do feel that there is very little difference performing in Malaysia versus performing in Singapore,” he said.
His last gig in Malaysia took place in late 2016, where he performed at Crack House Comedy Club in Kuala Lumpur.
While Rishi is mainly known for cracking jokes on stage, his talent extends to acting as well.
Back when he was pursuing a communications degree at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), he discovered acting and performed together with the The Young Company by The Singapore Repertory Theatre.
His first role was as John Proctor for Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”, a dramatisation of the events of the 1692 Salem witch trials in Massachusetts.
“That was my first semi-professional stint where people paid to watch. It was really heavy and I was crying on stage,” Rishi said. The acting group was also where he first met his wife.
Fortunately, when it comes to pursuing his dreams, nobody seemed to be telling him that he couldn’t.
“I grew up on films my whole life, especially Hindi films. I would watch these VHS tapes and I would play dress-up and dance like my favourite actor Amitabh Bachan. We used to live in Bedok South and my family literally cleared a room for me to sing and dance,” said Rishi.
He later began hosting shows before being introduced to the stand-up comedy scene in Singapore, and came across the live comedy event series Comedy Masala – where it all began for him.
“I started making public speaking and coaching work when I graduated and I would always tell the participants of the course that the most difficult kind of public speaking is stand-up comedy. But at that time, I hadn’t done it yet so I felt a bit like a fake, and then I discovered Comedy Masala.”
Tickets to “Cannot Means Cannot” can be purchased via www.cannotmeanscannot.com.
Meanwhile, here’s Rishi Budhrani talking about three things he wishes Singaporeans could do in the country – but cannot:
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