Laughing Matter
Lavonne Cheah 
Kam gets personal in La La Lian

While Joanne Kam Poh Poh is a well-known name in the stand-up comedy circuit in Malaysia, you may be surprised to know that she has never produced her very own one-woman show until now. Bursting into the spotlight in the Nineties, she roared to fame with her raunchy humour that aptly earned her the reputation as comedy’s mistress of risqué.

Her no-holds-barred approach coupled with her quick wit on stage brought fans out in droves to see her perform for the last two decades. The funny lady’s upcoming show called La La Lian (a play of words alluding to the Oscar-winning La La Land) will feature all-new material based on her personal life. She reveals that she will tackle such issues as weight, body image as well as self-confidence. Ultimately, she hopes to inspire and empower girls and women with stories of her life journey.


Tell us more about your new show.

This is going to be different from my other shows. I’ll be talking about my childhood, parents, as well as how I got involved in performing and comedy. It’s the journey of my life told in a funny way. Truthfully, I’m excited and scared because I have never done such personal stories before.


Why did you wait so long to launch your own one-woman comedy show?

I wrote the script for this show six years ago but then the Super Kam series came into the picture. So I ended up concentrating on building an all-female comedy team (known as the League of Extraordinary Femmes that included Daphne Iking, Shamaine Othman and Sharul Channa).

I’m 46 this year and I feel it is the right time to do the show. You can’t tell your story when you’re too young because you would have very little material. Now I have more stories to tell.  

Kam in action

At what age did you start performing?

I started at 19 when I joined Haw Par Villa in Singapore as one of its performers. I went for the audition and at the same time also went for a job interview to be a nurse at Singapore General Hospital, which was my mother’s wish for me.


What happened?

I was rejected by the hospital! (Laughs) But Haw Par Villa accepted me. My mother was upset because she wanted me to marry a doctor and become a Singapore citizen.


What did you do at Haw Par Villa?

They were looking for someone who was plus size to play this matchmaker character called Jia San Ku. I had to be in character all day and entertain visitors. There was no script and everything was improvised. I had to think on my feet.


What did you do next?

After two years with Haw Par Villa, I was invited by (renowned Singaporean comedian) Kumar to perform with him at Boom Boom Room, a hugely popular cabaret nightclub in Singapore. I went in one night as a guest star to perform a skit and a song with him. I must have been impressive because the owner of Boom Boom Room asked if I wanted to be Kumar’s permanent sidekick. That was how I started doing stand-up comedy. That’s where I started to learn how to do stand-up comedy.


Have you always wanted to be a comedienne?

To be honest, my ambition was to be an air stewardess. Back in school when my teacher asked us to state our top three ambitions, I wrote stewardess, doctor – even though my grades were not exactly fantastic – and actress. I remember to this day that when she saw stewardess, she took one look at me and laughed!

When I first started at Boom Boom Room, it was just a job to me. It took me a while to find my footing as a stand-up comedienne because it was not easy.


Where did you get your material?

In the beginning, we didn’t write our own material; we took it off joke books. That was 25 years ago. But that changed about 10 years ago; we couldn’t use jokes from the internet and books because everyone had access to them. It was only then that I started to write my own stuff.

I write a lot from my own personal experiences such as dating and struggling with my weight. I also get ideas from the Internet. It was there that I discovered something about vagina steaming, which was becoming trendy in Kuala Lumpur; I wrote a whole series about it last year.


Tell us more about your latest character.

It’s actually a character I developed during the Boom Boom Room days. She’s loud, racy, crude and always thinking about sex. She wears sexy outfits to show off her ample cleavage. She’s a more energetic and animated version of me.


What challenges do you encounter as a comedienne?

Male comics can go out there and joke about their exes, and everyone would cheer. If I talked about all my exes openly, people would think I was being too frank. If I talked about something I was upset about, someone would inevitably comment that I must be having PMS. But I’m prepared to accept all the brickbats. I just brush them off and let my work speak for itself.


When you are not performing, what is a normal day in the life of Joanne Kam like?

I’m always rushing from one appointment to another. I work on my jokes, prepare proposals, go for rehearsals. I’m also a mother, cooking and cleaning. It’s pretty mundane but chaotic, and it’s no joke! 

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 267.