Faces of GOJEK · 2 Mar 2020

Sharul Channa: on being a creator, talking about the difficult things, and making your own opportunities

Meet the women that embody the Gojek spirit of empowerment. This March, as we celebrate IWD, we put the spotlight on those who are re-shaping the industries they are in, marching to the beat of their own drums, and/or simply redefining what it means to be a woman.

Sharul Channa, the first-ever full-time female comedian in Singapore, sometimes worries about the word ‘comedian’ more than she does the word ‘female’. She talks about being a woman a lot, so that’s fair. But she’s also acted, produced, written, and directed all through her career. 

In this interview, the multi-talented performer speaks with us about her craft, tackling the difficult issues with comedy, and having to create her own opportunities as a minority woman.

Gojek team (GT): How did you get to become a full-time comedian?

Sharul Channa (SC): I suppose I figured out very early on that I wanted to do my own thing. At the start of my career I did go for a few auditions, but I think as a person-of-color it’s very easy to be type-casted. I didn’t want to be the token victim to be murdered on Crimewatch, you know? And then I happened to be at the right time, at the right place. My husband, Rishi, was trying out stand-up in Comedy Masala, and they invited me to just try it out. Just three minutes. Within the first 50 seconds I got my first laugh, and it was liberating.

GT: And that’s what got you hooked?

SC: Yeah. I realized with comedy, I get to be a writer, director, producer, performer – everything. It’s not dependent on anyone else too; it’s all in my hands. 

GT: Describe your brand of comedy. 

SC: I’m maybe 10x the person I am off-stage when I’m performing: open, brash, uncensored. I speak about whatever it is that’s affecting me at the very moment. 

GT: You do quite a lot of performances related to women issues and experience. What about them keeps you coming back?

SC: Comedy comes from the truth and tragedy. If you’re upset about it, you talk about it. I used to write a lot about my experiences as a woman of color, but nowadays I pick my battles and talk about being a woman in a larger context. If my battles change over time, then my material changes with it.

GT: Which means your gender and race play a part in your creative process.

SC: Definitely. Before I started doing stand-up, I was very conscious of my color. I hardly got call-backs for auditions or roles. I didn’t want to do Indian accents, but I also knew that opportunities simply weren’t there.

Sometimes I’m not sure if ‘comedian’ is even the right label for me, because nowadays I do whatever it takes to create. Maybe I’m more of a creator, which is why I’ve always insisted on creating opportunities for myself. I’ve written and produced plays in Hindi. I’ve done Sharul Weds Sharul – where I talk about traditional Indian weddings –; Crazy Poor Sita, where we touch on the experiences of low-income women in Singapore. In the future, if I publish these scripts and another minority woman wants to pick them up and perform it, I’d be delighted to give them the opportunity.

I do hope too, that by dramatizing and injecting humor into these issues, it will help ensure these dialogues continue. Whether or not I win awards or become famous isn’t the point – the point is that the bigger issues I’m fighting for are also gaining traction. 

GT: Tell us a bit more about your upcoming show: AM I OLD?

SC: Like Crazy Poor Sita, AM I OLD? is also birthed from my collaboration with AWARE, and is based on a report titled 'Make care count'. In it, I will perform stand-up as a 68-year-old woman. It covers everything from caregiving to aging, and of course, about complicated relationships with your elders. They’re heavy topics, which is why it helps to be able to laugh at them. We’ll also have a panel discussion with a member of AWARE, a caregiver, and an elderly person after each show.

GT: Alright, last question. Do you have any advice for up-and-coming performers?

SC: Sure. Be authentic, be real, be true to your craft, and if you do what you love long enough, you’ll be good at it. The key is to be patient with yourself.

To buy tickets for AM I OLD?, which runs from 6–8 March 2020, click here.

Follow Sharul on Instagram here.

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