Welcome to Episode 18!
Our guest for STIMY Episode 18 is Dr Jason Leong.
Dr Jason Leong is a former doctor turned Malaysian stand-up comedian star who has been enthralling his audience since 2010 when he did his first open mic gig at Zouk KL.
Since then, he has gone on to, amongst others,
- Be the first Malaysian to win the 7th International HK Comedy Competition 2013 & win the title of Crowd Favourite;
- Perform at Comedy Central’s Stand-Up Asia, Hollywood’s Laugh Factory & New York’s Gotham Comedy Club; and
- Have his own Netflix Special called Hashtag Blessed!!
But how did this all come about? What is Dr Jason’s story & has he found his “why”?
Who is Dr Jason Leong?
As a child, Dr Jason Leong was talkative and mischievous, drawn to comedy and funny things found in Reader’s Digest.
He eventually decided to pursue a medical degree through a twinning program at Penang Medical College & University College Dublin. While in Dublin, he worked at an Irish pub & discovered his love of travelling!
Returning to Penang, Malaysia
Upon his return to Malaysia, he ended up spending 4.5 years in the medical profession which included Selayang Hospital and a government health clinic.
During this time in 2010, he came across a TimeOut KL Comedy Thursday open mic gig at Velvet Underground, Zouk KL. He decided to apply and got the gig!
Life as a Full-Time Stand-Up Comedian in Malaysia
In this STIMY podcast episode, we dig into:
- 1.57: What Dr Jason Leong was like as a child
- 3:23: His experience studying as a medical student in Dublin & experience of working at an Irish pub;
- 6:06: His first open mic gig at Zouk KL & why that experience was so transformative;
- 8:17: How he ended up joining the Malaysia Association of Chinese Comedians;
- 13:45: Dr Jason’s first major bomb – which almost caused him to cry on his birthday!!;
- 15:29: Winning the 7th International HK Comedy Competition 2013 and performing at Hollywood’s Laugh Factory & New York’s Gotham Comedy Club (where he got to see Jerry Seinfield perform in the flesh!)
- 20:38: Why he won’t be less Malaysian in his stand-up jokes (to appeal to an international crowd);
- 24:21: His experience watching the live taping of the Stephen Colbert Report;
- 27:22: Why he spent RM150,000 of his own money to film his Netflix Special (with no guarantee that anyone would ever buy it!)
- 28:47: The process of trying to get Netflix to buy his Special for 2 years;
- 31:52: What Jason has been up to during this crazy COVID-19 period;
- 33:27: Why not all stand-up comedy jokes translate well to online platforms/social media;
- 34:47: The most contentious joke Jason has ever put forward & why he feels he has never gone “too far”
- 37:56: The “Fight for Gotcha” Brazillian jiu jitsu fight he will be having with Ean of Hitz;
- 39:25: Why stand-up comedy is one of the hardest art forms you can do; and
- So much more!
If you’re looking for more inspirational stories on STIMY, check out:
- Austen Allred: Co-Founder & CEO of Lambda School – a coding school that lets you attend for FREE using the Income Sharing Agreement (ISA) scheme, where you have to pay back only after earning above $50k/year. Graduates of this Y Combinator backed startup have gone on to work in Fortune 500 companies like Facebook, Google & IBM
- Kendrick Nguyen: Co-Founder of Republic – one of the top 3 equity crowdfunding platforms in the US
- David Grief: Senior Clerk of Essex Court Chambers – has nurtured the careers of many judges sitting at the UK Supreme Court, ICC & ECHR in Strasbourg (including the former Chief Justice of England & Wales)
- Guy Kawasaki: Chief Evangelist of Canva & Apple
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Some of the things we talked about in this STIMY Episode can be found below:
- Dr Jason Leong: Website, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook
- Dr Jason Leong’s Netflix Special: Hashtag Blessed Trailer & Show (p/s don’t forget to tag Dr Jason so that he knows you watched it!!)
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Ep 18: Dr Jason Leong - Malaysia’s Top Stand-Up Comedian
Dr Jason Leong: The thing is it always gets people upset when it's a funny joke. When you can hear the audience laughing at an idea, which you yourself may not agree with. That's when you get offended, because you know that there are people agreeing with an idea that you don't agree with.
If the joke was not funny, people don't laugh, they won't care because you see, you did not manage to convince those people in your audience. But by having people laugh, laughter is a form of surrender.
So the fact that this comedian, whoever he may be, or she may be, has managed to commit an entire crowd to agree with his blasphemous idea or her blasphemous idea that scares people who are against the idea.
And then they must comment: oh how can you say it?
Ling Yah: Hey, everyone.
Welcome to episode 18 of the So This Is My Why podcast. I'm your host and producer, Ling Yah and today's guest is one of Malaysia's top stand-up comedians, Dr. Jason Leong.
Now, in case you were wondering, Jason is in fact a real doctor. He practiced for four and a half years during which he began to dabble in the world of standup comedy beginning with an open mic gig at Zouk KL in 2010 before becoming the first Malaysian to win the seventh international Hong Kong comedy competition.
He was a part of the Malaysian Association of Chinese Comedians, has performed at places like the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, New York's Gotham Comedy Club, and Hollywood's Laugh factory.
And also has a Netflix Special called Hashtag Blessed!
If you've ever wondered what Dr. Jason Young was like as a child, how he made the transition from being a doctor to one of Malaysia's top comedians and the realities of being a stand up comedian, then this is the episode for you.
Are you ready?
Dr Jason Leong: I think as a kid, I liked comedy. I liked funny things. I was drawn naturally to funny things.
My mum will subscribe to Reader's Digest. At the end of every serious story or article, there's like a filler when people write in their anecdotes and whatever. And I was always interested to read those instead of the actual serious articles.
Then I discovered laughter, the best medicine and humor, all in a day's work. For all the jokes, segments. And I tend to read them first. So from a very young age, I was drawn to funny stuff, jokes, comedy, that kind of-
Ling Yah: But did it ever cross your mind that I want to make that my full time job.
Dr Jason Leong: Oh, no, no in the beginning. No, of course. In the beginning, I was the typical boy, study hard, get into the science stream and do something in the sciences.
Ling Yah: And how did medicine come about? Because I read that your parents didn't want you to do medicine because it's quite expensive, right? And you were the one pushing for it.
Dr Jason Leong: It's not like they were pushing me to do medicine because yes, like you said, it's very expensive.
I always liked the sciences. And I think from that point of view of a precocious child medicine seems to be the pinnacle of the sciences.
You get to help people So I think that's what drew me in to it. Once I finished my a levels, I wanted to apply to medical school.
Ling Yah: And you went to Penang Medical College and you twined with University College Dublin. Was it everything that you thought you would be?
Dr Jason Leong: yeah, I mean, medical school years were really interesting. Two and a half years in Dublin, two and a half years in Penang.
So the two and a half years in Dublin were the best years of my life cause there's a lot of freedom being in such a safe country. I met my future wife. It was a very pleasant moment. It was fun to just worry about exams at the time when that's the only worry you have.
My first job was in Ireland. I worked as a waiter in an Irish pub called McSorley's in Ranelagh, Dublin. Yeah, it's my first job. It paid quite well because the Irish people tip their waiters very generously. So we'll get paid like EURO 7.65 an hour. That's minimum wage.
And then on top of that, you get tip. So you can easily double your hourly wages with the tips. So yeah it was err, a good pay, very tiring work, but it's nice because you get to experience the Irish life because for the Irish people, the pubs and drinking is like the pulse of the Irish society. When you observe in the pubs, you're observing very keenly Irish life.
I'm a teetotaler. So I never drink cause I get very bad reactions to alcohol. I don't drink at all.
So that was my two and a half years in Dublin. Also formative years because that's when I discovered my passion for traveling. Winter holidays, summer holidays, Easter holidays, or even a typically long weekend we will travel outside of Dublin and the best thing about Europe is that such a diverse range of countries within such a short distance. So we travelled everywhere. I think we particularly covered almost all of Europe.
Ling Yah: I think at the time, as well as students, you get the best discounts that you will never get after.
Dr Jason Leong: Yeah. if you have an international student card, you go to certain cities, you get a student discount.
Like they have the Euro rail pass or something where it's one flat fee, you get to ride on a train. It's an unlimited amount. So yeah, it was a good time to be a student, a good time to be 21, a good time to travel. And there were just two and a half years.
When we came back to Penang, it was a change of pace because we now have to see actual patients . That was our clinical years. A rude awakening to the real vigors of clinical life in Malaysia.
I remember one of the first patients I saw when I came back to Penang was this guy who, unfortunately, was on the motorcycle. He somehow or other landed into a ditch, into a longkang and the motorcycle exhaust landed on him while he laid there. So he had suffered like third degree burns, right.
All the way into his muscle. So that was really gruesome to see as a 21 year old first time. Wow. This is how bad it can get. And then, from that it was nonstop. Just clinical practice for two and a half years. Then I worked for four and a half years in Penang.
Ling Yah: I think you were at Selayang Hospital then you were at a government health clinic as well.
And during that time you got your first open mic gig, as I understand it, in 2010 at Velvet Underground at Zouk? How did that happen?
Dr Jason Leong: So I've always liked standup comedy, of course, naturally. And my wife knew that I love standup comedy. My wife knew that I love to tell jokes too, of course, and then, around 2010, there were a bunch of comedians from Malaysia. They were starting this group called the YCOM, which is young comedians of Malaysia.
And there was a claim on YouTube where they were doing some standup or whatever. And then my wife looked at it and then she looked at me and she said, Jason, you can definitely do better.
Yeah. I was like, wow, it'd be nice to try it. And then I got wind of this open mic gig in Kuala Lumpur. At that time there's only open mic, one gig per month . it was at Velvet underground, Zouk. Organized by Timeout KL, Comedy Thursdays.
I think I Facebook messaged or emailed err Phoon Chi Ho, who was the booker for the night.
I was given a five minute slot and I remember I had to take two days off from work cause I was working in Penang. So on the drive down four hours, it was doing the drive. Cause I drove down on Thursday. The gig was on Thursday night. It was during that drive that I formulated all the stories, all the jokes I wanted to tell, went to the gig and I had five minutes.
I did nine minutes but the crowd liked it. So I think that was the most life changing moment for me and it was in June, 2010. Absolutely life changing because after that I decided I was going to do stand up comedy and then never looked back lah.
Ling Yah: And that was the time - 2010 - when comedy was just coming to Malaysia, right? So the opportunities just weren't that great. So how were you finding those stages for you to put yourself out there?
Dr Jason Leong: Yeah. So in the very beginning, there were very few stages. And the thing about it is I'm kind of glad I started comedy when the scene started. So it gave me lots of future opportunities.
So Timeout KL was the only stand up comedy show in KL at the time.
And it's only once a month. Then this local outfit called Comedy Club KL. It's not actually a club by its like an events company which started to do headline shows in partnership with some people in Singapore. So what they do is they bring in like international headliners from say Australia or the UK or Europe or America.
So they come and they do a gig in Hong Kong and then Singapore and then Kuala Lumpur and then maybe Bangkok. And then they fly back so it's a nice loop. They did their shows also once a month. And slowly other shows start to creep in.
At the time also, my second gig at TimeOut KL Comedy Thursdays, Douglas Lim was headlining and Douglas Lim saw me perform. He liked my stuff and he offered me a spot in his Malaysian Association of Chinese Comedians, the MACC annual shows. So I opened for them. So there was a whole other branch of opportunities.
And I think, I would say it's nice for me to see my personal growth in tandem or in parallel with the industry's growth.
Now if I can step out and say that Malaysia Kuala Lumpur has the best standup comedy scene in the region. That's the region that includes Manila, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines.
Yeah. And all these different comedy scenes grew at roughly the same rate as the rest of us. We are separate, but we grew together. So it's quite amazing to watch now.
Ling Yah: When you meant growth, do you mean like more people were becoming comedians or more people were also coming to the shows as well?
Dr Jason Leong: Oh, both. Both. Both. Both. Yeah. More comedians coming up. Definitely. Now you have like, anywhere between say 10 to 12, regular professional comedians and a whole bunch of new newcomers, newbies rookies, open micers. Then there's another layer of regular performers who are about to become headliners in their own right.
The scene has grown exponentially and also the audiences. My God, a lot of them are coming out to shows right now and, I would say with some degree of confidence that stand up comedy is I think the best performing live show business wise. As in like, you will find that most people would rather pay money to watch a standup comedy show, as opposed to say a play or a musical or a local concert.
I think it's also a lot to do with how the business of stand up comedy is. It's like stand-up. Comedy is so simple. You don't need a huge stage or a set or multiple players banging on instruments or a huge cast to coordinate. All you need is just one person or a few fellas with a microphone and you're pretty much sorted.
So with that kind of business model, I think it's very sustainable to do stand up comedy. And a lot of people are coming and supporting live, stand up comedy shows. So it's really nice to see.
Ling Yah: Was it lucrative even back then when you were just starting or do you feel that you had to sell yourself short just to get the gigs and put yourself out there?
Dr Jason Leong: Oh definitely. I think it was lucrative in the very beginning. Err no. I mean, it started to become lucrative, but as more and more people wanted to come and watch stand up company and as the industry grew, and the demand grew, it became less of a struggle to make money from live shows and all you need is some business acumen, how to market yourself sell your shows. And then you can make I wouldn't say enough for a year, but pretty decent if you think about how long it takes to tour and all that,
Ling Yah: And you mentioned MACC earlier. Are collaborations with other comedians, cause I understand there were four of you in there. Is it a rare thing? Because you guys were together for almost a decade.
Dr Jason Leong: Yeah.
Yeah. That's a sharp observation. It's very rare. Yes, indeed. It's rare I think because stand up comedy is very individual in its execution. At the end of the day, it's just one person doing jokes. It's not like we are a band where you need all four components to be there to see the Beatles or to see like maroon five, you need all five of them, you know, whereas stand up comedy, it's just one after the other.
Ling Yah: And I read that it takes you six months just to prepare for one show, which is a lot of time.
Dr Jason Leong: Yeah, so material wise it may that take long and then the prep that goes with it, the logistics. So Douglas ran the whole show by himself. Originally he just wanted a way to do stand up comedy and to show everybody that, Hey, Douglas Lim can do stand up comedy.
And now please hire him to perform at your corporate gig. So he priced the tickets really cheaply and because he didn't want to do it alone. So he brought along, Punchy hall and quite had to do it with him. So the tickets were dirt cheap. When we started tickets could go all the way down to 30 ringgit per ticket.
I personally feel that when you factor in how good the show was for 30 Ringgit, you get 90 minutes of four guys putting in a lot of hard work. It's way more than your money's worth. So slowly the momentum built. And a lot of people love the MACC because you get to see 4 Chinese guys with different styles of comedy in one show.
But after a while, I like to say this to them, like the collective strength of the show was always more than the sum of our individual parts. Okay. So the fact that we all four of us combined. The reach is more than if you have done separately.
But as the years went by, that became less and less so because now people want to see Jason Leong only, or people want to see one hour of Douglas. People who like that let me don't want to pay Chi Ho, or Jen Han or Jason.
And people who want to pay to watch Jen Han may not want to watch Jason or Chi Ho or Douglas. So. In that respect, after 10 years it was time to call it quits lah, it was time to stop.
And after a while, I think we were also starting to use it as a crutch, like, okay, every year I'm going to do 20 minutes minutes of new material. And that's all I have for one year. When in fact I would say it's best to have one new hour every year. Last year was our last show.
It was a good time to stop. And each one of us focus on our careers.
Ling Yah: Throwing back to when you first were joining MICC I understand 2013 was quite an important year for you. Like the 23rd of January 2013 event. Which was very memorable. Could you share that?
Dr Jason Leong: Oh, that one. Yes. Oh, I have bombed this gig.
Not just a bomb.
It was a bomb where I did badly in between two other comedians. The first comedian did well. I bombed after that. And then the guy who came after this completely killed it. So you can't say it was the crowd, it was just me. It was me Jason Leong doing a bad show.
What made it tragically funny was the guy who got us the gig is a friend of ours. His name is Jay. So Jay got us this gig and it was Jay's friends company.
So right before we went on stage, we were having dinner and the friend came up to us and said, Hey guys, if this gig goes well, I think I'm going to get a promotion, right? Just kind of joking about it, right.
So I did badly and after the show. Cause I did so badly, I remember the company's big boss was upset. The event company was upset because the event company kind of green lit me to perform. Jay was upset. Jay's friend was upset and the other two comedians were upset because I kind of stank the show and I remember feeling so bad I nearly cried and 23rd January is my birthday.
So the biggest bomb of my life on my birthday. Till today, nothing has rivaled that bomb.
Ling Yah: And looking back, why do you think it was that. Was it because the jokes really weren't that good or just the audience wasn't suited?
Dr Jason Leong: Well, I said you can't blame the audience because the other two comedians did well. it is definitely my material.
After that I went home, I tweaked it a little bit, and tried to become more friendly in my approach. And since then, yeah, my batting average has improved. So that bomb was bound to happen. I'm glad it happened early on, so that I could take stock. And I'm sure in the future I'll bomb again and improve again further after that.
Ling Yah: What amazed me when I was doing the research was that you had this terrible thing that happened at the beginning of the year, but then at the end of 2013, you decided to quit full time. So what was the thought process in terms of deciding to jump?
Dr Jason Leong: So at that time, right one of the biggest highlights of the industry in the region at the time was doing this competition called the Annual International Hong Kong Comedy Competition. So the guy who ran it, he ran it out of Hong Kong, the price was quite good because you get 40,000 Hong Kong.
That is like almost 20,000 Malaysian ringgit. But the more important prize was you get a spot at Gotham Comedy Club, Laugh Factory in LA and the acne club in Mississippi.
Three rather prestigious standup comedy clubs in the U S .
So 2012, a friend of mine from Singapore, Rishi Bhudrani, won the competition and I was amazed like, wow, this guy is not funny and he still won, but I have to thank him for winning. Because he won, it made me go, oh, wow. Means it's possible. And I know he his set and seven minutes he had, cause we each performed seven minutes, that's seven minutes set he had was really tight and really good.
So in 2013 I knew that I was going to join the year after. I don't know whether I was going to win, but I'm going to give you my best. And that was in September of 2013. So I bombed in January. So I had eight months to work on myself.
And then September, in my head, I hoped that I was ready then.
So quite a long gap. And I think what is more memorable is like I was actually working full time at the time. I was working eight to five and the government clinic - Klinik Kesihatan Taman Medan. So I had to take leave to go to Hong Kong and perform and yeah, you have to buy your own flight ticket to Hong Kong and find your own accommodation because there's no guarantee.
So you win the prize in 2013, 2014, you get to travel. So I used the prize money to travel. I went with my wife, went to New York, went to LA and yeah, it was great. And went to Las Vegas. and it was eye opening to see, oh, what stand up comedy was like outside of Malaysia.
Ling Yah: And what was it like? Was it very different from Malaysian stand up comedy?
Dr Jason Leong: Oh, vastly, at a time it was a much bigger pool of people. Of talent. A much more intimidating industry and audiences of course, were at a time we're way ahead of Malaysian audiences in terms of appreciating the art form.
Ling Yah: And I think like you mentioned once before that it's actually the Western power that controls the comedy scene, right. So it's important to put yourself out there as well.
Dr Jason Leong: Yeah. Currently the biggest markets for stand up comedy, the US, the UK, Australia, all very Anglo, very Western seats of power. The three most prestigious stand up comedy festivals are the Edinburgh comedy festival, Just For Laughs in Montreal and the Melbourne international comedy festival. All Anglo white controlled.
Like even Netflix head office is in LA all the big names are from those areas. So yeah, it's important to try and tap into those markets. However, I think what's interesting is that the world or the industry will increasingly albeit slowly turn its gaze towards Asia.
Like right now, if you just do a bit of research into the Indian comedy market, as in, from India, not Malaysian Indian, but India, stand up comedy market. It is absolutely insane because of the sheer size of the population. You get so many more talented stand up comedians.
And their growth is nine exponential. I would say my peers, my contemporaries, they can have like 2 million Twitter followers. Their reach is very vast and powerful. They can tour around the world.
Just selling out theaters to Indian nationals across the world. They can come to Melbourne and sell out theaters. They go to London, sell out theaters. You go a whole year to America and it's amazing to see their power and reach. And like I said, because it's so many people, a billion or more Indians, the standup comedians ,the talent is all inspiring.
So I predict that in the future, the Western power stand up company will turn invariably towards a more Asian performance. The guy who reviews the BBC Cooked Rice segment, Uncle Roger, whose real name is Nigel Ng.
There's another Apollo performing award-winning comedian in the UK called Phil Wang. And then of course we know Daily Show Ronnie Chang. These three assholes are all Malaysian, but they're all far flung into the Western powers, the Western market. So I think I'm inspired by them because knowing that they can make it, they have opened the doors, it's like how Rishi has done it for me.
Like, someone from Southeast Asia can win the competition. And now I feel like I'm a Malaysian. If you work hard enough, you can make it in London or in New York.
Ling Yah: Do you not feel that with the internet as it is that you could reach that audience, but it's different, isn't it? Because of stand-up, you need a live audience.
Dr Jason Leong: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, even right now, with my Netflix special being in 190 countries, I still don't get enough people in the UK or us or in Australia to watch. It is mostly Malaysians who are everywhere, who watch my stuff. So it's important to make your presence known. However, due to COVID it's hard to travel now to all these countries and perform in those countries. So it's going to be a bit tough, but eah. One has to try, like, no, it's no point being a big fish in a small pond, you have to swim out to the ocean once in a while.
Ling Yah: So back then in 2014, you were going to all these different places.
Did you ever feel that pressure to be less Malaysian with your jokes? Because you're quite Malaysian, but you do contextualize for those who don't understand.
Dr Jason Leong: So I remember when I was doing the competition in Hong Kong, after the show, someone said, Hey, I'm from Singapore. It's nice to hear a Malaysian accent.
It's great that you don't change your accent. And I had a thought about it like wow. I never thought of changing my accent. Although sometimes when I perform to non Malaysians, I may speak a little slower or enunciate a bit clearer, but I don't intend on changing my approach , what I think is funny I'll try and make it funny for them also.
What is different is just the content, like, for my Netflix special, I did I think 10 to 15 minutes of Malaysian political jokes, which no one else out of Malaysia would understand, even less funny. So I took it off from the special cause no point.
I wanted every joke in the special to have that freedom where you don't have to be Malaysian or live in Malaysia to find me funny.
Ling Yah: And I was wondering during that trip in 2014, was there any particularly memorable occasion that comes to mind?
Dr Jason Leong: It's memorable because it's not memorable. So I was doing my set at Gotham comedy club, finished my set and Gotham Comedy Club, it's not just a comedy club. It's like a comedy club, but it's like a restaurant. There's a stage and it's little tables.
It's done in a vein of like the comedy store. I think the closest kind of is the Sydney Comedy Store I think.
It looks like that. So I finished my set. I sat down watching the show and then I turned to my left and the left is the main door. I turn to my left. And right there standing at the door is Jerry Seinfeld. And my mind was blown because what the why, and the culture in standup comedy clubs in the US is that on any given day, any major headliners, even the likes of Jerry Seinfeld can pop by and drop in unannounced and marketer unplug and do a search set for like 20 minutes, right before the headliner comes on.
And usually they will come in and work on the stuff, practice their material. And that night was Jerry Seinfeld and I was told that the week before was Louis C K and the week before was some guy named Jimmy Ross.
Ling Yah: Wow. So it's quite consistent.
Dr Jason Leong: Yeah. So this being able to drop and sometimes they don't, but sometimes they do so, and Jerry Seinfeld was there.
So he went on with the 20 minutes and after he said he just casually goes, so, any questions? And then one guy in the crowd goes, why are you here? Like, as in, why are you Jerry Seinfeld in the Gotham comedy club? You can sell us stadiums. And Jerry Seinfeld says , even at my level, I still have to work on my material, finding the next job, Polish my stuff.
I thought, man. That's great. And then the same guy asked what is your favorite joke? And Jerry Seinfeld says, Oh, you know, I kind of like the one about the horse on the racetrack where you don't tell him it's a race. And then the guy not just goes, would you care to bust it out now? And this is a joke from many years ago.
And Jerry Seinfeld performed it. At the drop of a hat. Beat for beat. I don't think he missed even a single punch line. And after that, why it's not memorable because I want to take a photo with him, but he already left, the bouncer says he doesn't do photos.
Ling Yah: Yeah, that was the thing. I remember hearing your story.
And I was very surprised that he asked the question. Like, any questions? Why would he say that it doesn't seem to gel with the whole funny, get you laughing and then you go any questions?
Dr Jason Leong: Yes. No, because I think he tried 20 minutes of new material, so he kind of felt proud of himself and just casually goes.
Because I think you never know. You never know by asking questions, you can mine some funny stuff. You never know.
Ling Yah: And he's quite different from Stephen Colbert who has like an entire army of writers writing for him, but he seems to be going around, showing up.
Dr Jason Leong: I think they're doing shows, but I don't know if Jerry Seinfeld doesn't have an army of writers he may have, cause I heard of stand up comedians having writers help them know as long as they make the joke, their own. It's fine. yeah, Steven Colbert, that was an added experience because I went to watch the taping of Steven Colbert.
Ling Yah: Oh, wow.
Dr Jason Leong: Report right before he was announced he got the late show, but these are a few last episodes and, it was great because the prep. For the show was amazing because you have lots of people telling you, keep your energy up. , we have audio, we don't edit audio. What you give is what you get on a show.
We need your support, we need your applause. We need your cheers. And right before they tape, they get a stand up comedian to come in, like warm up the crowd, get them ready to laugh, tell jokes a little bit, make fun of the audience cause then after he's done, Stephen Colbert comes up. And takes questions from the floor.
Like, okay, anybody have any questions? And then they ask questions and he answers the reason for it to humanize himself, before he goes behind the camera. And I remember, cause when he came out, he was full of energy . He high-fived, all his staff and crew, he took all the questions.
Then he sat on his chair to start a taping. And right before they go to tape, he looks at us and he goes, Hey guys, have a great show. I thought it was really cool because usually we wish the performer, have a great show, but he wishes the audience. Have a great show. I thought that was so cool. And that whole experience really cemented him as one of my heroes.
And I hope one day I get to meet him in person. I also managed to watch the taping of Jon Stewart in New York and exactly the same format.
John Stewart was himself making fun of political news.
And Stephen Colbert played a character who was an idiot Republican, who is also named Stephen Colbert. They’re very different shows. And what I learned from this experience was the amount of prep that they imposed each episode is amazing. The whole experience is two hours, but the taping was just half an hour.
Ling Yah: I realized that your first solo show happened in 2017. So was that like that whole period took you that long to feel that you were ready for doing those four nights?
Dr Jason Leong: Yeah, ready as in I had one hour. And also ready in a sense that I have enough fan base to justify doing like three or four nights in PJ and making sure that it wasn't embarrassing, like half-filled and luckily it was sold out
I knew that the next year I had to top it so ever since then, I made sure I have a new hour, every year. I'm due to start writing for my next one.
Ling Yah: And how long does it normally take you to polish something up?
Dr Jason Leong: Oh, it can take a few months, actually. And even then it never stops being polished.
So even when I go on tour, the jokes are constantly improved on bit by bit by bit. One of the best examples is when I perform any Melbourne international comedy festival, I do 22 shows Tuesday to Sunday, every day . So once you have that muscle, you improve a bit, a bit, a bit, a bit bit.
So by the end of that, 32 shows you have a very strong hour. Yeah. Even when I think for my Netflix special, by the time I went to tape, I had performed the show 45 times already.
Ling Yah: That was in 2018. Right, when you began. And I read that you put in your own money 150,000, just to tape it without any confirmation that Netflix or anyone would take it up.
Dr Jason Leong: Nope. So I knew I wanted to be on Netflix. So-
Ling Yah: Why Netflix though?
Dr Jason Leong: Oh it's the only platform that is worthy of my time, because like other platforms have very limited reach. YouTube is free, so you won't get your money back. HBO wasn't in our region, only Netflix. I had the reach and the prestige because Netflix is cornering the market for standup comedy.
So that's why I knew I wanted to be on Netflix. I had no deal yet, but I thought, you know what? They don't come knocking on my door. I'm going to record my special, Polish it up and I'll knock on their door. So that was the thinking, like, that's the mindset.
Ling Yah: And where was that inspiration from, that you would just do it and then try?
Dr Jason Leong: There was this comedian called Gina Yeshere, who had a similar story where she was already a big name in the UK, but she wanted more. So she moved to LA and at the time, no one wanted to give her a special, so in her own words, she paid for the Special, Charlotte herself, and then she managed to sell it to, I think, NBC or something.
And then after that, she also managed to sell it and the next special to someone else. Now she has a 30 minute set on Netflix called comedians around the world or something. So yeah, that hustle, taught me, you know what? I don't have to wait for people.
I'm going to seize the day, shoot my special first and then show it to you. And I think I'm the only comedian so far to have done that, to put my money first, shoot it first. No one else has a product to show on Netflix. So I think that was my upper hand lah.
Ling Yah: But it wasn't an easy ride for you. I mean, we shot in 2018, it was only released in 2020. So what happened in the intervening period?
Dr Jason Leong: 2018, we tried to sell to Netflix via a local company promoter, but the deal didn't go through, I think they were not interested. And then 2019. I was producing two tours, so I just kind of gave up. And then 2020, MCO happened. So I was ready to put the stuff on YouTube.
I almost pressed publish. I called my producer who produced the Special with me and said Hey, I'm going to put us on YouTube because we're not making any money on this. So maybe by putting it on YouTube, he may get somewhere. And he gave me my blessing and right after that phone call, I thought, you know, I still want to try one last time.
So I called someone from Netflix Asia. They have an office in Singapore and this guy came to watch my show in 2018. I had given him two free tickets to watch me in Singapore. He liked the show. We became friends. And then he said, I asked, what would it take to get me on Netflix? And he goes, oh, we are now in a position to acquire finished products in Southeast Asia.
Do you have anything to show? And I say, yes, I've got that.
So I sent a link and then 2 month later the deal was sealed. Yeah, it was two years or just hoping and not giving up for the two years. And then, I'm lucky it paid off.
Ling Yah: Was it a lucrative deal? Because I was reading the Hollywood Reporter saying that they will pay comics like 50 to 20 million for a one hour special.
Dr Jason Leong: That's for the likes of Ellen Degeneres, Shappell, maybe Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld no nowhere near that amount. Nowhere near that amount. But I'm hoping that this will lead to other deals and other projects that I may get to work on with Netflix.
Ling Yah: And how has the reception been for your Netflix show, which is called Hashtag Blessed
Dr Jason Leong: Yeah, so far it's been very good, on social media. So I blast it all on, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, even LinkedIn, Twitter. And I even had a media night. I invited some celebrities.
Ling Yah: Hannah Yeoh went as well, I read.
Dr Jason Leong: It's so cool to have, I'm going to name drop some people right now, name dropping, shamelessly.
YB Hannah Yeoh, YB Ong Kian Ming, Marina Mahathir, Ambiga were there, Yuna Elizabeth tan, Joe fleet. Yeah. So they came in, they liked it. So then they started spreading the word and a lot of people knew about it. And so far the user reviews have been very overwhelmingly positive. Everyone seems to like it.
Surprisingly, a lot of Singaporeans love my stuff. Not Malaysians in Singapore. Singaporeans. so that's great, a lot of love coming from down South. Another surprising thing was that a lot of fans allowed their children to watch my special, which is very liberal of them, I would say.
Ling Yah: Despite the R rate.
Dr Jason Leong: Yeah, it's written there, R rated, mature, whatever foul language they still will let.
So far, especially on Instagram. A lot of people nowadays, they like to watch and then they put on Instastories. Every day I'm bombarded by Instastories and I thought, okay. So it's been overwhelmingly positive I think.
Ling Yah: Amazing. And normally in COVID everyone's like, Oh, I'm so shocked. I can't believe this is happening. But I was looking through your body of work. You have done so much. And I was wondering like, what was your first reaction to the lockdown and how you ended up doing all these different things?
Dr Jason Leong: So luckily, this year I planned to slow things down a little bit because last year was a very busy year: 2 major tours and then my wife gave birth.
We entered 2020 with a three month old baby. So every year I do the Melbourne international comedy festival. So this year I already planned not to do the festival because it normally takes like a huge chunk of my calendar year, but this year I said no, I want to take a break .
Then when the lockdown happened, I just wanna know. Go with the flow. But what started happening was I started doing this thing called the all day show with no budget with Jason Leong. Cause you know how I love the daily show with Steven Colbert?
I decided on an all day show because you can watch it all day with no budget.
There's really no budget, I'm everything. I'm the writer, researcher, the editor, the performer, the recorder, everything I do myself. So that got a good response. Then I realized that a lot of people, they just want someone to.
Talk about the bullshit that is happening in our country on a daily basis. And let me tell you if you do a show with that premise, talk about the nonsense that is happening in our country, be it politically or socially, you never run out of material. Like, what am I going to talk about today?
No, there is always going to be something. And if I do it like weekly, ah trust me within 5 days I have enough material for like one show, so that kept me going and then throughout the MCO as I became more and more bored, I thought I'm going to get my clips on YouTube. My stand up comics. If the one I shot in 2018.
Let's try YouTube, let's try a Netflix.
And then it became a reality.
Ling Yah: And I read from an interview that social media, you could do a joke that did really well in front of a live audience, but it doesn't have the same reaction online.
Dr Jason Leong: Yeah different contexts because when you perform in front of a live audience, they are there to watch and laugh.
But when you have the clip out on social media, the people watching the clip, they may be having a bad day in the office, in the car or in the middle of a traffic jam. I just came back from a long day at work. So they are not entirely in the mood to laugh. And then they see something they don't like, and then they start picking on it.
They tell their friends: look at this idiot. And then the friends pile on mob mentality ensues, then you get this kind of backlash. It's a very different context. But by and large by now, it's normal as it's water off our backsides.
Ling Yah: So you learned to just ignore it. It doesn't really matter cause you don't know them anyway.
Dr Jason Leong: Yeah.
The thing is it always gets people upset when it's a funny joke. When you can hear the audience laughing at an idea, which you yourself may not agree with. That's when you get offended, because you know that there are people agreeing with an idea that you don't agree with.
If the joke was not funny, people don't laugh, they won't care because ah you see, you did not manage to convince those people in your audience. But by having people laugh, laughter is a form of surrender.
So the fact that this comedian, whoever he may be, or she may be, has managed to commit an entire crowd to agree with his blasphemous idea or her blasphemous idea that scares people who are against the idea.
And then they must comment: oh how can you say it?
Ling Yah: What has been the most contentious idea that you put forward?
Dr Jason Leong: Oh so many ah. Wow. In stand up, I put a clip up where I said traditional doctors are bullshit. And then you get a whole gamut of people who agree with me. And then a whole other group of people who like, how dare you insult our ancestors.
You are a disgrace to the Chinese culture. One day you will get a disease that only traditional Chinese medicine can cure. For which I say that that is like saying there is an economic crisis where only a feng shui master can solve it. It's not going to happen.
The idea of traditional medicine is so ingrained in a lot of people's minds, that to have someone call out the blatent bullshitness of it is very scary.
So then they must lash out and you know like, my father was cured by a traditional Chinese medicine when Western medicine couldn't and it's all anecdotal low, low, low ranking evidence which will not hold water in any scientific journal. So after a while you just ah never mind lah you continue believing
I hope you don't get some very bad health effects from taking traditional Chinese medicine. But you do you lah.
Ling Yah: Do you ever feel that you have gone too far at times?
Dr Jason Leong: Never.
Ling Yah: Really?
Dr Jason Leong: Yeah. Okay. So when I perform a joke on a stand up comedy stage, I'm always 100%. Okay with whatever I say. If I do something at an open mic, And it's not really yet.
And people find it offensive, then that is my escape cost because I'm not ready to share this with the world yet. But the moment I've gone through all the open mic shows and now I charge people money to buy a ticket, to come and see me. And I perform the job. All the jokes I perform I'm completely fine with. I have never felt that I've got too far,
Because if I say I've gone too far, I will pull back and not do the joke in front of a live audience, but the moment I'm ready to put my face on a poster, come and see me. I'm going to do a show on stage. I have never gone too far,
Ling Yah: But I think, especially in Malaysia, there are certain lines that you can't cross. Like, don't talk about the Royals and stuff like that, right. So you just have to be aware.
Dr Jason Leong: Yeah, the four Rs, in the mainstream media, that's an unspoken and unwritten rule. You can't touch about 4 Rs: royalty, race, religion, Rosmah.
True. It's true. It existed. So now there is some leeway. You definitely can't joke about royalty. You can joke about certain religions. I think Rosmah is fair game right now, but yeah, there are still restrictions. Yes.
Ling Yah: And what do you think is the future for you now?
Dr Jason Leong: Well this year, my plan was actually to spend a month in New York to do gigs. Obviously that can't happen.
So hopefully next year, fly to other countries and perform maybe London, Dubai, definitely New York LA. And one of my other goals this year was to get into just for laughs Montreal, just for laughs is a very prestigious stand up comedy festival.
Ling Yah: All the big agents go there.
Dr Jason Leong: Yeah, you're right. All the big agencies. So weird. The network TV people from America will go to Montreal for this festival. And then they pick up the names who they like, and then they fly back there. it boggles my mind. Why there is no New York comedy festival.
It's just insane. Yeah. I want to do it just for laughs Montreal. That's next year lah.
Ling Yah: And what about the Fight For Gotcha, which is happening this Friday?
Dr Jason Leong: So Gotcha calls is this brand of prank calls that is made by radio announcers at Hitz. It must be at least 20 years. All my friends to a man and woman have agreed that it's time for it to go. It has outstayed its welcome.
And the Genesis of this was in February during the political crisis. I put out a video saying, I look, I have the numbers to be prime minister. This is my manifesto. As prime minister I will enact legislation to make sure that radio DJs who make prank calls lose their citizenship.
So then, Arnold from hits, who does the prank calls. He says, you know what? This is very funny, but he's challenging us. So why not Ean, his partner challenge me to a grappling match to see where that gotcha stays or gotcha goes.
Ling Yah: I love how Arnold pushed Ean into the ring. Not himself.
Dr Jason Leong: Yes. Yeah. Arnold is such a batu api, you know, so it'd be interesting.
I love Brazil jiu jitsu, I've done it for many years and I'm hoping that with this fight, which will take place on the 2nd of October, not only do I get to end Gotcha. But I get to show people what Brazilian jiu jitsu is. It's a very beautiful, and very useful martial art to have.
And this is something that encouraged everyone to do. If you want to do one martial art, which is for the sake of your health and self defense, try Brazilian jiu jitsu. It will change your world.
Ling Yah: And so there's so much that's written about you in the media. I wonder if there's one thing that you could share that no one knows about you.
Dr Jason Leong: People still to this day, they really don't know how scary the process of standup comedy can be because they always see on the Netflix special, which is like, Oh, it's already all tried and tested.
This of course is going to be funny. Or the shows that I put on by the time I ask me to come back again. I didn't know that show's going to be good. It's the lead up to him when you try jokes and they don't work. And of course comedians, we don't put up our failures, right? So they don't see our failures, but my God, sometimes you see a joke evolve from shit to gold.
So I think a lot of people don't realize that that's why still to this day, people always, they trivialize stand up comedy Aiya I also can do ah.
It's one of the hardest forms of art, doing stand up comedy, because it looks easy, but my God, the amount of sweat, and sometimes tears, you go through to make a joke work. And that's why not a lot of people do stand up comedy because standup comedy, when you try your ego really gets bruised and battered.
Why would you put yourself through this torture? There are other easier ways to make money. Why am I doing this bullshit? And there's the sort of reason why standup comedy is an art form of the masses.
So you never know here have this really rich privilege guy or girl decide, you know what? I'm going to do a standup comedy No, they don't have the ego for it. Their ego is too fragile. You need someone from the dirt, from the underground, with callous hearts and roughened hands to do this because mommy's boy and girl from the cozy mansions. They come, they do one time. They get booed off stage. They'll never come back. So that's why it is an art form of the masses.
Ling Yah: Have you never felt like giving up?
Dr Jason Leong: Well, I think when I boomed on my birthday and that was very close to giving up of course but I think that defined my character because I knew than and then that I wanted to do this because even at my lowest low, I was like, no, I'm going to come back again.
I'm gonna conquer this stage. I'm gonna come back another day to do better. So that's why I knew that wasn't gonna give up easily. So I would say I've never come that close to giving up, but the closest was that 23rd January, 2013.
Ling Yah: And I wonder, you were saying they're like turning shit into gold. Can you remember an example of a shit that you've turned into gold?
Dr Jason Leong: Yeah like the story about me using this stethoscope to get out of trouble. That's an example of a joke, which I tried to do early on in my career. Like mid 2014. Didn't really work. I abandoned it because it somehow just didn't get it to click.
But once I became more comfortable on stage with more experience, then I tried the different idea again with a different approach. Then it worked.
Ling Yah: What was the different approach though?
Dr Jason Leong: I think I'm just more deliberate in the setup. Spend more time explaining that this stethoscope I put in my car. I use it to get out of traffic summonses.
And I think the ending of this was also a bit different. In the current ending he lets me go because I had put on jumper cables on my neck.
In the first iteration. When I said with the stethoscope on my neck, I said, please let me go. There's a man whose heart has stopped in the emergency department.
I have to go. And then the guy didn't believe me. I said, please, he is also a police officer. And the guy goes, Oh, really? Then he escorts me to the hospital. And then I don't know how to end the story. So that's why it kind of went flat, man, , like
Ling Yah: Quite different.
Dr Jason Leong: Yeah. so that kind of evolution takes.
Yeah, there's one article that Jerry Seinfeld says that is basically him trying a joke, which didn't work for many years. And then he said something about marriage. It's like playing chess. But the pieces are smoke and the board is water, something like that, right.
Something like that. But he didn't get a laugh. Then one year, many years after that, he finally gets it. When he does the joke, he does this. Marriage is like playing chess except that the pieces are smoke. And the board is water. This motion was too much work for the audience too. Get the ball. So he had to draw it in the air with his hands. Something like that, which is so interesting because it took him years.
Jerry Seinfeld to get that, instead of saying chess board, he has to say a chess board and do this
Ling Yah: Kudos to him for trying all these different iterations to find that.
Dr Jason Leong: That's why I stand up. It's all about the lonely grind on the road.
Ling Yah: And for those who want to do stand up, what is your advice for them?
Dr Jason Leong: Definitely try first. It's one of the art forms where you just have to do it and you can't rehearse for it. You can't prepare for it. You can't audition for it, you just have to do it. Your first audition gig is already a standup comedy in front of a live audience.
Nothing else in the world is doing it the first time. The first time you fly a plane is on a simulator, not an actual plane. The first time you do surgery is on a dummy or a virtual simulator and not on an actual patient who has blood and guts.
Standup comedy is very different. The first time you do stand up comedy, the first time you try it, it is stand up comedy.
So a lot of people ask me eh I want to try, where should I go? Just go ahead and do it three minutes on material, go and do and perform. Die or not never mind. Come and do it again and again. So that's one: do it.
And number two, you have to persevere, like a lot of things in life. The reason why we, the regulars, the professionals are still in the business.
It's just because we are stubborn. We just stayed with it. There are more talented people than us who have dropped out simply because their ego can't take it, or they just want to do other things, which are easier, nothing wrong, or they want to pursue other careers, which make them more money. That's great.
But to be a stand up comedian, you have to earn the title and you got to stay with it. You're gonna suck until you get good.
Ling Yah: Well, thank you so much, Jason, for your time.
Dr Jason Leong: My pleasure.
Ling Yah: So I normally end with these questions. So the first question is, do you feel
Dr Jason Leong: that you're found your why?
Ling Yah: My why, Oh yeah.
Dr Jason Leong: I always count myself very lucky. And I've this, my friends. I'm very lucky because I've figured out two major questions that everyone needs to figure out and some never do.
And some take a long time, but I figured out what I want and I figured out who I am. These are very important things people need to figure out. And if you figure out early, that is great.
And of course the why comes easier when you know who you are and what you want. So I know that I want to be one of the best standup comedians that there is. Of course it's a very lofty goal, but I know that if I aim for high goals, even if I miss it, I'm going to be somewhere up there.
And to provide for my family, stand up comedy offers a very good work life balance. I don't have to work as hard as my wife who's a doctor, cause I used to be a doctor.
I get to hang out with celebrities and the adrenaline rush of doing a good standup comedy gig is still one of the best feelings in the world. So yeah, I've definitely figured out my who, my what, what I want and my why. So, yeah.
Ling Yah: And what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?
Dr Jason Leong: Ooh.
A legacy of laughter. Well, that'd be great actually. That sounds like a very cool title for a company right now. I mean, I don't know my long term legacy is, but I always look to the greats, like my heroes, like John Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Ricky Gervais, George Carlin, the best comedian that ever lived and Dave Chappell.
So they all have a similar vein in that they speak truth to power. They call bullshit when they see bullshit. So, I hope to be one of those comedians where when I call out bullshit people, listen and go. Yeah, you're right. And I do it in a funny way.
That's why I do shows like the all day show with no budget cause I get to be a very low res backdoor, Chinese knockoff version of my heroes, without all the jazz.
That's the kind of legacy I want to pursue. Like I don't think I have it to leave yet. , like I have not, I don't have the things to hey look at what I've done, but hopefully that's where I get to move forward to. These are my heroes.
Ling Yah: And what do you think are the most important qualities a person should have to be a successful comedian?
Dr Jason Leong: The qualities are not very different from if you want to be successful in any other things like perseverance and hard work. You don't ever give up.
But more specifically, I think to be really successful. And I follow all the greats who have walked before me.
As a stand up comedian, we have to take risks not risks as in a new risky material, but we have to be ready to fail. Okay. So it's very scary for a standup comedian to try new jokes and not get a laugh.
It's very scary but it's very necessary. Some of the best comedians, they are not even sure that their jokes will get a laugh, but they want to do that joke. They take risks and sometimes these risks will pay off immensely. So it's important to take risks.
And I've seen some comedians. They always speak to safe, guaranteed you will laugh. They don't go into areas they're not comfortable with. And they will always stay within the same range of success. Whereas the really great comedians, they push the boundaries and they scare themselves in trying to be even funnier.
Ling Yah: Can you give some examples of those who are pushing the boundaries?
Dr Jason Leong: Well, Louis C K. I'm not saying that, he should masturbate in front of women. He said that if I can bring audiences to a place where they don't normally laugh and I make them laugh, that means I have pushed the boundaries.
Dave Chappelle. Nowadays it is very common for comedians to be very PC. Dave Chappelle doesn't buy into that. He is not PC and he still gets people to laugh, which at a comedian you can say like black, , I don't have a problem with transgender people. I never have, but I just find that it's really funny.
I can't stop making jokes about them. It's a hilarious predicament. It touches a vein. Not a lot of comedians will do that, but he does it and I wouldn't spoil the whole joke for you, but another hero of mine, Bill Burr, he did a joke, which I won't tell you what a joke is, but he starts with this line. He justifies it and it's not offensive by the end of the job. Okay.
You should watch it. It's called Bill Bur Paper Tiger. The line goes, he starts ah , what's hilarious about sexual assault? That's the line, that's the line. And then by the end of the whole bit, you end up yes, you're right. That is, you know, that's wow.
How do you do that, you know?
And that's why they are at the top of the game, because they've managed to by over the years taking risks, they have reached a level where they've achieved mastery, as opposed to someone who never takes risks. He waits near the shores.
Don't go into the sea. You'll never be a great swimmer.
Ling Yah: And where do you think people can go to connect with you and find out more about what you're doing?
Dr Jason Leong: Well, you can find me on social media.
So Dr. Jason Leong Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and more importantly to see some of my best work, go to Netflix and search for Hashtag Blessed, or search my name Jason Leong . 190 countries except China.
Ling Yah: Oh no.
Dr Jason Leong: No really. There's no Netflix in China.
Ling Yah: They're missing out. And is there anything else that you'd like to share that we haven't shared yet?
Dr Jason Leong: I think that's all.
Oh yeah, share the link to this podcast, to your friends so that everybody can watch.
Ling Yah: Thank you so much, Jason, for your time.
Dr Jason Leong: Okay. Bye. Bye.
Ling Yah: And that was the end of episode 18.
The show notes can be found at www.sothisismywhy.com/18
This includes the transcript and links to everything we just talked about.
Don't forget to check out Jason's latest Netflix Special, Hashtag Blessed. There's bound to be something for you, even if it's your first time being exposed to Malaysian humor!
And in case you were wondering, Dr. Jason won his Fight for Gotcha. Yay.
And don't forget to tune in again next Sunday. We will be meeting an Emmy award winning filmmaker and producer, where she will talk about her childhood, where she wanted to be one of the Doublemint twins, to hearing God's word to do a mission trip in Prague and how that journey let her home to her position where she creates incredible documentary episodes that showcase the resilience of humankind.
As well how she balances motherhood with her own business.
It's a wonderful episode and I look forward to seeing you then!