Malaysian Comedienne Joanne Kam On Laughter And Empowerment

Behind her sassy humour

Funny and fabulous — that's how we all know and see Joanne Kam, Malaysia's Queen of Comedy. Hosting radio shows, acting on-screen and on-stage, writing columns, going on comedy tours and more for 26 years now, she has become one of the country's most popular female personalities. Every time her hands grab ahold of the mic, her cheeky and spontaneous wit is revealed, leaving everyone laughing in stitches. But what's behind that bold and boisterous character that never fails to charm her crowd? Ahead, have a glimpse of what it's like being a woman in the entertainment industry as Joanna herself spills her thoughts on comedy, life, and championing oneself.

Daring to be herself

One of the things that catapulted Joanne into becoming a household name is her distinct personality. For one, you can see her uniqueness in the way she dresses. Her sequined, tight-fitting outfits are a statement of their own, inspiring women of all shapes and sizes to dare to showcase their own style. And, of course, you see it in her own brand of humour as well. She pushes the comedic envelope. No topic is off-limits to her, and she handles it quite candidly. For it all, Joanne is loud and proud. In fact, she shares that one of her favourite comedy bits is her comparison of Singaporean and Malaysian nasi lemak — one that has drawn lots of heated conversation throughout the years.

Persevering through life

Despite having brought light-hearted fun to people these past few decades, life wasn't always easy and breezy at the beginning for Joanne. When her father passed when she was 16, she was asked by her mum to travel down to Singapore and look for a job. There, she auditioned and got a role as a Chinese matchmaker at the Haw Par Villa theme park. It was this first job of hers that made her realise her love for performing, but it's also where she fell victim to harassment for the first time. It was a traumatising event, but the incident gave her the strength to face her fears, hustle, and achieve her success today.

Now, as a radio DJ, host, writer and comedienne, Joanne still has to juggle numerous gigs day-by-day, but more than that, she holds the responsibility of being a full-time single mum. Looking back on the life lessons she's learnt throughout the years, Joanne says she wants her daughter to remember that "no matter how hard life gets you down, as long as you keep on persevering, you will make it through."

Finding little joys

You'd think that she'd be so done with laughter once she goes off the stage, but Joanne enjoys having her own bit of fun, too. She shares, "I laugh too loud sometimes. I have watched other comics perform and I just go berserk when it's a good joke delivered." Even when not in shows, comedy is still very much present in her life. One person in particular that really tickles her funny bones is Ryan, one of her best friends from Australia. "I think he's the funniest person I know. If you put him and me together, we can easily put on a show worthy of a sitcom." When she finds time, she also enjoys watching different styles of comedy and is particularly in love with sitcom. Joanne's old-time favourites are British sitcoms Absolutely Fabulous, The IT Crowd and Spaced, the third of which featured English comedian Simon Pegg. More recently, she's got into watching Schitt's Creek as well.

Comedy as a way of sharing stories

We rarely take comedy seriously, but these anecdotes and bits that leave us in hysterics give us a glimpse of the performers' lives. It's a way for them to share their stories and make their mark on the world. But, unfortunately, for the longest time, the world of comedy has been dominated by male acts. Joanne explains, "Predominately, comedy is a male-dominated industry and women like us always seem to be an add-on, an after-thought." It's just when the more famed male comics are secure that the organisers will think to add female acts to balance things out.

It's that unfortunate situation that inspired Joanne to give a platform for more female performers. With that, she sought to produce the Queens of Asia Comedy Special, an all-female comedy festival. "I wanted to bring female comedy powerhouses together on one stage. It's never been done before to have four very different yet prolific comedy women who are already huge stars in their country to come together in a showcase," she details.

Beyond the show, she invites other women interested yet hesitant to try out comedy, "Now is the time to get your confidence up and just go up there and try. Open mic nights are the best in Kuala Lumpur to test your nerves out." Letting your stories be heard is important. And you never know — just how it was for Joanne, you might touch someone's life, too. Recounting one memorable moment she had, Joanne shares, "Someone came up to me and told me her husband passed two months ago. It was her first outing that night to watch my show and it was the first time she smiled and laughed in two months." The few seconds of laughter you bring can mean the world to someone.

Reaching for greater heights

One can say that Joanne's right at the peak of her career, but for her, reaching for greater heights never stops. This year, she's working on a pop-up show club and she reveals, "I'm teaming with an exciting partner to do a Boom Boom Room revival." Through that project, Joanne hopes to make the Kuala Lumpur cabaret club that first brought her into the limelight in the '90s edgier and sexier this decade. Last, but not least, it seems that we'll be seeing her on our TV screens yet again, as she's joined the cast of an international series. 

Joanne has undoubtedly already brought great laughter to many, and in the process, empowered women in the country. We can't wait to see what more she has in store for us, but we're a hundred per cent sure she'll bring even bigger smiles to everyone.

Witness Joanne Kam, together with three famed female stand-up comedians, grace the stage at the Queens of Asia Comedy Special live this 13 March at HGH Convention Centre Sentul, Kuala Lumpur. For more exclusive updates on the show, follow @clozettemy on Instagram.

(Cover photo from: @joannekampohpoh)

Next, be inspired by these four women as they share stories on living with tenacity.

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