The KL stand-up comedy circuit has grown tremendously over the past few years, with local comedians gaining popularity both home and abroad (remember when Harith Iskander won last year’s Funniest Person in the World contest?). It wasn’t until end July, however, that local stand-up comedians got their own show when video-on-demand (VOD) service iflix launched its first original programme ‘Oi! Jaga Mulut’, a seven-part series that gave the likes of Joanne Kam, Papi Zak, Rayza Mukmin and Jon Atherton free and uncensored rein to be their loud-mouthed selves – a bold move, considering how cutting and irreverent their stand-up routines often are.
We spoke to Mark Francis, the Global Director of Original Programming to find out more about the genesis and challenges surrounding ‘Oi! Jaga Mulut’, as well as other original programmes iflix plans to launch in the coming months.
First off, how did ‘Oi! Jaga Mulut’ come about?
Around November 2016, the iflix team sat down and decided on what criteria our original production should fulfill. And we came up with a few – first, it had to have an impact in the marketplace; the productions are almost an extension of our marketing, helping people understand what iflix is beyond being just a VOD service.
Second, it had to dare to be different, while having a familiar appeal; it can’t be so experimental that local audiences can’t relate. And third, it needed to lift the bar above what’s being offered by local free-to-air channels – and that doesn’t just mean having a higher production budget, but also authenticity and originality of content. With those in mind, we pursued several ideas; the first was a premium mini-series and the other was stand-up comedy. And when it came to ‘Oi! Jaga Mulut’, we wanted to create a ‘soft-format’ show (an industry term wherein the show’s framework is set, but producers have no influence on what will happen on screen) where we’re going to feature three comedians in each episode and have them play a few games in between.
Do you think the tight 20-minute timeframe gives enough time for each comedian to showcase their routine?
We debated about the show’s structure, and decided that we wanted to feature not just established comedians, but also new and upcoming talent. This isn’t just a one-hit or one-season show; we want to look into the possibility of doing spin-off specials. This way, we get to test 20-odd comedians, decide on which comedian is a hit and take it from there. The other reality that we learned is that most stand-up comedians don’t have enough material to do 45-minute shows, and many of them don’t want to burn their material for TV.
Keren Bala Devan and Joanne Kam
Given comedy’s brash nature, where do you draw the line on what’s permissible and not?
We’re not setting ourselves to be as offensive and rude as possible. We are giving them free rein to be uncensored – of course, they’re going to say ‘fuck’, they’re going to make jokes that might bring up interracial situations, and that’s fine as long as they’re not mean-spirited. However, I do draw the line when a joke feels vindictive or malicious, especially if it’s about religion or specific individuals. And if it’s rude, my one rule is that it had better be damn funny. Doing stand-up properly means having to take a bit of risk and be offended in the process.
What other original shows can we expect from iflix in the coming months?
I can’t go into the specifics, but as I’ve hinted before, we’re looking to do local premium mini-drama series, which started at the same time as ‘Oi! Jaga Mulut’ but takes more time to produce. We are also doing an English-language regional project that’s similar to what Viceland does – think of it as a pop-culture magazine show that MTV used to do, but for Asia. It’s still in the early stages of development, but you’ll hear about it once we finalise our PR plan for the show.
Watch the trailer for 'Oi! Jaga Mulut'