Kumar -- comedian, performer and Singapore's top drag queen
Kumar talks about shows, drag queens, and harems. Youtube video by Eddie Tee.
Come this March, Kumar, Singapore’s drag queen slash comedian numero uno, takes to the stage with his second solo performance. But who is the man in the dress? CNNGo finds out.
The spotlights go on. Kumar appears. He sashays to the center in a swishy long dress that only Kate Moss-thin models can fit into. Then he speaks into the mike.
"I’m Kumar. I’m approved by the government. Why? Cause I’m Indian, and the president is also Indian…"
The crowd hoots, whoops, and bounces against their seats. The skinny Indian man in drag grins. He loves this crowd and they love him back. Throughout the show he makes fun of Singapore’s policies, racial quirks, and sex lives, every second of which is lapped up by the audience.
But Kumar wasn’t this successful before.
"The toughest time was when I was trying to make people laugh for the first time that I was on stage. And nobody laughed," the 42 year-old comedian tells CNNGo at Dream Academy’s studio where he's just finished rehearsals for his upcoming performance.
“So I went back and cried for three months. Everyday it was the same thing. So it’s either you swim or drown, right? I really wanted this [job], so I went below the belt. And that’s that.”
That explains why sex figures prominently in all his jokes. In fact almost everything Singaporean gets mocked.
"Indians got no problem. We have a motto in life: drink, drunk, drama. Wait wait... I must tekan (local Malay slang meaning to beat, abuse or scold) my own race first then I move onto the Malays. The grand finale’s for the Chinese. Ang mohs (colloquial term for Caucasians), I don’t tekan anymore. Poor things. They’re already a joke mah."
Kumar pushes the boundaries of his shows by making fun of things that are taboo in Singapore. Surprisingly he has not been hauled up by the authorities. For him, it’s about knowing "what the rules are. The safest thing is -- don’t be too political."
It's this instinct for balancing laughter with social acceptability, honed by 19 years of doing stand up comedy, that's kept him out of trouble. But there are always repercussions, especially for a personality as controversial as Kumar. Those came from his family.
He recounted, "It was tough for my family because my father thought I was a prostitute. And my mother didn’t know what the hell I was doing. And it was very hard to tell them, so I let it be until they came to terms with it."
It was seven years before his father spoke to him again, and his mother "knew at the back of her head that I was doing this, but she was hoping that I’ll end up in a desk job. But now it’s all different, it ain’t happening."
A typical example of his stage jokes runs thus: "Just now one child asked his daddy. 'Eh daddy, daddy, that one boy or girl ah?' I said 'Tch, boy, I got both. Mommy [grabs chest], and daddy [points to crotch].’ I still am [a girl]. Only I’m a gifted woman. My ovaries are hanging outside, that’s all."
When he's not performing, Kumar remains a bloke because "dressing in drag’s tough, it’s tiring. A lot of men don’t know how tough it is to be a woman. I’ve experienced it. I know how it is. So I won’t be in drag all day. No way."
In fact his regular stomping ground in Orchard Towers' clubs (infamously known as the four floors of whores) has shown him that Singaporeans, once conservative and disapproving, are more accepting of alternative lifestyles now.
Once upon a time not so long ago, a guy in a dress would turn heads, get wagging fingers, and disapproving cat calls. Now "I think the cat calls have almost disappeared. They look but they don’t really cat call anymore. They don’t say from a distance 'Ah kua, ah kua' (derogatory term for transsexuals and cross-dressers) People are more traveled and they have seen that this kind of people [drag queens] exist. They don’t think that they’re freaks from hell anymore."
From a rocky start both on stage and familial, to making peace with family and self, as well as cementing a spot in Singapore’s pop culture, Kumar is finally getting his dues with sold out solo performances in the Esplanade.
Now he cites his greatest achievement as "where I am now. I think there’s more to come. But a lot of good things have happened to me in the past two to three years. And it’s great because we’re all born for a reason (I know what I’m born for now), and it’s important to find what you’re born to do in this world."
"Like Angelina Jolie, she’s born to have an SPCA -- the number of children that she has, she can run a pound."
That’s Kumar for you: irreverent, funny, incisive, and uniquely Singapore.