On Being Ha-LOL

13 June 2016

GO ASEAN just celebrated its 1st year anniversary and we had the chance to catch up with Malaysia’s biggest comic in size, Papi Zak on the relation between comedy and culinar, plus what’s the biggest takeaway from his new show, the Halal Foodie

What’s so funny about food? 

Its shapes and sizes, the way the combination works… like, who would’ve thought Maggi goreng would go so well with Ramly burger, you know?

And what’s so delicious about comedy?

The way you captivate people’s attention with your jokes, stories… the way they respond to them. The best comics always leave the audience hungry for more.

What happens when people don’t respond to your jokes?

Move on to the next one. Some people would be like, “Listen, I’ve made a lot of effort creating this joke. You have to laugh!”, then they break down the joke which makes you lose the feel of the joke, unless you’re an expert, then you turn the joke onto yourself. You victimise yourself. 

How long have you been doing stand-up comedy? Ever thought of doing it in Malay?

This would be my 10th year. In Malay? No. I wouldn’t know how to break it (the jokes) down. Like, sentence structures, to deliver the punchlines... it just doesn't hit right. It’s a misconception of people confused how to react to a joke; Malaysians are more receptive towards something visual. 

Taking cue from some failed actors/comics trying to do stand-ups in Malay, I’m afraid…but I see it as a challenge that I would like to take. But I already know that I really have to work hard, as in, how I work hard coming up for materials... now I have to consider the structure and how I deliver it. In English, it’s more natural and it’s easier to improvise.

After wrapping up the first season of the Halal Foodie which took place across ASEAN countries, has your view changed on the region itself?

I would have to say I was blown away by the culture in Laos. I went to Luang Prabang, I hear it’s the more quiet side of Laos. The culture is somewhat similar but at the same time different from ours. From the way they work up to the way they entertain themselves. 

I’m not sure if you should put this in, but the people who kuat minum (drinkers) over there are the women. So, you would rarely see men in coffee shops drinking beer or rice wine; most of them are women. 

Both genders work hard, no matter what the trade—you can see the men are selling the produce in markets while the women are ploughing in the fields. Everybody does the same amount of work, and I don’t see any gender inequality in their everyday lives. 

For instance in performance arts, you would expect to see the women dancers greet you like those in Thailand or Indonesia, but in Laos it’s the opposite. I had the chance to catch some sort of a Loatian wayang kulit and most of the traditional dances were presented by male performers, it was kind of shocking. 

What would be the perfect ASEAN sandwich?

It’s a combination of... I love the Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwich). I don’t know how the Vietnamese perfected the baguette, even though the French brought it in, but the Viets perfected it. I just love the crispiness of the Banh Mi, maybe put some chicken liver pâté , roasted slices of lamb. My favourite vegetables are onions and tomatoes... oh man, I’m losing myself here. 

I’m very mat salleh in that way, so I gotta have my ranch dressing. 

What about cheese?

Cheese, not so much. I love melted cheese, so this sandwich is sort of a cold cut sandwich, so it’s nice as it is. I used to cook for Johnny Rockets (in the States, not Sunway), and I love the whole look of a grilled cheese sandwich. But it’s weird, I’m very particular. I don’t like frozen cheese.

Does this apply to comedy as well? You have a certain extent of cheesiness, you don’t go full cheese?

Yes, correct. If I’m really up there with the cheesiness, that means I’m really desperate for laughter.

What’s a whole day Malaysian diet for a big guy like yourself?

Breakfast  - Of course I would start with nasi lemak. Just the spiciness of it, oh man. Continental or western breakfasts are not quite filling, so nasi lemak gets the job done. I still prefer an Asian breakfast; it’s like a full meal. 

In between - Roti Banjir. 

Lunch - Probably a mini-dish like 2 chicken breasts with a side of garlic mash potatoes. After finishing the Halal foodie, I’m taking a break from Asian dishes. But it really depends on my mood; I like my nasi campur with begedil, tauhu, grilled catfish (repeatedly claiming that it is his favourite fish) 

Tea time - I need to have my Milo ais kaw no matter how hot or cold I am. I would at least have 2 cups alongside tidbits like a karipap or a samosa. 

Dinner - If I’m going Western, it’s gotta be steak and potatoes. At least 500 grams and above. If I’m feeling Asian, I would go for Chinese seafood; I usually go to Pangkor Village located in Taman Megah, Kelana Jaya. They have the best salted egg squid, honey chicken, beef onion... and I love the Yong Chow fried rice. 

The perfect girl for a guy that loves comedy and food?

Somebody that can cook; that must be the one for me. She doesn’t have to be funny, I’m quite quiet off stage (after hours of talking either for a stand-up night or hosting a show) so I just like to chill and sit down. I always imagine my wife to be the “spicy latina” type where she talks a lot, so she balances my quietness at home. 

A girl with attitude, and just being her own self. It’s nice if I have a career and she has a career too, so she won’t kacau me like “Where are you? What are you doing? Are you thinking about me?” that sort of stuff. 

After hosting the Halal Foodie, do you think halal food in only meant for Muslims? How much of an impact will it bring? 

No, halal food I think is meant to make travelling more convenient for Muslims. They now can go beyond their comfort zone. If people of other faith enjoy halal food, then it’s a good thing since good things are meant to be shared. 

It would be nice to change whatever mentality people have about Islam, and when they try halal food they react something like, “Oh, they make great food. They can’t be all that bad!”

Sometimes you wonder why are there so many Arabs coming to Malaysia; because they know we have great halal food. Imagine if they found out that the Phillipines, Laos or Vietnam have good halal food, they would visit those countries too. 

It’s basically opening up new markets for our neighbouring countries. 

A personal example is that my best friend’s parents opened a German-Malaysian restaurant in Langkawi and the first question they get asked by Arab tourists is that “Is this halal?” and after they’re certain the food is safe and clean, they come back... by the batches! They just want to enjoy great food and a peace of mind. 

Hopefully the Halal Foodie will make a big impact, I just want people to be more comfortable in travelling especially among Muslims, talking from personal family experiences. 

Catch Papi Zak trailing halal eateries across South East Asia on Halal Foodie premiering June 24th, 930 PM on GO ASEAN (channel 737 on Astro)

This article is related to FOOD CULTURE

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