Joanne Kam: My supervisor laughed… ‘who would want to have sex with a fat girl?’
PETALING JAYA, Jan 16 — Comedienne Joanne Kam is known for her famously raunchy stand-up comedy act. No topic — taboos, vulgarities or “sex, sex, sex” as she puts it — is off limits.
However, her upcoming show La La Lian aims to do more than entertain. Kam wants to address issues of body confidence and weight with an aim to inspire young girls through her own life experiences.
This is, after all, the Year of Female Empowerment; even the Malaysian government declared it so last October.
Not to mention #MeToo, Oprah Winfrey’s inspiring Golden Globes speech and more victims of sexual abuse coming forward to say Time’s Up.
Yes, more and more men are being called out by women — and men — for sexual misconduct.
And while the news is generally Hollywood-based, Kam revealed how one experience early in her career proved that culture existed too in these parts back in the early 90s.
“I played a matchmaker character which required me to be very teasing, to pair customers queuing for rides,” she said about working at Haw Par Villa theme park in Singapore.
“I needed to be very flirty. One customer said he wanted to take a photo and took me to a corner that was very quiet.
“He wanted to do more but I stopped him,” she said.
“I was 19, still a virgin and I felt violated so I talked to my supervisor and he laughed in my face.
“On walkie talkie, he told all the park supervisors my character ‘Jia San Gu claimed she was sexually harassed’ and laughed.
“Just because I was plus-sized, not only did my superior laugh in my face, he mocked me by telling those working at the park I got molested.
“In his mind, it was: ‘She’s so fat — who would want to molest her?’”
For some, this could have been soul-destroying. This was after all before being plus-sized was something to be celebrated, before Ashley Graham and body positivity as a whole, Kam reminded.
She said the incident made her stronger.
“I was trained by the gay boys. No one would dare mess with me. I protected myself more. The only way to leave your fears is to go head on so I did.”
When she began opening at Kuala Lumpur’s first cabaret club Boom Boom Room in 1991, at a time when there were no known female comedians in Malaysia, her material was all about sex.
“What I talked about was very taboo,” she said.
“In an environment where there is drinking and drag queens, the jokes are sexual.”
Perhaps most surprising of all was that Kam, who would dress in revealing attire for her gigs, was still a virgin at 21.
“I was still this little girl, a 21-year-old virgin who had never seen any male equipment, but I went up there and talked about what type of men I liked to sleep with, how to give blowjobs — in a joke context of course.”
“At Boom Boom, I’d be talking about sex, but I still — the couple of years I was there — did not have any sexual experience,” she said.
“But I needed a character to tame drunken men. If you don’t show them power, they will come and try it on. You need to show them ‘don’t f**k with me, I will slap you with my t*ts if you try to grope them’.
“It is an act, but you give yourself a character that can bypass the shyness. In that character, it makes you stronger.”
This act of defiance — all through the medium of comedy — is perhaps what makes her the comedy queen she is today: turning that uninformed knowledge of sex into her ultimate strength.
She’s wielded the ever-improving sexual arsenal for a quarter of a century now, leading the way for female stand-ups in Malaysia.
New show La La Lian will focus more on to her personal life, childhood and years in the entertainment industry.
“There was no empowerment at the time of Boom Boom. When I went on stage I was much bigger, maybe, 100kg. I was huge!
“But I wore these sexy dresses because I didn’t care. I realised women — plus-or-normal-sized — started becoming more confident in the way they dressed after they saw me.
“Women told me how daring it is to dress sexy. They had never been in a position where their femininity or sensuality was allowed to come out through their body.
“Even for a big girl, to feel comfortable to go out and be body proud, talk about attracting men, I could make a difference because I was in a position to.”
La La Lian will be on at PJ Live Arts on January 26 and 27. Tickets are priced at RM48 and RM58. Visit www.tix.my or call 017-2289849 to purchase