What makes Singaporean humour Singaporean?

In a multicultural, multiracial melting pot such as ours, it’s little wonder that our humour has taken on a unique flavour. Peppered with colloquialisms, seasoned with various different mother tongues, and stewed in a rare racial composition, Singaporeans possess a perspective not shared by others.

Singaporean humour image featuring PreetiplS, Subhas, YEOLO, The Benzi Project, and The Average Guys

Yet, so much “Singaporean comedy” boils down to the same tired punchlines–whether it’s a fixation on Singlish, a weird obsession with sex (or the lack thereof), or the constant need to remind everybody else of a strereotype.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these approaches to comedy. In fact, there are millions of examples of these sort of jokes being done well, making audiences guffaw (ok, maybe not millions in the case of Singlish just yet). Several of the biggest Singaporean comedy channels on YouTube take these concepts and flog the dead horse. Then flog it some more.

The very nature of comedy allows it to broach serious subjects with levity, mustering intelligent discourse between the audience and the comedian. Believe it or not, there are people out there willing to push the boundaries, culminating in a satisfying creative experience for both the viewer and the audience.

Singaporean comedy could be so much more. I believe it, and several local creators believe it too. Here are some of the best examples of comedy that makes light of very Singaporean situations without succumbing to the usual traps.

YEOLO

SINGLISH IKEA PUNS

The singular concept of this video is making Singlish puns with Swedish words. And it’s burdened with glorious purpose.

Singlish is the vernacular of Singapore. No matter who or where you are, a well-placed “lah” and the proper intonation can communicate your intent far more effectively than any sentence. 

This works well because it takes a humourous trend that’s popular on social media platforms and transforms it into a local context. There’s a reason why this is YEOLO’s most viewed video, more than twice his second one. Singaporeans love Singlish — there’s no way around that. There’s no reason to shy away from good old Singlish humour, as long as it’s not the only reason why your joke is funny.

Making puns out of Ikea furniture is a long-hallowed tradition, but using a distinctively Singaporean voice and language makes it all the more endearing to locals. It’s the pronunciation and intonation that sells it. It’s instantly recognizable as Singaporean, and due to its accessible content, retains enough context to be funny to non-Singaporeans.

CRAZY REAL ASIANS OF SINGAPORE

Parodies are the bread and butter of several local comedy channels. The challenge, as always, is to make it resonate with your core audience. YEOLO truly has a finger on the pulse of Singaporeans, easily finding timely topics to make fun of. Have a look at one of his best, parodying South China Morning’s Post video.

The video works out of context. While it’s practically a direct copy-paste of style, it works as a disparaging rejection of Crazy Rich Asians’ one-sided view of Singapore. Simply knowing that the movie was about–well, crazy rich Asians–is enough. Even as you are laughing along, most locals will feel that YEOLO’s parody of a semi-parody is somehow the closest one to the truth.

By transforming the subject into something much more recognizable for the average Singaporean, it becomes more relatable. Relatability and feeling a sense of belonging and attachment are great ways to enhance humour.

On the same note, his reviews of the very comedic Singapore Social are gold. Click here to watch them.

Preetipls

Preetipls – OORU (ft. Subhas)

A collaboration between the brother-sister duo Preetipls and Subhas, and Dauntlus Studios, OORU is both a brilliantly written song, and a brilliantly written music video/skit. 

First off, the whole music video is presented as a lampooning of a typical client/media interaction. And boy, do we love it.

To add even more to the ridiculousness of the situation, the subtitles add even more colour to the situation. Instead of translation, the Mandarin subtitles are more akin to a stream of consciousness from Preeti and Subhas about what they are truly thinking (in true Preetipls style). It’s an added bonus for folks who read Mandarin, but there’s more than enough hilarity to go around for everybody.

The video immediately addresses the use of Tamil in the song. It’s played somewhat to comedic effect, by introducing Chinese characters who can’t pronounce the Tamil words correctly. But, if it hasn’t stopped aspiring K-pop and J-pop Stans from butchering the language, why not try it out with something closer to home?

The video isn’t afraid to make fun of itself and Singaporeans, but also shows a dedication to produce well-made content in the country. While parodying and likely drawing inspiration from better-known music videos, the original vision and the made-in-Singapore pride shines clearly for six minutes. 

The BenZi Project

The BenZi Project – Unmanly Man

A musical number calling out toxic masculinity, not to mention being a really catchy song to boot…

The BenZi Project is a collaboration between Benjamin Kheng (the hot singer from Sam Willows) & Hirzi Zulkiflie (local YouTube star and comedian, also hot) that churns out some of the best looking videos you can find in Singapore. Seriously, each video is visually distinct, of very high quality, and features fantastic styling. 

Every video is undoubtedly local, with each character’s mannerism and behaviour being tuned to the extremes. It’s a little difficult to get used to, but each exaggerated motion and piece of dialogue paints an underlying truth about Singapore. It’s not always about Singaporean things, like the Unmanly Men musical, but it’s always on point about our society.

Nothing is safe here. Everything gets made fun of, regardless of race, language, or religion. The comedy never lets off and there’s no resting point. The BenZi Project is unabashedly Singaporean, while never forgetting to embrace creativity and the courage to try something new.

Their work is also reminiscent of Key & Peele skits, which is awesome.

NSFTV

How to Make Corporate Videos | Average Guys Ep 1

Average Guys presents the everyday shenanigans of a company specializing in corporate videos. In essence, it’s an office comedy, in the vein of The Office.

Look, it’s about people working in an office.

So, why does Average Guys work? There’s a lot of relatable Singaporean humour written into the show itself, not just thrown on as a gag. From a poor intern forced to take the lousiest computer and being forced outside of his job scope, to a bewildering team-building exercise, it’s easy to draw the blood of every Singaporean: local corporate culture.

Of course, the show is satirized. It’s dramatic, the characters are written to the extreme. But, they all remain truly Singaporean characters. Each person has clear traits and personalities, and is probably analogous to somebody in your life. Yet, they retain human characteristics. They make mistakes. Even when they resort to stereotypes, they don’t do it heavy-handedly.

And that’s why Average Guys works.


These examples of local comedy are not only rip-roaringly funny, they serve as a truthful reflection of the creators’ Singaporean background and identity. They try to be amusing and entertaining, but they don’t forget that their platform can be used to send a message. It’s not Aesop’s Fables, but it’s something important that all local creatives and creators can learn from.

Author: Guan Hao

An e-sports, fiction and comics fanatic through and through, you can find him sipping a nice, hot cup of tea while playing video games with the few friends that he has. Or don't find him at all. He'll prefer it that way.

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