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The man who built the house of forbidden laughs

Zikri Kamarulzaman  |  Published:  |  Modified:

MALAYSIANS KINI | In a small shop lot hidden away in the middle of Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, there is a congregation four nights a week, where the sacred and taboo are sacrificed in exchange for earthly pleasures.

Those gathered sit in the dark and listen as one of them bathes in the spotlight, standing against a brick wall and uttering words that most Malaysians dare only say in private or in hushed voices - words too offensive, racist, sensitive, or too vulgar to be said in public, let alone written in a news article.

But despite the shocking and abrasive nature of the words said, there is no anger from those who hear it, only laughter.

Enter the Crackhouse Comedy Club, the premier home for standup comedy in Malaysia.

Nothing is sacred here. Politics, race, religion, sex, all are fair game for the comedians, who don't hold back their punchlines in an effort to make people laugh, not just at others, but also at themselves.

The man behind this is Crackhouse co-founder and comedian Rizal van Geyzel, an Ampang boy of mixed Malay, Chinese and Eurasian heritage.

“(The) van Geyzel (side of the family) comes from a far away place - Batu 9, Port Dickson,” the 34 year-old told Malaysiakini in an interview on Thursday.

Rizal said Crackhouse - which seats about 150 people and attracts both Malaysians and foreigners - was an avenue of escape from censorship.

Audiences have come to get used to unfettered jokes and even expect it from the comedians, he said.

“Back then when we first started you can just say ‘Chinese people are cheap’ and the crowd will (cover their mouths and) go ‘Oooohhh’.

“But now you say ‘Chinese people are cheap’ and the Chinese people will laugh ‘hahaha ya ya ya’,” he said, acting out the laughter of his audience.

Even those who may not appear to be open to such humour have proven otherwise, as related by Rizal in an anecdote involving one of his staff's father.

“(The father) was in full Muslim regalia, a pak haji with a beard, and he came with wife number three....

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