THE crowd waited eagerly for the pencil-slim man in the long dress and the high heels to make his entrance. The “lady in red” soon had everyone in stitches.
Of the hundreds of Kumars on this island, only one can leave people wanting more of his no-holds barred humour.
Sex and politics may be the mainstays of his RA act, but everything from the Merlion to Mas Selamat is fair game if it’s controversial enough and has a decidedly Singaporean flavour.
“I read The Straits Times and The New Paper. You’ve got to keep up with the news, if not how to connect with the audience,” declares the drag queen who wants to be known only as Kumar – more like Madonna than Maradona.
Into his 17th year as probably Singapore’s only stand-up comic, Kumar, 41, has had one fan even labelling him a national treasure. “I thought he was drunk, but he wasn’t,” he recalls with a laugh.
He performs mainly at private functions and clubs like 3 Monkeys but is equally at home on the big stage. Earlier this year, his three shows at the Esplanade – Kumar: Stripped Bare & Standing Up – sold out on all three nights.
We caught up recently at my office and he was every inch the prima madonna, arriving late, fussing over his hair and pointing out that interviewers usually came to him and not the other way around.
But you quickly realise it’s all an act and that he’s actually a pretty easygoing bloke with a serious side to him, like when he talks about his wretched growing up years because of his effeminate nature: “From young I liked to wear dresses and to put on make-up. That’s just who I am but people had trouble accepting me.”
Kumar took the insults and name-calling in his stride and during his national service days, the infantry soldier’s way of dealing with the jibes was to be fitter than the rest. “I tried to be the best, like finishing the 2.4km run faster than everyone else in the company. That usually shut people up.”
For years he also bore the brunt of physical abuse at home. “My father was a very abusive man and every day was torture or trauma. I was the black sheep of the family.
He did not say a word to me for seven years although we lived under the same roof. I suppose it was hard for him to have a son like me, that too eldest son,” he recalls.
“People gossiped and it troubled him a lot. Indians always worry about what the other Indians are saying about them. Then one Deepavali he came up to me and said: ‘Son, you’re going to be alone the rest of your life, so you better take care of yourself’. That was acceptance enough for me.”
From then on, things warmed up between them to the point that they became quite “palsy”. He would regularly cook for his father or buy him his favourite dosa or curry from Little India. He even went to a Hindu temple to have prayers done when his father was gravely ill with cancer.
When his father died in July, Kumar didn’t shed any tears but he was glad that they had eventually made peace with each other. “I bought my parents a house. I forgave my father and it made me a better person,” he says.
So how did he get into stand-up comedy?
With not much going for him, he cleverly turned his passion for things feminine to his advantage. “My hobby became my careerlimelight. The first time I got on stage in a dress was pretty scary.
Dresses are just my working clothes, nothing to do with my lifestyle. I’m not a transvestite.”
He started off telling “clean jokes” and after a few months introduced sexual innuendo into his acts. The police, who vetted his work then, were jittery but came around when they realised it was pretty harmless stuff.
“My mother has seen my show and still can’t deal with it, but she has accepted that that’s what people want,” he says.
In recent years, Kumar has been pushing the boundaries with political jokes and jokes about the idiosyncrasies of the different races here: “I make fun of all races. I’m not a racist. It’s a fair deal across the board.”
The Media Development Authority vets his scripts for big shows and Kumar points out that he has never been censored by them. He has no clue what the Government thinks of him but he does know that politicians linger on at events and functions to catch his late act.
“I don’t think stand-up comedy is an issue with the Government anymore. They know we Singaporeans need to laugh at ourselves and let it out. You can get away with humour but you shouldn’t make up stories and shouldn’t anyhow slam anyone. It’s not right,” he says.
Indeed, Kumar has his own personal OB markers: “I know when I’ve gone overboard with something and I won’t do it again.”
Food is one of his passions and he cooks a mean biryani. But to maintain his 57kg weight “to look good in a dress” he eats – “ladies, take note” – only one big meal a day. He admits though that it’s an unhealthy practice and advises against it.
He does three shows a week and spends the rest of his time “shaking legs” as he put it. “No, but seriously, I’m not a greedy person. I’m happy if there’s enough money to put food on the table and to help pay for my ‘vices’ like doing my hair every other day, shopping a lot, yoga, clubbing,” he reveals.
And the future? “I don’t think about the future. I have no children, I’m a one-man show so I live for today.”
Asked for a sample of his work, he provides this definition of sex: “It’s an injection with affection to the mid-section with the projection without any objection and hopefully no infection.”
And with that, and a wave of his hand, he sashayed off into the night.
You can catch Kumar at 3 Monkeys in Orchards Towers on Fridays and Saturdays and Hard Rock Cafe in Cuscaden Road on Mondays. Shows start at 11pm.