Over the last weekend, local comedy troupe BruHaHa put on two sold-out shows at the Progresif Headquarters in Gadong.
On Friday, the show was entirely in Malay, and on Saturday, it was in English.
I’ve been following BruHaHa’s development with interest over the last two years. I’ve watched individual comedians test their material at small, informal spoken word events. I’ve gone to their test shows and have watched them grow from sporadic performances of variable quality to regularly sold-out shows to crowds of 200 to 400 people.
Founded by comedian Zainal Bostaman, who now performs professionally overseas, production of BruHaha has fallen to Khai Anwar, co-owner of comic book store Fanboys Infinite, with support from newcomer Najib Ja’afri.
The quality of the shows over the course of the last year has been consistently improving. The more senior staples are reliably funny — Kevin Cheong does a tremendous job of keeping crowd energy high as the host; Khatib “Tibby” Ibrahim, known for a repertoire of self-deprecating jokes about being single, has been expanding his range; Del Goh’s geek culture material is perhaps polarising due to its nicheness but is reliably amusing; and Khai Anwar’s edgily pointed material about the minority experience in Brunei is a crowd favourite.
All of the comedians are adept at handling and interacting with the crowd in a way that is funny and never mean-spirited.
The breakout star this year is the aforementioned Najib Ja’afri, who must own shares in a t-shirt printing company or something, given his commitment to printing custom T-shirts for each show. This comedian has the crowd in stitches from the moment he steps on stage. A fellow comedian noted that he’s “perfected the art of being Bruneian”, which I think sums up his brand of comedy neatly.
Honorable mentions go to Nazihah Nooradin, one of the few regular female comedians in the troupe; Safwan Hj Muhammad, who cleverly keeps the delivery of his signature puns short and sharp; and Nabilah Hamid, who is dependably likeable when she comes on stage.
Many of their jokes require a knowledge of Bruneian quirks to land, and audience reception is a great way of judging just how niche or widespread certain experiences are.
The nature of BruHaHa’s bilingual performances (an aspect I love) made me skeptical about how well two shows split into Malay and English material would work.
I’m so happy to say that the Malay show was perhaps the best show I’ve ever seen from the troupe, with all the performers stepping up adroitly to the challenge. I was a bit wary in the beginning, when it seemed some of the jokes were premised on the fact that the performers struggle with Malay, but the quality just kept climbing from performer to performer.
While the English show was also good, it felt less uniquely Bruneian and more like a format we’ve seen before.
I have to admit that in the first few BruHaHa shows I had watched, I was troubled by some problematic material that seemed to punch down rather than up. It’s to the troupe’s credit that this material seems to have been tested out over time.
While BruHaHa is also predominantly male, they say that they’re committed to attracting more female comedians to their auditions, and are developing a fresh pool of talent that has more female performers.
For fans of BruHaHa, they also host a weekly radio show called “Laugh Out Lounge” every Wednesday on Progresif Radio.
The comedy troupe also has a big show coming up in December to close out the year. Given that tickets generally sell out within a couple of days, it might be a good idea to switch on notifications if you want in on the laughs.
Dr Kathrina Mohd Daud is a lecturer in the English programme at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Universiti Brunei Darussalam. She is also an author, playwright and co-founder of Salted Egg Theatre, an all-female theatre troupe from Brunei.