Harith Iskander proves that history can be humorous

Harith Iskander is many things. He’s an actor, a comedian, a talk show host, and a director, among other roles. And after his latest comedy show, #KitaOK, the man can probably add “history teacher” to his already impressive CV!

This may not sound like a compliment: history teachers, after all, are not often mentioned in the same sentence with words like “laughter”, or “humour”. In #KitaOK, however, Harith impressively demonstrated that history could indeed be entertaining, performing a unique comedy routine on the country’s history that managed to be informative, rib-tickling and sentimental all at once.

For #KitaOK, Harith embarks on a nationwide comedy tour, bringing his trademark witty observations to seven cities all around Malaysia. The tour opened in Axiata Arena, Kuala Lumpur, on Feb 24 before heading to Johor Baru (March 1), Melaka (March 9), Penang (March 10), Kuching (March 14), Kota Kinabalu (March 15) and Labuan (March 16). And if those upcoming shows are anything like his KL tour, then outstation comedy fans are in for a treat indeed.

The Kuala Lumpur show was hosted by Razif Hashim, Daphne Iking and JJ Fernandez, and featured local comedians Keren Bala Devan and Phoon Chi Ho as opening acts. Both did a great job at warming up the crowd: Phoon brought many guffaws with an updated, localised version of the “all dances come from a cockroach” classic comedy routine. And Keren led with the element of surprise: while it is common for comedians to make “Yo Mama” jokes, he opened with a joke about his own mother!

Comedy

Harith leading the audience in a moving tribute to the country.

Harith’s material in #KitaOK, on the other hand, was a combination of facts and funny. The comedian delivered a very abbreviated version of Malaysian history, starting from the time of Parameswara up to modern day. You’d never think that the Portuguese conquest of Melaka and British colonialisation could make good comedy topics: well, this show would prove you wrong. Those looking for complete historical accuracy should have gone to Muzium Negara: this is a comedy show, after all, and what you got, on the other hand, was a light-hearted, good-natured take on the country’s formative events.

Much fun was poked at Malaysian idiosyncracies, such as overly obvious naming of places (“This river is long. What shall we call it? Sungai Panjang!”) and food obsessions. Also interspersed within the show were little anecdotes from Harith’s personal life: one show highlight was the story of his late mother’s encounter with a group of Rempits!

While some of his jokes were clearly stronger than others, Harith delivered an overall strong performance. Much work seemed to have gone into his material: many jokes led naturally to other jokes, and many parts (such as the strange style in which Malaysians give directions!) recurred throughout the show. Harith’s warm, casual style went over well with the audience, and laughs came loud and often.

The funnyman was also nicely complemented by jazz pianist Michael Veerapen and his band, who gamely provided all the sounds Harith needed for his show, whether it be football anthems, old theme songs (prepare to feel nostalgic!) or general mood music. There was even a lovely little song at the end, recapping all the most memorable parts of the show!

And while funny, certain parts of #KitaOK were also quite touching, with Harith making references to the true spirit of Merdeka, and reminding us that despite being different, most Malaysians were kind people, who genuinely cared about one another. While some parts seemed overly sentimental, it was difficult to doubt that the show was delivered with genuine sincerity.

Overall, the show might have been called #KitaOK (we are okay), but it’s quality was definitely more than just okay. No, you might not be able to pass an exam by listening to Harith’s offbeat lecture. But you will probably go home with a newfound appreciation for the country’s history, values and people.