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Mahbubani, a 29-year-old Hong Kong-born Indian, grew up here and speaks fluent English and Cantonese. He has admired stand-up comedians since he was a kid. “I remember sometime during university, I was watching stand-up comedy and decided that one day before I die I’m going to try it one time!” He won TOC’s first Chinese stand-up comedy competition in 2007, and was crowned the funniest Chinese comedian in Hong Kong that year and the funniest English comedian the following year.
Mahbubani is a website designer by day and a stand-up comedian at night. He even designed the homepage of the TakeOut Comedy website. Although he is squeezed for time between work and comedy, he is not willing to sacrifice either one.
Comparing English and Chinese shows, Mahbubani thinks the mentality of the audiences are very different. “A lot of the time in Chinese shows, people are like ‘Alright, let’s see how funny you really are.’ People are very critical in Chinese,” he says. However, after nearly three years of performing, Mahbubani realises that as long as the content is funny, it does not matter what language you perform in.
Mahbubani says stand-up comedy is a hobby that he “pursues professionally, but gets paid amateurly”. He spends at least an hour on writing every day. He values originality and works hard on his personal style. “It should be certain that when you write or present something, they would know that that’s his style. You can tell,” he says.,
As a Hong Kong Indian, Mahbubani jokes about his own ethnicity, but not to the extent that he is racist or intentionally hurts anybody. Instead of feeling bitter or angry in response to insults hurled by others, he channels them into his comedy.
“People call me ‘gweilo’, and I was upset because c’mon man, I’m not a gweilo. I’m an ‘ah cha’ which is the right term for my people. Do it correctly!” Mahbubani says that if you want to be racist, be the right kind of racist.
He is modest when asked how he feels about his growing fanbase, “I’m flattered,” he says. “I always joke that people are always telling me that ‘one day you’re going to be famous, the paparazzi are going to follow you’ and I’m like ‘this is going to be pathetic!’”
“I’ll never manage to get onto the front cover. It’ll be like ‘oh, he makes another website. Yay, it’s green colour this time. Look at him, he’s in the library, reading books, yay.’”
Mahbubani says his on-stage persona is a “very exaggerated form” of himself, offstage he enjoys private time alone. But every Thursday, he meets up with other, mostly local comedians at a cafe to try out new ideas and material. “We present it like we’re presenting to an audience but because it’s on a small table, intimate and everything, you get feedback immediately.”