American-born, Singaporean-raised, New York-based self-styled comedian Jocelyn Chia made a rancorous joke about MH370, a Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared with 239 people on board. In a painful monologue likening Malaysia and Singapore to ex-lovers, she taunted as Singapore, “Why haven’t you visited me?”
“My airplanes cannot fly,” whined ‘Malaysia’.
To the audience, Jocelyn adds, “What? Malaysia Airlines going missing not funny? Some jokes don’t land.”
The joke was part of her set at Comedy Cellar, a comedy club in New York.
Joking about MH370 is distasteful.
But at first, I defended her. “When you’re up there, with all the pressure, it’s easy to blab the wrong thing,” I insisted.
I thought it was a set gone wrong. To my absolute amazement, she proclaimed it was her best recent joke. According to her, the emotional pacing and set-up are her proudest masterpiece thus far. “The full bit is well set up — I build up emotion.”
Oh god. I’m slightly concerned about her comedy career. This is her best performance!
Is this a case of not-consuming-the-dish-as-the-chef-intended? When removed from the dark, alcohol-soaked bowels of a comedy club and repackaged for social media, jokes don’t land the same way, as we saw with the case of my favourite comedy club owner, Rizal van Geyzel.
Comedians fascinate me. What kind of life experience does one have to go through to build up a reservoir of rapid-fire humour? Because Jocelyn did get one thing right — comedy is tragedy made funny*. The psychological conditioning one must have to stand in front of a crowd and entertain on the fly, and possibly bomb. As a writer, I receive my rejection through my e-mail inbox; they receive theirs publicly on the spot.
And yet, they go back again and again. The masochistic psychopathy is most beguiling. These people are made of stranger things, and they want people to know.
When their Foreign Affairs Minister has to spring into the air to apologise for the feathers they ruffled, it is a notch in their belt.
And when the High Commissioner to their neighbouring country takes time off his busy schedule to state that he is “appalled by the gratuitously offensive comments” made, the feat is one for the books.
To date she has been interviewed by CNN, The New York Times, BBC World, and soon Fox News.
At this point, I admit to some grudging respect for Jocelyn. She isn’t folding to the public hate. Instead, she is riding the attention with her middle finger on full display.
My fellow Malaysians, you want payback? Just ignore her. Better still — don’t laugh.
*On joking about tragedy, I agree with Sascha Cohen at The Atlantic. There’s finding humour in the human reaction to the tragedy, and then there’s making fun of the tragedy itself. Which did Jocelyn do?