Cover Photo: J Comedy Productions

Laughter is the best medicine and there's no one better to deliver that dose than Malaysian doctor-turned-comedian Dr Jason Leong

On July 14, Montreal’s Just For Laughs (JFL), the world’s largest comedy festival, raised its curtains on the long-awaited series of in-person events after a two-year hiatus owing to Covid-19.

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Aside from chuckle fests hosted by comedy heavyweights such as Chelsea Handler, Jo Koy, IIiza Shlesinger, Russell Peters, Hannah Gadsby, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah’s Ronny Chieng, Patton Oswalt, and Marc Maron, JFL will also be launching its first-ever New Faces International Showcase, featuring the brightest up-and-coming acts from across the globe, outside of North America.

JFL began in Montreal’s Saint-Denis Theatre in 1983 and has since entertained millions from around the world. Over the years, it has showcased the biggest names in the business, from Jerry Seinfeld and Eddie Murphy to Russell Peters.

For the uninitiated, the New Faces showcase is the jewel in the crown of the JFL and the ultimate launching pad for the next generation of comedy superstars, with alumni that include Amy Schumer and Kevin Hart. Representing Malaysia in the international segment is doctor-turned-comedian Dr Jason Leong, who clinched one of only 10 spots available.

Not only is he only the third comedian from Malaysia to perform at JFL (after Ronny Chieng and Phil Wang), but he's also the only comic from Southeast Asia in the lineup this year. "This has long been a dream of mine and I am so happy to finally be performing at JFL in Montreal. It's the most prestigious festival in comedy. I'm repping Malaysia so wish me luck!" Leong tweeted.

Fresh off catching Wang's JFL show, Leong dialled in from Montreal to speak to Tatler exclusively about this monumental achievement, what being at the festival feels like, and what's next for him.

How do you feel about being the first Malaysian comedian based in Malaysia performing at JFL?

I feel really excited. It’s a big honour and a privilege. It’s also nice because these days, there’s so much negative press about stand-up comedy and I feel that Malaysians deserve to know that Malaysia can produce world-class stand-up comedians. I promise you, I won’t be the first and only—there’ll be many other Malaysian comedians who’ll be able to reach the world stage and participate in such a prestigious festival as JFL.

Who were the first people you told?

I was instructed quite strictly to not tell anyone! But of course, I told my manager Chrisy, my other manager who oversees my international stuff, and my wife. So it was a very small circle who knew in the beginning (laughs).

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Amidst all the excitement while packing for Montreal, what did you end up packing in your luggage? And you have to be honest!

Nothing exciting, just my clothes (laughs). My laptop. Oh, the only interesting thing I’d say is that I bought a lot of books because the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Montreal is very long. A total travelling time of 24 hours! So, I went to Kinokuniya and bought four murder mystery novels and I’ve already finished one. Something about people getting murdered gets me hooked lah.

Looking back, would you have ever dreamed of this?

I had a couple of goals initially, that is to get on Netflix and on JFL. I worked hard at it. After I got on Netflix, the next step was always going to be JFL. I asked all the comedians I knew who had been to JFL for advice. They said I had to get out there to meet people and submit my videos and I had been on the lookout on JFL’s website. Then a friend—Julie Kim, a Canadian comedienne—told me about this New Faces International show and sent me a link. I applied and submitted my video. So thank you, Julie! 

What is the atmosphere like right now in Montreal?

This is my first time in Montreal and right now everyone is in a good mood because it’s summer. It’s relatively warm here, I’d say it’s slightly warmer than Genting Highlands. People are in good spirits because this is the first summer in two-and-a-half years when restrictions are fully lifted so everyone is ready to come out, have fun, and enjoy themselves.

People are really enjoying their freedom and I think that translates very well into comedy. They are very supportive when they come out to comedy shows because they know that comedy is one of the most anti-pandemic things to happen with people being in closed quarters and laughing loudly. It’s amazing.

Who are you most looking forward to seeing?

I’ve watched Dara Ó Briain, Tommy Tiernan… I want to watch Ronny Chieng although I’ve seen him many times. He’s doing a gala here, so I’d love to catch that show. I wanted to see Jimmy O. Yang but his show clashed with one of mine. Apart from that, I want to see all the other comedians at the New Faces International show! It’d be nice to watch their performances and hang out with them.

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What advice would you give to the aspiring comedian looking at you right now and thinking, "I want to be like that guy"?

When I’m here at JFL, I see how much further there is to go and how much more there is to do. People are here selling out arenas and theatres—it’s a long way to go.

The most practical thing I can say to stand-up comedians is to upload clips of yourself online because that’s the only way to have a presence outside of the few people who come to your shows. Be present on social media. You need to come up with new material every year. Keep hitting the open mics and keep hitting the stage.

This stems from observing all the other comedy stars. They all started the same way, going out and gigging many, many times. Ronny Chieng right now is doing four to five stand-up comedy shows per night in preparation for his new one-hour show, and he just wrapped up his tour. He’s hitting the stage five times a night to hone his craft to perfection. That’s what it takes to be good at stand-up comedy.

Stand-up comedy is a long journey. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Jason Leong

What’s next for you?

I’m going to start preparing for my new one-hour show next year. I’ve written down some ideas and I’m hoping to get a nice one hour out of them. My goal every year is to have a new one-hour. I’m also hoping to go on my biggest tour next year to include Singapore, Jakarta, Australia, London, New York, and Los Angeles. So next year is going to be a big year in terms of touring lah. Oh, and I’m also hoping to sell another special to Netflix so wish me luck!

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