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The ‘godfather’ of Malaysian stand-up comedy – Harith Iskander

Cite Magazine

Under a strikingly bald noggin, Harith Iskander’s face morphs from a look of deadpan innocence into one of wry humour.

He’s just described his first encounter with an adult shop in Australia after arriving from Malaysia in the 1980s.

“I finally pluck up the courage to go into this mysterious shop,” he says, wide-eyed. “And it’s full of Malaysian students!”

The self-proclaimed ‘godfather’ of Malaysian stand-up comedy has been entertaining crowds across Asia and Australia for almost 25 years and his student days in Perth are now a favourite part of his comedy routine.

The Curtin film and television graduate recently returned to his ‘old hunting grounds’ to perform a fundraiser for the University’s Student Scholarship Fund. In an interview he gave with Curtin, Iskander fondly recalls his experiences as a Curtin student:

“It’s where it all began for my career,” he says. “A lot of [the course at Curtin] was not spent in the room. We were out there. We were doing things. We were so-to-speak working, and it felt like that.”

The young Harith also kept himself busy outside of Curtin. He says that while he initially begrudged leaving friends behind in Malaysia, he soon made a conscious decision to embrace Australian culture.

“I was thinking to myself, since I’m here for three, four years, I don’t want to go back and not know something different from what home was.”

This meant taking up all manner of quintessential Australian pastimes. For example, cricket:

“I didn’t grow up in a place that knew what cricket was about. When I got here I said, ‘What! You sit on a couch and watch a game for four days? Are you kidding me?’. So I went out and tried to play cricket.”

The veteran comic has never shied away from unfamiliar terrain. For years, Iskander was quite literally Malaysia’s only stand-up comedian. At early gigs audiences would mistake him for the MC and compliment him on his amusing ‘talk show’.

Today, he encourages all international students to ‘break out of the box’ and get involved in extracurricular activities.

“The BBQs and the surfing – whatever clichés you have, go and try that. It’s not my thing – I failed miserably – but you have to go out and try it,” he says with a grin.

On studying, however, Iskander admits he isn’t the best person to come to for advice.

“I was not the best student, I didn’t get the best grades,” he confesses. “It’s not just about what you’re focused on; what’s on paper. Go out there and let it mold you in more ways than one.”

We only suggest you don’t wander into too many adult shops.

Find out about more about our graduates’ achievements and our upcoming Alumni events by visiting our Alumni website.

Graduate snapshot

Name: Harith Iskander
Studied: Bachelor of Arts (English)
Related degree: Bachelor of Arts (Performance Studies)
Graduated: 1988
Area of study: Humanities