Man at His Best

A Thousand Words on Culture: Comedian Thinks About Baby Kuahmodo Dragons

What do you think about when you think about nothing?

BY kuah jenhan | May 15, 2017 | Culture

Photograph by Michelle Lim-Chua

I insist that this piece only be read when it is raining, and you feel cold, and you are listening to orchestral movie soundtracks. And that you will one day realise you are, in fact, happy.

G’day from sunny… wait, windy… wait, sunny and windy, oh it’s raining, Melbourne! I’m writing this from my favourite doughnut shop, Shortstop, on 12 Sutherland Street. It was drizzling (cutely considered ‘rain’ in Melbourne) when I left my hotel. After a five-minute walk to Shortstop, it stopped raining and is now a windy 13°C.

I’m in town to perform my new show, Perfect Stranger, at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. My next show is in three hours. Things aren’t going too well but it’s better than bad. Wait, was that too much information, too quick? Now I feel like explaining, and I will. Sales-wise, it’s all fine. I’ve been given a popular venue twice the size of last year’s, which is a nice nod my way from the festival organisers. The thing is, I’ve performed nine out of 22 shows and I’m still desperately trying to like and love the show I’ve written. It’s not bad, I just wish I loved it a little more.

I enjoy feeling this way. I think it’s my best explored emotion yet: pessimistic and self-defeating but at the same time hopeful and undying. I feel like a ray of sunshine emanating through the cracks from the inside of a garbage can.

Usually, this is where I lose people. I’ve been told I’m a lot to take in (definitely no pun intended). Here’s where people often stop listening and start prescribing advice, relevant stories, embellished and otherwise, and sigh heavily. By the way, the sun has appeared beyond the huge glass panel and is currently leaking a streak of rainbow on the Shortstop floor. Rainbows, as cliche as it sounds, frequently send me a feeling of honesty: “I’m not just light; I am in fact, many different colours,” I imagine it to mean. Vulnerable light.

I spend all my days here doing what I do now, thinking about nothing, clearing my head space at the same time not wandering too far away from the zone I have to be in before I perform on stage. I find comfort in this constantly changing weather that reflects how I feel about most things in my life. Maybe it’ll be this or maybe it’ll be that.

I wish I was lying down because I love lying down. The sight of a sleeping person can be pure bliss but is also unsettling, depending on its context. A child asleep on Christmas Eve awaiting Santa evokes the former, and a motionless person under a bridge the latter. Is he dead? Is he drunk? Is he homeless? Is he a troll? Nobody knows.

The act of sleeping often goes uninspected but if you really take notice, for many fortunate folks like ourselves, sleeping is such an unfortunately needy activity. Remove the bed, remove the bed lights, remove the roof and the floor, does the act of sleeping not look odd when it is deconstructed? It looks weak and it feels vulnerable, just like the streak of rainbow that has now disappeared from the ground near my feet. When did the weather even change? But I love lying down and I wish I was lying down.

On many days I believe being horizontal is, in fact, my default position but because I exist in a society that requires connectivity and mobility, I have to, for many hours of the day, fit in and be upright, like a victim of peer pressure of the grandest scale. In my life, standing up is the unfortunate mark of being upstanding.

I also worry if I’m stifling my own evolution. If I remain sedentary or horizontal and copulated (which by the way, are prime positions for progressing a lineage—sedentary and/or horizontally), my future generations might evolve differently. Having little use for long limbs anymore, my future children will trade them for short stout limbs allowing them to be mobile horizontally and retain a digestive system attuned to cooked food. Naturally, they would now breathe fire to cook prey larger than they are before whacking them down via a strong, reinforced jaw. We will eat once and not want for more until next week. A future breed of human-intelligence Kuahmodo Dragons! What if this is the legacy I’m robbing from my children?

It’s raining again and it’s also time I head back, shower, and head off to show number 10. I really like that thought I had about lying down. Maybe I’ll rewrite this and perform it; and I think I must, eventually. I will one day collect all these thoughts, craft them into another show, feel really small about the work and thoughts I produce but do it anyway out of faith and hope. Then, like the lost sun in a garbage can, I will spend the next many shows desperately trying to like and love my show and many, many more days thinking about the many different things I think about, when I think about nothing. 

This article was first published in the print edition of Esquire Malaysia, May 2017.