From The Straits Times    |

“Oh gosh, am I a nepo baby?” quips Farah Lola, when I ask if having a famous stand-up comedian brother has helped her career.

With six years of comedy under her belt, the 31-year-old is unfazed by criticism or haters. In a world dominated by Instagram and Tiktok, her motto when it comes to girding herself against social media mockery is to “make fun of yourself before people make fun of you”. “I have a self-deprecating sense of humour, but it’s not out of like, hating myself. It’s like… I’m gonna put it out there first [so] you can’t hurt me,” she shares.

For the record, although her older brother Fakkah Fuzz is a successful stand-up comedian with his own special on Netflix, Farah’s comedy work occupies a whole other domain – sketch comedy – and is 100 per cent her own. Aside from offering support and encouragement, Fakkah is not at all involved with her work.

“My whole family, we’re very supportive of one another’s careers. So we’re always sharing or commenting, or we are just very visibly together in social media… and yeah, maybe that helped in my views, but I came up with a lot of work myself,” says Farah.

That work includes an early sketch from 2018 that gained online traction – a parody of influencer “unboxing” videos in which she unpacked groceries from the wet market – to an arsenal of personas (coy “xiaomeimei”, a grumpy “minah” barista, “Asian girl with an ang moh boyfriend”). She also has a knack for saying the things everyone is thinking but lack the nerve to say out loud. “[I call it] creatively complaining… most of the time, I’m just peeved with something, and I think people just have the same thoughts [but don’t articulate it].”

Having creativity run in the family is not without its advantages (Farah’s other brother is the rapper Fariz Jabba). From an early age, Farah, who is the middle child, was performing for others. And as kids, the siblings’ idea of playtime was putting up little plays and sketches for their family, playing characters they made up themselves. Farah also joined the drama club in school. She shares: “I played Snow White in primary school, and in secondary school, I was Cinderella’s stepsister – which is fine, I love [the stepsister]!”

Later on, watching her brother succeed in stand-up encouraged her to leave her job as a preschool gym teacher to pursue her passion for comedy and acting. “Apart from Kumar, there weren’t many stand-up comedians [that I was aware of in the local scene] when Fuzz started, so I was like, ‘Oh, Singaporeans also can do this’,” says Farah.

A more skittish type might have found it intimidating to follow in the footsteps of a hyper-successful sibling, but from the outset, Farah set her own pace, preferring to hone her craft on Tiktok and Instagram, and find her footing with her audience. “If I put out something and it didn’t work, I wasn’t going to be as embarrassed. It allowed me to explore more because there was no timeline, there was not really like a waiting audience. I didn’t need to have super polished work,” she says.

She was also clear-eyed about what style of comedy she wanted to pursue. “I was never really looking to do stand- up… because you have to be a really good host and command a crowd. And I don’t think I’m the best host. I get a bit anxious. With sketch comedy, it was very safe. I could redo it if I was not happy with it. And it just feels more intimate.”

Life on stage

Oversized varsity jacket, Longchamp. Cotton striped pullover, earrings and assorted rings, & Other Stories

Staying true to herself, she has branched out over the past six years, growing her audience while collaborating with other comedians, such as writing and performing with the team behind Tropic Monsters, the Singapore-based Youtube comedy channel, which has over 81,000-plus subscribers.

And defying expectations of a comedian, she has also carved out a niche as an actor in non-comedic roles on stage, most recently appearing in the well-received drama Oo-woo by Singapore theatre company The Necessary Stage, playing a woman caring for her mother with dementia.

“My first love is actually acting… I like roles that challenge myself, and I would love to take on more roles that are serious, more subtle and pulled back,” shares Farah. As a keen observer who mines what she sees daily for comedy material, it hasn’t escaped Farah’s notice that male and female comedians are received in different ways.

“Because I have a brother in comedy, I really see quite a glaring difference…with male comedians, they’re allowed to be brash and really blunt with their jokes. But when I put that across, it’s like… I’m rude, I’m unladylike. Men can make sexual jokes and it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re such a guy’, but when I make sexual jokes, it’s received very differently, like I’m promiscuous and [that makes] people uncomfortable,” notes Farah. “I have to remind myself that, ‘Hey, if you want to make an off-[colour] joke, just make it. If they can take it from male comedians they can take it from you’.”

Another thing she has learnt from watching her brothers is to be more assertive, noting that while her brothers were comfortable giving their peers directions or instructions, she would be apologising when doing the same. “Initially, [it was because] I didn’t want people to think I’m hot sh*t… but [when] I see my male acquaintances ask for things to be done without having to apologise, I think, why am I apologising?”

Standing up for herself

Knit pullover with structured sleeves and sheer maxi skirt, & Other Stories. Sneakers, Kenzo

As her profile grows (72K on Tiktok and 36K on Instagram at time of print), Farah has also found herself in the position of having to set boundaries. While she is comfortable with criticism and disses of her sketches (“It’s social media, it’s free for all, you’re allowed to not find me funny”), she draws a line when she feels that comments are cruel or harmful to others.

Once, when she did a parody of influencers who do live “get ready with me” videos, some viewers started naming a content creator in the comments section, even though Farah had not intended it that way.

“People were like, ‘it’s very this girl’. And it got like thousands of likes and she got notified, and she was like, ‘Did I upset you?’ And I’m like, ‘No, it’s not you’. So I had to remove her name. I feel responsible when it becomes targeted at somebody, and I try to control it by removing comments.”

She also enjoys using comedy to draw attention to societal issues that she thinks are important, such as the time she did a video of a teacher mispronouncing minority race names. “[I like to] poke fun at things. Fuzz once said to me, ‘Nobody listens to an a**hole, even if you’re right,’” recalls Farah. “And this resonated with me. I feel like comedy is such an underrated way to send a message.”

ON FARAH: Gabardine cotton- lined blazer, Longchamp. Wide-legged trousers, Cos ON CHIOU HUEY: Cotton cropped hoodie sweatshirt and high-waisted denim jeans, Longchamp ON NICOLE: Cropped jacket, Longchamp. Recycled nylon wide-legged pants, PH5 at SocietyA

Having a thick skin is perhaps expected of performers in the public eye, but for Farah, it is also a relief that she has siblings in entertainment she can turn to when she needs a safe space to be vulnerable. “All media people are insecure to some level, right? But, sometimes when you show weakness, it’s a point of attack. Especially on Tiktok, if you tell people, ‘I don’t feel very good about my body today’, 99 per cent will be very supportive comments, but 1 per cent will be very, extremely rude just to get a reaction,” she says. “And I feel I can share these thoughts with my brothers because they also get similar types of comments. If they have insecurities about work, about artist’s block, writer’s block, we can share with each other and navigate that situation together.”

And when things do go wrong, Farah has yet another helpful lesson drawn from her brothers’ experience: “People forget everything in two weeks. Maybe I forgot a line, or he [Fuzz] bombed really badly telling a joke, but in one or two weeks, no one remembers anymore.”

She adds: “I will never let anyone make me feel lesser. Only I have the autonomy to do that. If you’re gonna do that, you better have a damn good reason. And that’s the boundary I draw for myself.”

PHOTOGRAPHY JOEL LOW
CREATIVE DIRECTION & STYLING LENA KAMARUDIN
ART DIRECTION RAY TICSAY
STYLING ASSISTANTS JEON JAE WON & SAW YONE YONE
COORDINATION CHERYL LAI-LIM
HAIR GREGO, USING KEUNE HAIR COSMETICS
MAKEUP LASALLE LEE & RINA SIM, USING DIOR BEAUTY
COVER IMAGE OUTFITS LONGCHAMP

Her World’s March 2024 cover features three new-gen comedians making Singapore laugh: Farah Lola, Nicole Liel, and Chiou Huey.