Located above a dubious pub with blackout glass doors blaring Bollywood music, The Merry Lion is a nondescript comedy club hidden in the midst of all the senseless debauchery along Boat Quay.
With zero expectations, my first visit was surprisingly enjoyable – getting up close with the comedians in an intimate setting and laughing excessively. I mean, when was the last time you laughed like crazy and till your belly hurts? Welcome to The Merry Lion!
Setting The Stage Right For The Comedy Club Industry
The only full-time comedy venue in Singapore, this cosy establishment was set up in late 2016 by two comedy lovers who saw an opportunistic gap in the Singapore market.
Scott Mitchell, Director and resident host of The Merry Lion, has been living in Singapore for 15 years and calls Singapore his home now. Being quite the notable stand-up comedian himself, this Scottish-born energiser knows the comedy scene inside out.
Scott shares, “The last full-time comedy club in Singapore was at Clarke Quay. This was before Clarke Quay even had a roof, when it was still warehouses and weekend markets! It had been well over a decade since it closed.”
Over the years, the dwindling comedy club industry has seen a massive and much-welcomed revival. According to Scott, there is a great pool of Singapore-based comedians, from enthusiastic amateurs to full time professionals. These talents, be it local or international, all need a permanent stage to call home – this home they now call The Merry Lion.
Hosting weekly regular shows, this humble stage has featured popular headliners from all over the world and also up-and-coming Singapore acts such as Jinx Yeo and Sam See. Likewise, they have garnered a strong following of both locals and expats.
He explains, “Generally, an expat headliner means the audience is 60% expats. A local headliner means the audience flips the other way and is 60% local.”
The most important thing is that “they may not all be comedy fans when they arrive, but they are when they leave!”
Cultivating newcomers is a very important role for any good comedy club and for the sustainability of the industry, and Scott tells me that they are very proud of their efforts in this aspect.
There are two shows a week dedicated to new talents.
‘Monday Night Comedy’ is a regular, good old-fashioned open mic session where anyone can have a go; debutants get 3 minutes and regular performers get 5 to 7 minutes. ‘Comedy Lab’ held on Sundays is specifically for comics to test out their new material and gather honest feedback.
“It is actually at these shows that you will often get to see famous comedians popping in because they have a new joke to try out,” he reveals.
Singaporeans – Funny Or Not?
Known for our authoritarian society and compliant citizens, I cannot resist asking Scott if Singaporeans here appreciate humour. He thinks we do.
Elaborating, he quips “Singaporeans have a wicked sense of humour! In the club, we also dim the lights, supply the alcohol and make sure the acts are top quality – all these helps to make it easier for everyone to laugh!”
“When someone comes to a comedy club, I think that they already have a certain expectation based on what they have seen on TV or Youtube. As a true comedy club, we aim to give people that real experience – with a warm Singaporean welcome on top of course!”
That being said, running a business in the entertainment sector is not all laughter and joy.
Singapore, and the world, is getting busier and people generally have less time on their hands. This means that sometimes the club is not able to achieve the pre-sales targets to shows that they would like to put up.
Thankfully, he divulges that more shows are selling out in advance in recent months and it is only going to get better!
Scott also sheds some light on his comedians. An eclectic bunch coming from varied backgrounds and countries, he has had to deal with a fair share of mishaps. “We have had comedians get on the wrong plane, turn up at the wrong venue, lose passports, end up in hospital and many more. For a comedian, these are all just life experiences that end up becoming jokes in a later show!” he adds.
A Merry Future
The new generation of Singapore comedians has been steadily putting this little red dot on the comedy map through performing at various international venues and festivals – the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Magners International Comedy Festival to name a few.
As a small nation, we are proud to see local comedic talents, such as Rishi Budhrani and Fakkah Fuzz, bagging awards from major regional competitions. There is also a growing presence of Singapore-born Netflix, Youtube and Comedy Central Asia stars.
At this rate, it comes with no surprise that Scott thinks the future of this funny business is bright.
“I am quite sure we will see another full-time comedy venue soon. Most major cities have 2 or 3 at least and Singapore should be no different. The demand from the audience is there and the talent pool is deep enough. So, the more the merrier I say!”
If you have not been to The Merry Lion, it is high time you give it a try. Prices are kept affordable, and you will be amazed at how much truth lies in the saying of ‘laughter is the best medicine’. Besides, the local comedy industry and budding talents need our support to flourish.
And for those who have never attended a comedy show ever, Scott has some advice: “Do it at The Merry Lion – ROAR!”