Everyone has an opinion. Your mom probably has a thing to say about your hairstyle; the taxi uncle that ferried you to work this morning rants about government policies; a stranger has a personal story in relation to today’s current events. Even the man who says that he has no opinion to weigh in… that’s an opinion.
We want to foster dialogue and hope that, while it may be difficult to hear a view that is contrary to your own, we hope that our sessions can inform, and ultimately lead to a place of understanding. There are no winners or losers in a dialogue, only a joint process of making sense of one another.
By Prescott Gaylord
I am an American comedian, improviser, and host of comedy shows. I’ll admit that it is still a foreign feeling to me to have to check a box on a government review form indicating if my show will feature “non-mainstream lifestyles and behaviours including alternative sexualities” just in case someone plays a gay character in a scene. I’ll also admit that it still feels both invasive and hilarious when our answers are questioned: “in many of your videos, the content seem to revolve much around the theme of sex…”
Yes. We are comedians, and adults. Some part of me was happy that someone was watching our videos, even if it was IMDA looking for ratings discrepancies. Audience is audience.
In general, I don’t like to think about the government approval of my content. I just want to be funny and insightful from time to time and be responsible for my own work. I improvise, so I can’t edit work before an audience sees it. We are living in the moment which is what makes our shows work—spontaneity without self-censorship. When I teach improv, I literally spend hours trying to get students out of their heads to be able to create authentic and spontaneous scenes. It is difficult to free students of self-censorship in an environment of actual censorship.
And we do censor ourselves.
One example: when we practiced a musical improvised song and broke into a chorus about a political figure’s beach house—a fictitious beach house that was sung about in a positive light—we instinctively deleted the video we made of the practice. Rather, the Singaporeans deleted the video instinctively—I had to have the rationale explained. We literally are afraid of saying some things that could land us in hot water with the government. I believe it makes us less funny; and less insightful.
The thing is—I secretly like some of the censorship in Singapore. I like the idea that it is impossible for me to turn on the radio to find a hate-filled hour of anti-religious or race-baiting rhetoric. Some parts of the talk radio dials in the US are filled with these shows. It is protected speech, and it is ugly. Very ugly. I honestly am grateful that we don’t listen to that here, even if its absence is due to oversight.
The other thing is—I not-so-secretly don’t like that I couldn’t go to Pink Dot to support my friends of “non-mainstream lifestyles and behaviours” because I am not Singaporean. I guess like many people (especially Americans) I want the boundaries of free speech and censorship to be on my own terms. It is entitled, but I think comes from a good place.
Take our poll: Is there too much censorship in Singapore?
Read: What does comedian-actor Rishi Budhrani think about freedom of speech?
Read: What does corporate comms professional Alisa Chopard have to say about censorship?
This article was originally published in the May issue of Esquire Singapore.